27 April 2018
Seventeenth Session, 15th Meeting* (PM)

Closing 2018 Session, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Adopts Recommendations including Collective Rights to Lands, Territories, Resources

Participants also Call for Enhanced Participation in Work of United Nations.

Following a fortnight of meetings, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its seventeenth session this afternoon, adopting a raft of recommendations which reflected this year’s central theme — indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources — and urged the Secretary‑General to convene regional consultations in the coming months on ways to enhance their participation in the work of the United Nations.

The Forum sent the Economic and Social Council three draft decisions — contained in document E/C.19/2018/L.3 — on its future work, the first of which would authorize a three-day international expert group meeting on the theme “Conservation and the rights of indigenous peoples”.  The second and third draft decisions concerned the venue and dates of the Forum’s eighteenth session — at Headquarters from 22 April to 3 May 2019 — and the provisional agenda for that meeting, including two new items — one on the holding of regional dialogues of indigenous peoples and Member States, and another on discussion of the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019.

In her closing remarks, Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Forum Member from Mali and its Chair, said the session’s discussions had spotlighted some progress, but also serious challenges still faced by indigenous peoples around the world.  Speakers had cited higher poverty rates, poorer access to education and major gaps in life expectancy between indigenous peoples and other groups.  Meanwhile, continued allegations of violations of the rights of indigenous women and indigenous human rights defenders remained of great concern.  Those challenges were rooted in — and often resulted directly from — centuries of assimilationist and discriminatory policies that disregarded indigenous peoples as distinct peoples with rights to their own identity, cultures, lands, territories and resources.  While some States had taken important steps to reverse those policies, others must do the same.

The session’s focus on indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territories and resources was critical, she said, noting that connection with the land was the foundation upon which traditional knowledge systems were based.  It was also the cornerstone of their physical and economic well-being, standing in sharp contrast with the dominant models of individual ownership, privatization and development.  “We have heard of the tremendous pressure from extractive industries, infrastructure projects, large-scale agriculture, hydroelectric dams and even conservations efforts that have led to the dispossession and displacement of indigenous peoples,” she said, adding:  “It is our responsibility to leave behind a sound and sustainable world for our children and their children.”

Noting that the session’s thematic discussions had guided the development of recommendations on several next steps — which had been integrated into the Forum’s new methods of work — she said one major focus was on how the body could facilitate greater dialogue and cooperation among Member States and indigenous peoples towards shared goals and national development objectives.  The gap in implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples remained huge, and all stakeholders must be bold and ambitious as they moved forward.  “We must think outside the box and not follow the business-as-usual model,” she said, calling for unique solutions to fully realize the principles enshrined in the Declaration.

Besides the report containing the draft decision, the Forum approved a total of five reports today as presented and orally revised by Rapporteur Brian Keane.  While the second report (document E/C.19/2018/L.2) detailed the procedural aspects of the seventeenth session, including dates, venue, proceedings and attendance, the third report (document E/C.19/2018/L.4) — on implementation of the six mandated areas of the Forum with reference to the Declaration — expressed considerable concern with the disparity between indigenous and national maternal mortality rates in many countries and encouraged Member States to lower indigenous maternal mortality rates.  Through the same text, it welcomed preparations for the International Year of Indigenous Languages led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Welcoming the preliminary report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, the same report recommended the creation of a global, legally binding regime for toxic industrial chemicals and hazardous pesticides to protect all people, from the grave threats to human rights presented by the ongoing chemical intensification of the global economy.  It went on to recommend that States put an end to the criminalization of indigenous midwives, whose traditional knowledge went largely unacknowledged by national health systems.

The report also noted that, during the seventeenth session, many participants had expressed concern regarding States granting concessions for extractive industries, infrastructure projects, large-scale agriculture or hydroelectric dams without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, including in Finland, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.  In that regard, it reiterated that Member States must act in compliance with international human rights standards, while conveying also the Forum’s concern over environmental violence, in particular its pervasive impacts on indigenous women and girls.

