GENEVA / NEW YORK (7 August 2017): The world’s indigenous peoples still face huge challenges a decade after the adoption of an historic declaration on their rights, a group of United Nations experts and specialist bodies has warned.
Speaking ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, the group says States must put words into action to end discrimination, exclusion and lack of protection illustrated by the worsening murder rate of human rights defenders.
The joint statement from the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples reads as follows:
“It is now 10 years since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly, as the most comprehensive international human rights instrument for indigenous peoples.
The Declaration, which took more than 20 years to negotiate, stands today as a beacon of progress, a framework for reconciliation and a benchmark of rights.
But a decade on, we need to acknowledge the vast challenges that remain. In too many cases, indigenous peoples are now facing even greater struggles and rights violations than they did 10 years ago.
Left behind on all fronts
Indigenous peoples still suffer from racism, discrimination, and unequal access to basic services including healthcare and education.
Where statistical data is available, it shows clearly that they are left behind on all fronts, facing disproportionately higher levels of poverty, lower life expectancy and worse educational outcomes.
Indigenous peoples face particularly acute challenges due to loss of their lands and rights over resources, which are pillars of their livelihoods and cultural identities.
Indigenous women face double discrimination, both as women and as indigenous peoples. They are frequently excluded from decision-making processes and land rights, and many suffer violence.
We call on all States to ensure that indigenous women fully enjoy their rights as enshrined in the Declaration and emphasize that their rights are a concern for all of us.
The worsening human rights situation of indigenous peoples across the globe is illustrated by the extreme, harsh and risky working conditions of indigenous human rights defenders.
Individuals and communities who dare to defend indigenous rights find themselves labelled as obstacles to progress, anti-development forces, and in some cases, enemies of the State or terrorists.
They even risk death. Last year alone, some sources suggest that 281 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries – more than double the number who died in 2014. Half of them were working to defend land, indigenous and environmental rights.
We urge States to protect indigenous human rights defenders. Crimes committed against them must be duly investigated and prosecuted, and those responsible brought to justice.
Drawn into conflicts
Indigenous peoples are increasingly being drawn into conflicts over their lands, resources and rights.
Lasting peace requires that States, with the support of the international community, establish conflict resolution mechanisms with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples’, in particular indigenous women.
Many States still do not recognize indigenous peoples, and in particular indigenous women and youth still face a lack of official recognition and direct political participation. Even in States where laws are in place, the Declaration has not been fully implemented.
It is high time to recognize and strengthen indigenous peoples’ own forms of governance and representation, in order to establish constructive dialogue and engagement with international and national authorities, public officials and the private sector.
Minimum standards must now be met
The minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world, as set out in the Declaration, must now be met.
These include the rights to identity, language, health, education and self-determination, alongside the duty of States to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing measures that may affect them.
The Declaration represents important shifts in both structure and the practice of global politics, and the last 10 years have seen some positive changes in the situation of indigenous peoples and greater respect for indigenous worldviews.
But we still have a long way to go before indigenous peoples have full enjoyment of their human rights as expressed in the Declaration. We call on all States to close the gap between words and action, and to act now to deliver equality and full rights for all people from indigenous backgrounds.”
The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established in July 2000, is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Forum is made up of 16 members acting in an individual capacity as independent experts on indigenous issues. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and eight by the President of ECOSOC, on the basis of broad consultation with indigenous groups. It is currently Chaired by Ms. Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine.
The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established in 2007 by the Human Rights Council as a subsidiary body of the Council. Its mandate is to provide the Council with expertise and advice on the rights of indigenous peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to assist Member States, upon request, in achieving the ends of the Declaration through the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples. It is composed of seven independent experts serving in their personal capacities, and is currently chaired by Albert K. Barume.