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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ANNUAL PANEL DISCUSSION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

19 September 2018

The Human Rights Council this morning held its annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, focusing on the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
 
Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Sustainable Development Goals were an acknowledgment that development without people as its core beneficiaries was not development, merely economy, and that development that destroyed traditional culture, language, land and human heritage was not development – it was wilful destruction.  Nowhere was that clearer than with regard to the world’s indigenous peoples.  While five per cent of the world’s population were indigenous, near to a third of the world’s extremely poor rural people – the most left behind – were indigenous – over 30 per cent.  First nations were not merely left out of the enjoyment of development’s fruits, they were more often development’s first casualties.  The 370 million indigenous peoples, spread across some 70 countries, were the living example of the world’s most disadvantaged, most marginalized, most left behind people.  That meant that the 2030 Agenda would not be fulfilled unless the international community fulfilled the rights of indigenous peoples.

The panellists were Joan Carling, Co-Convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development; Q’’apaj Conde, Co-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and youth focal point of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development; and Maria Luisa Silva, Director of the United Nations Development Programme Office in Geneva.  The moderator of the discussion was Erika Yamada, Chair-Rapporteur of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Erika Yamada, Chair-Rapporteur of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that the panel at the Council was always an opportunity to highlight the inter-relationship of all rights fundamental to indigenous peoples.  She expressed hope that the discussion would encourage States to include their indigenous peoples in sustainable development processes.

Joan Carling, Co-Convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, said that indigenous peoples in many countries had little or no awareness of the 2030 Agenda.  Certain projects were implemented in the name of poverty reduction, without the free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous peoples, resulting in conflicts and violations of their rights.  The main priorities in the implementation of sustainable development remained economic growth and infrastructure development, while the environmental and social dimension remained a lip service.  

Q’’apaj Conde, Co-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and youth focal point of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, explained that the Caucus was born out of the margins of the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues and expanded under the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mandate and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Its goal was to act as a global platform uniting global youth in six different socio-cultural regions.   

Maria Luisa Silva, Director of the United Nations Development Programme Office in Geneva, recalled that over 90 per cent of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals were linked to the international human rights framework and over 40 per cent of the targets in the global framework had substantial links to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals could be a key strategy for indigenous peoples to claim their rights at the global and national levels.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers agreed that indigenous peoples continued to face discrimination, extreme poverty and exclusion from the exercise of political and economic power, and that development strategies based on the profound aspirations of indigenous peoples tended to enjoy success.  They stressed the importance of participation and of free, prior and informed consent by indigenous peoples in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, as well as the importance of empowerment and capacity building for indigenous women and youth.  Speakers drew attention to the violations of human rights of indigenous peoples as a result of the interests of transnational corporations and of extractive industries.  They also reminded that none of the 999 recommendations on indigenous peoples of the Universal Periodic Review included language that addressed the overlapping experiences, challenges, and violations of human rights faced by indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex peoples. 

Speaking in the discussion were Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Guatemala on behalf of a group of countries, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Malaysia, UN Women, Mexico, China, Honduras, Pakistan, Spain, Bahamas, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de El Salvador, Europe-Third World Centre, International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with Legal Assistance for Human Rights, Franciscans International, Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI), Indigenous World Association and Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action Aboriginal Corporation.


The Council will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, who will present the reports on regional and sub-regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights, and on their twentieth and twenty-first sessions held in February and August 2018.


Opening Statements

EVAN P. GARCIA, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, reminded that pursuant to Council resolution 18/8, the Council would hold the annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The theme of the discussion was “participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” as per Council resolution 36/14. 