The report on the Forum’s dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (document E/C.19/2018/L.5) noted an alarming trend by which human rights defenders were increasingly being targeted as terrorists for promoting and protecting long-standing guaranteed rights.  In that regard, it called on the Government of the Philippines to remove the names of indigenous leaders, and those of the Special Rapporteur and a former member of the Expert Mechanism, from a petition declaring them terrorists under its Human Security Act.

By the same text, the Forum requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to expand and strengthen the United Nations response to reprisals and threats faced by indigenous human rights and environmental defenders by enhancing high-level engagement on reprisals, ensuring appropriate action on urgent cases where reprisals occurred.  The report also conveyed the Forum’s comments about the situations of indigenous peoples in the Sahel and other parts of Africa, along the Ecuador-Colombia border and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, as well as those who would be impacted by the El Bala-Chepete and Rositas mega-hydroelectric project in Bolivia.

In a report on the session’s theme of indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources (document E/C.19/2018/L.6), the Forum welcomed positive developments in that regard.  However, even in countries where rights were recognized, they were simply not being implemented.  Moreover, most States had yet to grant official recognition to indigenous peoples, let alone their collective rights to lands, territories and resources.  Expressing its grave concern, the Forum recommended that States incorporate the Declaration into their national legislation and draft policies and programmes to implement those rights effectively.

Ensuring those rights were not only good for the well-being of indigenous peoples, but for addressing pressing such global challenges as climate change and the destruction of nature, the Forum said in the same report, emphasizing that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — in particular target 2.3 calling for secure and equal access to land — would not be possible without fulfilling indigenous people’s rights to lands, territories and resources.

Also in the report, the Forum said it continued to be concerned that the World Bank’s revised social safeguard system would allow the conversion of indigenous peoples’ collective territories into individual ownership rights.  Noting that providing funding for States to divide indigenous peoples’ lands generated conflict, harmed livelihoods and eroded indigenous governance structures, it urged the Bank to urgently remedy the situation.

The Forum’s report on follow-up to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples of 2014 (document E/C.19/2018/L.7) expressed its regret that the General Assembly did not establish a new category of participation for indigenous peoples.  Nevertheless, it acknowledged progress made in implementing the outcome document and recognized the need to further advance the priorities set out by indigenous peoples in the outcome document of the Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference in Alta, Norway, in 2013.

It went on to urge the Secretary-General to convene — in consultation with the Forum and before its eighteenth session — regional consultations to discuss modalities for the participating of indigenous peoples at the United Nations, including ways to enhance the participation of indigenous representatives.  In doing so, it also urged Member States to support the organization of those consultations.

In other business, the Forum approved an informal paper containing recommendations on agenda item 5, concerning dialogue with indigenous peoples, item 6 concerning dialogue with Member States and item 7 concerning dialogue with the funds, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system.

“Our dialogue this year should motivate us in the work that lies ahead in each region to realize human rights and development for all,” said Marlene Poitras, Chief for Alberta, Assembly of First Nations, Canada, delivering closing remarks.

Throughout the session, she said, speakers had cited many concrete examples of the need to alleviate the suffering flowing from the denial of indigenous peoples’ rights.  Collective efforts to realize those rights, and towards self‑determination, must continue.  Indigenous peoples’ spiritual connection with the land had created and shaped them, guided by the same principles of mutual respect and responsibility that should now underpin their pursuit of equality.

Noting that the Forum’s work continued to lay bare the relationship between colonialism and the many diverse forms of discrimination and human rights violations, she urged participants to listen to each other, she added.  “Our stories and values are diverse, but they resonate across all regions,” she said.  It was indigenous peoples’ obligation to take their rightful place, as self‑determining peoples, in respectful dialogue with all nations of the world.


*  The 10th through 14th Meetings were closed.

For information media. Not an official record.