PROBLEMS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES LIVING IN CITIES SHOULD BE ADDRESSED, PERMANENT FORUM TOLD
21 May 2002
(Reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)
NEW YORK, 17 May -- The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues should discuss the situation of indigenous peoples living in urban areas, an indigenous representative told the Forum today, as it continued its review of United Nations activities relating to indigenous peoples.
According to the representative from the Ainu Association of Sapporo (Japan), many Ainu had settled for economic reasons in industrial centres away from their native communities, where traditions were not handed down from the elders. A 1997 law to protect the Ainu culture mostly benefited Japanese scholars, while the Ainu culture was being ‘Japanized’, a cultural invasion that could be seen as a new form of colonization.
Stuart W. Leslie (Belize), speaking on behalf of the 14 Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the Permanent Forum should provide “critical advice” to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). CARICOM members were aware of the contribution to sustainable development made by indigenous peoples, and realized the need to strengthen their human and institutional capacities to allow them to better participate in decision-making. The CARICOM countries were committed to improving the quality of life of their indigenous populations, who were among the most vulnerable. It was all too easy to be politically correct on this issue and say the right sort of things, “but none of these words will improve the lives of our indigenous groups unless we translate them into action,” he said.
The representative from the Teton Sioux National Treaty Council (United States) recommended to the Forum that the studies of the United Nations special rapporteurs be utilized as a guide for making recommendations on the enforcement of treaty rights for indigenous nations. Also, the International Court of Justice should be consulted to preserve treaty rights, and the studies on land and culture by Special Rapporteur Erica Irene Daes should guide the Forum’s recommendations on indigenous peoples’ sovereignty.
The representative from the Curyung Tribal Council (Alaska, United States) spoke of the inability of the State of Alaska to resolve hunting and fishing rights, and asked whether this new United Nations body could assist in overcoming this impasse. The right to subsistence hunting and fishing was a human right, guaranteed under such international instruments as the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169.
The representative from the O’odham from Northern Sonora and southern Arizona expressed concern about the militarization of their lands, which overlay the United States-Mexico border, by both the military and drug-enforcement officers. Indigenous peoples must be allowed access to their traditional lands, as well as unrestricted freedom of movement across national borders that had been established without their involvement. Indigenous peoples should act against the misuse of cultural practices. For instance, an ‘eagle feather’ should not be used by just anyone, and instead required a long period of rites of passage to validate its use.
The representative of the L’auravetl’an Indigenous Information Center said the main idea behind the United Nations and the Permanent Forum was security. Culture was “a profound notion of why and how we are here,” and the highest form of our common security was guaranteed by passing one's culture on to future generations. The Permanent Forum should consider how to involve community elders, and how to build connections from the grass roots up.
Connie Taracena (Guatemala) said her country’s experiences, both negative and positive, in shaping a multi-ethnic society could significantly help the Forum’s work. The establishment of the Forum was the beginning of a process which would help to provide guidelines, so that indigenous peoples could overcome situations of discrimination and exclusion which too often affected them. The Forum’s mandate recognized that indigenous peoples’ issues went beyond human rights, encompassing questions such as health, education, work, the environment, gender issues and decentralization. To give stability to the Permanent Forum, it was essential to guarantee resources from the United Nations regular budget, as well as to establish a support secretariat allowing Forum members to work between sessions.
The representative of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (Australia) stressed the push for greater autonomy of the Torres Strait Islanders, a Melanesian people of some 8,000 spread across 17 island communities in north-eastern Australia. The establishment in 1994 by the Australian Parliament of the Torres Strait Regional Authority, a statutory body, was a step towards greater autonomy that had allowed his people to negotiate directly with Australia and Queensland on key matters. However, the time had come to take the arrangement a step further and broaden the decision-making ability to issues such as service delivery and resource control, including land recognition.
John Van Buerden (Australia) said it was clear from the statements made that expectations from the Forum were high. Australia fully supported the call for appropriate support and adequate funding, but it was important to know what required funding. The Forum, with the support of all, should make clear what it intended to do between now and its next session, and outline activities for the following year. This would help to determine the necessary funding, and provide a basis for States to ensure that funding was available from the regular budget and other sources. As decided by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2000, once the Forum had held its first annual session, ECOSOC should review all United Nations mechanisms, procedures and programmes concerning indigenous peoples with a view to rationalizing activities, avoiding duplication and promoting effectiveness, to ensure that the Forum would be the success all hoped it would be.
The representative from the American Indian Law Alliance (United States) requested the Permanent Forum to submit a number of recommendations to ECOSOC. Namely, the Forum should have a separate secretariat; should hold its annual session by rotating the venue among the seven regions of the Forum members; should call for the adoption by 2004 of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; should regularly receive detailed reports from United Nations agencies on their programmes for indigenous peoples, including budgetary allocations; should secure funding from the United Nations regular budget; should recommend the establishment of an independent fund for the Permanent Forum; should call for a World Summit on Indigenous Peoples at the end of the International Decade on the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 1995-2004; should establish strong relationships with the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations; and should recommend that the Inter-Agency Support Group, recently established under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), convene a meeting on the health of indigenous women.
Luis Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador) said the Ecuadorian Constitution recognized the collective rights of indigenous peoples, and putting into practice such rights was a task that the Government had taken up in earnest. A spirit of dialogue had been the guiding principle in Ecuador’s relations with its indigenous peoples. The country’s interest in indigenous issues was due to the fact that a large share of the country’s population was indigenous, and it was in the national interest to contribute to improve their social and economic situation. In this spirit, Ecuador fully supported the functioning of the Forum.
The representative of the Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environments said there could be no international cooperation if indigenous peoples were constantly in situations of conflict with States. Peaceful coexistence was not impossible, but much would depend on the Forum’s leadership in promoting respect for indigenous rights and fundamental freedoms. As an indigenous person from Ogoni, Nigeria, he had experienced the struggle for survival. The Ogoni land, with its oil and natural gas, had helped enrich individuals and countries around the world, yet the Ogoni were extremely poor. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent Ogoni environmentalist and writer, had been hanged along with eight others for daring to demand indigenous rights. The Ogoni land had been devastated and polluted, and the subsistence economy had been paralyzed for over 40 years. Given that indigenous peoples around the world faced similar situations, the Permanent Forum could best protect indigenous peoples if its mandate included the competence to urgently intervene in cases where irreparable damage was about to occur. To exercise such competence, the Forum should be given the authority to deal with all matters relating to the rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.
Statements were also made by the observers for the Interior Alliance, Te Kawau Maro, African Indigenous Women Organization (Sudan), Indigenous/Tribal Peoples Development Centre, Programme d’Intégration et de Développement du Peuple Pygmée, Alliance of Indigenous People of Archipelago for Sulawesi Tengah, United Native Nations, Taungya, Tonatierra, Voices for Peace, World Blind Union Indigenous Caucus, Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, and Saami Parliament in Norway.
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