28 February 2012
Opening remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Palais des Nations, E-building, 3rd floor
Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 18:15
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a distinct pleasure to welcome you to the opening of this outstanding collection of Aboriginal art, representing one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures. Allow me, first of all, to thank Ambassador Woolcott and the Australian Permanent Mission for sharing with us these unique works by some of the most distinguished contemporary Aboriginal artists.
This exhibition highlights the importance of promotion and protection of human rights for indigenous peoples. Over many years, discussions in Geneva on the rights of indigenous peoples have helped to take forward the global debate in this important area. I appreciate the opportunity to commend this work.
The landmark 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a universal framework for advancing the well-being and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. But, we still have a distance to travel to ensure their full and effective participation.
Across the world, indigenous populations continue to suffer from discrimination, marginalization, exclusion from political processes and institutions and other denials of human rights. Although indigenous peoples make up around 4.4 per cent of the global population, they account for about 10 per cent of the world’s poor and one-third of the one billion rural poor. They also suffer lower levels of education and a greater incidence of disease than other groups.
The General Assembly’s decision to host a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014 demonstrates the emphasis placed by Member States on confronting these shameful statistics. The World Conference will be an opportunity to address the deplorable situation and help indigenous peoples around the world achieve their rights. The United Nations family in Geneva will feed into these discussions.
Aboriginal people are closely connected to the land and have a profound respect for the earth. A central element in the Aboriginal world view is that every event leaves a record in the land. This is a powerful message for us all. Whether it is by burning fossil fuels or continuing unsustainable land management, our practices have a lasting impact on our world. Over the past century alone, global sea levels have risen by up to 22 centimeters. Approximately 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost to deforestation every year. According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity Human activity has pushed extinction of different species to 1,000 times the natural rate. Today, many indigenous peoples live in areas that are affected heavily by climate change. Yet, because of their sustainable ways of life, they have contributed the least to this degradation.
These paintings reflect our individual and collective responsibility for a better world. Everything we do has an impact – whether it concerns human rights or our environment. We must keep this in mind – for the forthcoming Rio + 20 Conference, the World Conference in 2014 and other key decision-making opportunities for the international community. Let us heed the message and work together to ensure that we, as the human family, leave behind a positive record in the form of a fairer, more peaceful and more sustainable world. Thank you for your attention.