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the implementation of the right to development had been brought alive up to 2030 by the Sustainable Development Agenda, extraordinary in its vision and in the scope of commitments that stood behind it.  At its heart, however, it was a promise to people themselves: a promise of global efforts to lift people out of poverty, persecution and powerlessness; a global promise to combat inequality among people; a global commitment to prosperity for people that was sustainable for the planet.  The Sustainable Development Goals were an acknowledgment that development without people as its core beneficiaries was not development, merely economy; that development lining the pockets of the rich and leaving behind those who had the least was not development but a corruption, morally at least, if not corruption in law; that development that destroyed traditional culture, language, land and human heritage was not development – it was wilful destruction.  Nowhere was that clearer than with regard to the world’s indigenous peoples.  While five per cent of the world’s population were indigenous, near to a third of the world’s extremely poor rural people – the most left behind – were indigenous – over 30 per cent.  First nations were not merely left out of enjoyment of development’s fruits, they were more often development’s first casualties.  Rapacious developers and misanthropic conservation efforts ate away at indigenous peoples’ dignity and rights, at their traditional ways of life, practices and subsistence, eroding common human heritage. 

The global inequalities that the 2030 Agenda was committed to ending were witnessed at their worst in indigenous communities.  The 370 million indigenous peoples, spread across some 70 countries, were the living example of the world’s most disadvantaged, most marginalized, most left behind people.  That meant that the 2030 Agenda would not be fulfilled unless the international community fulfilled the rights of indigenous peoples.  That could be done through data collection and participatory interpretation of that data, as well as through respect for people’s self-identification.  Indigenous communities must be empowered and their voices amplified.  All States should ensure that indigenous peoples were full participants in the 2030 Agenda strategies, decision-making and review processes, including the voluntary review process.  Government actors should promote indigenous community-based monitoring and information systems and provide resources for indigenous peoples’ participation in the Sustainable Development Goals processes nationally and internationally.  Protection was essential.  It was the responsibility of States to protect indigenous human rights defenders, to ensure they could act freely, without fear of intimidation, harassment or violence.  For millennia, indigenous peoples had been wise stewards of their lands, territories and resources.  Their accumulated knowledge of sustainable environmental practices could contribute to achieving global goals on consumption, climate change, oceans, terrestrial ecosystems and for sustainable production.  A broader view of history and a longer-term view of the planet’s future revealed the gifts of indigenous leadership, know-how and of the human heritage that indigenous culture and language manifested and protected.  Upholding the rights of indigenous peoples was essential for the fuller potential, capacity and contribution of all peoples to be released for the purpose of sustainable inclusive development, Ms. Gilmore concluded.

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

ERIKA YAMADA, Chair-Rapporteur of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and moderator of the panel, thanked Ms. Gilmore for her statement and said that the annual panel discussion at the Council was always an opportunity to highlight the inter-relationship of all rights fundamental to indigenous people.  She expressed hope that the discussion would encourage States to include their indigenous peoples in sustainable development processes.

JOAN CARLING, Co-Convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, said that sustainable development had always been at the centre of indigenous peoples’ struggles.  Since the Rio Summit on Development to the processes leading up to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, indigenous peoples had consistently advocated for the recognition and realization of their collective rights.  The main coordination and engagement mechanism for the engagement of indigenous peoples was the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group.  The global agreement with 17 goals was for implementation at the local, national, regional and global levels.  In addition to the six references to indigenous peoples in the 2030 Agenda, implementation of all 17 goals was underpinned by the principles of equality and non-discrimination.  Indigenous people in many countries, in both urban and rural areas, had little or no awareness of the 2030 Agenda so they could not engage in the process.

