Press Releases

    26 May 2006

    Plight of Indigenous Migrants, Protecting Biogenetic Resources among Issues Raised, as UN Forum Weighs Recommendations for Future Work

    NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today continued to weigh recommendations for shaping its future work, with representatives of tribal and indigenous groups calling for United Nations agencies and national Governments to join them as "partners for progress" towards achieving global development goals and the overall objectives of the Second International Decade dedicated to their advancement.

    On the penultimate day of its fifth session, the 16-member Permanent Forum heard constructive suggestions on ways to maximize its effectiveness within the scope of its mandated objectives, among others, to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the Economic and Social Council, as well as to programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations, through the Council.

    Members of the Permanent Forum also spoke at length about the theme of next year's session, "Land, Territories and Resources".  Wilton Littlechild, of Canada, pointed out that consideration of that topic must include a discussion on the impact of treaties and their role in matters pertaining to native land rights.  He added that the theme should touch on the nature of partnerships.  Forum member Otila Lux De Coti of Guatemala also stressed the importance of considering all aspects of the theme, particularly since access to land and resources played such a big role in poverty alleviation for indigenous communities.

    Calling on all stakeholders to help raise awareness about the Permanent Forum's work, Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, of the Philippines, said it was critical for everyone to submit reports to the Secretariat about what they thought had been achieved with the implementation of the recommendations from earlier sessions.  She urged indigenous organizations to do likewise, especially focusing on the outcome of projects or programmes that they themselves had generated.  She rejected the view that nothing was getting accomplished.  "There are lots of things happening", she said, adding that the fact that indigenous peoples were strengthening their networks with each other and coming together to prepare and analyze what was happening in different countries was a major accomplishment.

    In a dialogue with more than 35 indigenous speakers -- from the Arctic region to the Amazon -- the Permanent Forum heard a wealth of innovative recommendations, including on ways to raise awareness about and boost State and regional support for a range of concerns, among others, the unique plight of indigenous migrants.  Governments in that regard were urged to join forces with United Nations agencies to promote inclusion and non-discrimination and to search for creative ways to integrate and support indigenous migrants within dominant societies.

    "No human being is illegal", said a representative of the Caucus de migración, refugio y desplazamiento de pueblos indígenas, speaking passionately about the immigration debate currently making headlines in the United States, where, over the past few months, thousands and thousands of people had been marching in the streets calling for just legalization for all.  She affirmed the right of indigenous people to free mobility and to be able to live on their traditional lands and not be displaced because of political violence.

    She urged the Permanent Forum to intercede and demand that the United States repeal recent legislation aimed ostensibly at protecting the country's borders against terrorism.  That law had instead increased the severity of sanctions, criminalized immigrants, and punished employers and those who helped undocumented workers.  With another unfair proposal being debated in the Senate today, she called on Washington to consider the plight of the families which had already been broken apart and the lives of those who were fleeing political persecution.  She was also among several speakers who called on the United Nations to set up a "permanent forum on migratory issues".

    Noting that the world media over the past several months had spotlighted the importance of promoting respect for cultural diversity and identity, many speakers called for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to press national Governments to accord higher priority to such matters.  They urged the Permanent Forum to continue raising awareness and promoting the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the United Nations system.

    A representative of the International Institute for Environment and Development called for greater attention to protecting indigenous biological and genetic resources, along with natural or land-based resources.  By promoting a holistic and rights-based approach to indigenous heritage, the Permanent Forum, along with UNESCO and WIPO, could bolster the nascent movement to explore the concept of "collective bio-cultural heritage" and including indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge, biogenetic resources and spiritual values among their fundamental rights.

    Taking a regional perspective, in the context of achieving the objectives of the Plan of Action for the Second International Decade, a speaker for the Indigenous Caucus of the Greater Caribbean urged UNESCO to promote and support the recovery of indigenous heritage, oral tradition and ancient writings of the indigenous peoples of his region, including Puerto Rico, with a view to recognizing them as "heritage of humanity" with the framework of international conventions on the protection of cultural heritage.  He also called on regional bodies, the Rio Group and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to provide greater resources to support the goals of Action Plan.

    A representative for the Indigenous Youth Caucus urged the Permanent Forum to organize and create an agenda for indigenous youth, including setting up preparatory regional workshops.  She also suggested that dedicated staff from the Forum be assigned to help coordinate and provide support services to the Forum's youth group.  Finally, she requested United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, Governments of Member and non-Member States to facilitate support and funding for local, regional and international youth initiatives.

    Among the government delegations taking the floor, the Philippines' representative, responding to earlier statements by the Cordillera Peoples' Alliance and Tebtebba Foundation, said there were many challenges facing the implementation of the Plan of Action, especially in the area of resources and capacity-building.  His Government remained open to dialogue and partnerships with civil society and indigenous organizations on ways and means of improving implementation, including strengthening mechanisms on free, prior and informed consent.

    Successful implementation could only come as the result of effective multi-stakeholder coordination and cooperation.  Much could be gained from enhanced collaboration that targeted priority gaps in the implementation regime.  Momentum from the Forum could be continued, especially by renewed communication, advocacy and partnerships between civil society and the relevant agencies.

    Delivering a collective statement on the future work of the Permanent Forum, a representative of the Caribbean Antilles Indigenous Peoples Caucus and the Diaspora called on the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues to establish an appropriate mechanism by which the Permanent Forum could be more accountable and transparent and include more interaction between its members, indigenous peoples and regional representatives.

    He believed that increasing the Forum's transparency and broadening its participation would be one way to "diffuse" the types of statements that had been made by government representatives during this session, which had brought into disrepute the reputations of indigenous peoples and advocates working on their behalf.  He had listened to States using their interventions to belittle indigenous populations, undercut their concerns or make the international community believe that indigenous peoples could not think for themselves.  This was all the more reason for the Permanent Forum to join with United Nations agencies to ensure wider dissemination of information on indigenous rights, as well as progress achieved in attaining them.

    Since the Permanent Forum had decided to devote next year's session to matters concerning land and natural resources, a representative of the Asia Indigenous People's Caucus suggested a half-day consideration of the complex transboundary issues between Asian States and the regions indigenous groups.  For instance, indigenous communities in the Mekong region, as well as wider southern Asia, were under pressure from the construction of large-scale water and electric infrastructure projects, such as the River Linking Project and the Mekong Power Grid Development. A discussion next year could include the international financial institutions, with a view to promoting a rights-based approach to development.

    Summing up the discussion and looking ahead to next year, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that it was important for Governments, United Nations agencies and indigenous peoples to meet so that all stakeholders could share what the priority issues were and which programmes or policies had been or were in the process of being adopted.  Further, indigenous peoples could engage at the national level to see how to improve the work under way in specific areas.  That would help in terms of highlighting good practices on the ground and identify obstacles.  Indeed, when the Forum next met, it would be important to see what good practices were in place and how they could be replicated.

    The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 26 May, to conclude its 2006 session.

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