Certain projects were being implemented in the name of poverty reduction, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture without the free prior and informed consent of affected indigenous peoples, resulting to conflicts and violations of their right to land and resources.   Some States consulted indigenous peoples and established multi-stakeholder platforms for sustainable development, but this was an exception.  Many national strategies based on the Voluntary National Review reports lacked clear strategies and budgets to reach out to indigenous peoples.  The main priorities in the sustainable development implementation remained focused on economic growth and infrastructure development, while the environmental and social dimension remained a lip service.   Relevant recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review were not fully integrated in strategies.  The situation of indigenous peoples was addressed in about 1,000 Universal Periodic Review recommendations, which were linked to their rights in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals.  More than a quarter of those were linked to goal 16 and the main issue was participation in decision making, while other issues concerned human rights defenders, access to justice and birth registration.   There was a need for an enabling environment for the meaningful inclusion of indigenous peoples in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and an effective system of outreach as well as their legal recognition.  At the High Level Political Forum, the participation of indigenous peoples had been increasing over the past three years.  Still, Ms. Carling noted, indigenous peoples were invisible in global, regional and national partnerships to support the implementation of sustainable development. 

Q”APAJ CONDE, Co-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, said that the Caucus was born out of the margins of the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues and expanded under the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mandate and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The mandate’s goal was to act as a global platform uniting global youth in six different socio-cultural regions.  The Caucus formed part of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group.  On the regional level, the Major Group and the Caucus had systematised the regional report on the situation of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America and the Caribbean.  First, it analysed the state of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals from a human rights perspective.  Then, it analysed the situation of the implementation of those goals in five countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay).  The report was written with the help of indigenous youths, and with the spirit to find constructive dialogue.  However, very few indigenous peoples had participated in the drafting of the report, unaware of its existence.  The reiteration of the recommendations highlighted the needs of indigenous peoples and also the lack of disaggregated data that concerned them. 

Latin American States had taken great steps toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, establishing commissions to align national development plans with those goals and linking State action with implementation.  Government structures allowed local implementation, however indigenous peoples still did not take part due mostly to a lack of information.  They needed to establish plans to include indigenous peoples by providing them with information in their own languages.  There were mechanisms that facilitated the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals by allowing indigenous peoples to participate at the local, national and international levels. 

The regional report stressed Sustainable Development Goals 6 and 11.  Goal 6 on water and sanitation affected indigenous peoples who had access mainly to natural sources of water, with which they had a spiritual relationship.  However, those natural sources were affected by climate change and infrastructure projects.  Concerning Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities, the migration towards urban centres affected indigenous youth, where they were discriminated against.  Those places also did not incorporate their cultural diversity.  Cities that benefitted from indigenous peoples would be ideal.  Indigenous migration to cities was forced as they sought opportunities not available in rural communities.  There needed to be greater efforts to provide rural opportunities.  Ethnic peoples demanded consent to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in order to ensure that no one was left behind.

MARIA LUISA SILVA, Director of the United Nations Development Programme Office in Geneva, said that over 90 per cent of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals were linked to the international human rights framework and over 40 per cent of the targets in the global framework had substantial links to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The rights-based nature of the framework was further reinforced by the powerful pledge to ensure that no one would be left behind and to endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.  In the United Nations Development Programme, they were working hard to advance the understanding of why people were left behind.  The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals could be a key strategy for indigenous peoples to claim their rights at the global and national levels and protect the environment in a sustainable manner, only possible with their participation and inclusion in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda. 

Engagement with indigenous peoples had been a focus area within the United Nations Development Programme’s overall mission to mainstream a human rights-based approach into its development policies and programmes.  Under their new Strategic Plan (2018-2021), Member States had given the United Nations Development Programme a mandate to support governments in their efforts to achieve the Strategic Development Goals grounded in human rights and focused on leaving no one behind.  Their efforts to “promote nature-based solutions for a sustainable planet” included “addressing finance, tenure, water and land rights, with a clear understanding of the differentiated impacts, access and contributions of women and men and also of indigenous communities.”

The United Nations collaborative programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, hosted and administered by the United Nations Development Programme, was operational in 55 countries and had a specific focus on indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities, while encouraging broader multi-stakeholder processes.  They also helped establish the process of building a national mechanism for consultations with indigenous peoples and supported the design and adoption of national protocols for free, prior and informed consent for forest investments and incentives in various countries. 

Discussion

Denmark, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, reminded of the importance of participation and of free, prior and informed consent by indigenous peoples.  How could all stakeholders better integrate the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda?  European Union noted that there was much to gain by securing attention to the rights of indigenous peoples in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  What main gaps could be identified in the integration of the rights of indigenous peoples into development policies aimed at achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda?  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recalled that indigenous peoples continued to face discrimination, extreme poverty and exclusion from the exercise of political and economic power.  Development strategies based on the profound aspirations of indigenous peoples tended to enjoy success. 

Guatemala, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, reiterated that achieving of the 2030 Agenda required that no one was left behind, and stressed the importance of empowerment and capacity building for indigenous women and youth.  The group thus urged that funds and special programmes within the United Nations be dedicated to that end.  Canada reminded that indigenous peoples were not a homogenous group; some faced cross-cutting forms of discrimination.  Indigenous peoples were also leaders and innovators.  Through inclusive human-rights based initiatives, the most marginalized people, including indigenous peoples, could improve the enjoyment of their rights.  Australia stressed that States, private actors, academia and the United Nations should include the opinions of indigenous peoples on the Sustainable Development Goals.  Could the Council collaborate with international aid donors to realize better outcomes for indigenous peoples?

Brazil said its commitment to the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples was enshrined in its Constitution.  The Government was carrying out consultations with indigenous peoples for the implementation of projects that might affect them, in line with International Labour Organization Convention 169.  There were 900,000 indigenous persons belonging to 305 ethnical groups who spoke 275 different languages in Brazil.  Paraguay said that the panel was an opportunity to share good practices on the participation of indigenous peoples.  A special national plan for indigenous peoples was being developed in Paraguay, thanks to the technical assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner.  Russia said it had always supported its indigenous peoples in their aspirations towards more effective and fuller exercise of their rights.  Russia was implementing a long-term 15 year-concept of sustainable development which had been developed for the indigenous populations in north Siberia and in the far-east of the Russian Federation.  There was a specific ombudsman for indigenous peoples.

Malaysia said that its indigenous peoples were afforded the same rights as all citizens.  The participation of indigenous persons in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was essential to ensure their rights.  Bolivia said that 73 of the 169 objectives were linked to the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.  The economic and social development plan in Bolivia included the economic empowerment of indigenous women and education and addressed discrimination.  UN-Women pointed out that indigenous women were more affected by rape, as underlined in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people.  United Nations Women had developed the Strategy for Inclusion and Visibility for Indigenous Women.

Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de El Salvador informed that the civil participation of indigenous peoples was absolutely vital for leaving no one behind.  However, El Salvador had not yet ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 169, which was essential for the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples.  Europe-Third World Centre voiced concern about the human rights violations of the Mapuche people in Chile.  The interests of transnational corporations and of extractive industries prevailed in southern Chile, namely with the implementation of hydroelectric and forestry projects, which exacerbated the difficulties in preserving the Mapuche cultural traditions.  International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with Legal Assistance for Human Rights, recalled that none of the 999 recommendations on indigenous peoples at the Universal Periodic Review included language that addressed the overlapping experiences, challenges, and violations of human rights faced by indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex peoples. 

Mexico said it was a pluri-cultural nation and believed that the Sustainable Development Goals would only be truly sustainable if they included those who were excluded and marginalised.  There were 25.7 million people that self-recognized as indigenous in Mexico, comprising 21.5 per cent of the population.  What was the importance of linguistic diversity in achieving the 2030 Agenda­?  China said to rectify the historical injustice of indigenous peoples, the international community needed to implement actions to include them.  Other avenues to helping indigenous populations included raising their income and increasing their access to education and economic development.  Honduras said indigenous peoples had to participate in decisions that affected them.  Working with the International Labour Organization, Honduras had elaborated free, prior and informed consent to include indigenous peoples in policies.  The country was currently reviewing the implementation of first Sustainable Development Goals with that in mind. 

Pakistan said that unity and diversity should be upheld and that by focusing on commonalities, a better way could be paved forward.  The recent election of a man from the Kalash tribe reflected the mainstreaming of indigenous peoples in Pakistan’s politics.  Pakistan noted that impacts from climate change disproportionately impacted indigenous peoples.  Spain said in 2007 the new Spanish Strategy for Cooperation demanded the help of indigenous organizations.  Spain was one of the few countries that directly included the rights of indigenous peoples in their policies.  Civil society participation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda was also key.  Bahamas said in the Caribbean, they were the descendants of many peoples.  The earliest groups were indigenous peoples that migrated from South America and were still found in the region today.  The migration of indigenous peoples across borders complicated their access to resources, however they needed to be included in matters that affected their lives.  Food and Agriculture Organization said it was making all efforts to promote and include efforts of indigenous peoples in its work.  It developed indigenous policies, launched a publication on free prior consent, and carried out campaigns for the empowerment of indigenous women globally.
 
Franciscans International believed it was vital to include indigenous peoples in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as they were often rendered invisible.  How could States cooperate to meet the needs of indigenous peoples living in transboundary contexts?  Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI) said that the 2030 Agenda promised that all countries would protect indigenous ways of life, but in Brazil, the land for exercising that right was not provided.  Brazil did not present specific programmes for indigenous peoples and people at the grass roots level were suffering.  Indigenous World Association viewed development as a collective right, as many other United Nations rights.  Collective rights were key to the survival of indigenous peoples so the question was raised how could States ensure the protection of indigenous peoples from infrastructure development?  Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action Aboriginal Corporation noted that indigenous people representatives were not present in the panel and the panel had been reduced to two hours.  The 2030 Agenda would greatly benefit from considering principles of self-determination, cultural integrity and free prior and informed consent.

Concluding Remarks

ERIKA YAMADA, Chair-Rapporteur of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and moderator of the panel, said that some advancement of indigenous rights had been noted.  Questions posed by States demonstrated concern, openness and willingness not to do business as usual but to truly address this issue.

JOAN CARLING, Co-Convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, was aware that the situation on the ground was that of massive violations of rights.  She could identify with women from Brazil who spoke, who were consistently presenting the real situation.  The strong political will of States was needed.  Policy reform and special measures that would address social injustice committed against indigenous peoples were needed.  An actual mechanism of consultation and participation at the national level was needed.  States were not consistently engaging with indigenous peoples.  Initiatives of indigenous peoples had to be supported.  One such example - the promotion of indigenous navigators - was useful as it provided linkage with the Sustainable Development Goals.  Land tenure was essential, as they could not talk about sustainable development without land tenure.  Renewable energy partnerships were encouraged.  When partnerships were discussed, many emphasized decision-making.  Unless mechanisms were provided for the political and economic empowerment of indigenous peoples, participation in decision-making would not materialize.  They were not only rights holders but also development actors.

Q’’APAJ CONDE, Co-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and Youth Focal Point of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, said capacity building workshops were good but they should not be a substitute for a consultation process.  There was also the matter that reports were drafted and had no participation by indigenous peoples.  Concerning trans-boundary peoples, the best way to work with them was through their traditional authorities in their lands.  It was also important to include youth and women.  Mr. Conde agreed with comments concerning translating Sustainable Development Goal content into traditional languages but it was also based on the various world views of each indigenous peoples.  How could those world views be translated into concrete projects at the local level?

MARIA LUISA SILVA, Director of the United Nations Development Programme Office in Geneva, said that regarding gaps and challenges in participation, participation was not amenable to quick fixes; it required investments in time, resources and institutions.  She also said that there was little data to show why indigenous peoples were lagging behind; data collection needed to be improved with regard to indigenous peoples.  Finally, regarding the Human Rights Council, Member States could use the Universal Periodic Review to make recommendations and take action on the subject of indigenous peoples.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/18/138E