The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its annual session this afternoon, approving several recommendations which reflected this year’s central theme “Peace, justice and strong institutions — the role of indigenous peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16.”
The Permanent Forum sent the Economic and Social Council three draft decisions contained in document E/C.19/2021/L.3, the first of which would authorize a three-day international expert group meeting on the theme “Indigenous peoples, business, autonomy and the human rights principles of due diligence including free, prior and informed consent”. By the second and third draft decisions, it set the dates for the Permanent Forum’s twenty-first session — at Headquarters from 25 April to 6 May 2022 — and the provisional agenda for that meeting.
In her closing remarks, Permanent Forum Chair Anne Nuorgam (Finland) said the fact that the body has gathered today speaks to the incredible resilience of indigenous peoples. “I want to thank each and every one of you for bringing your voices and your vision to the United Nations, in challenging circumstances across many time zones,” she said.
She recalled that Deskaheh, the great Haudenosaunee leader, had travelled to the League of Nations in 1923 with the hope of achieving recognition of the sovereignty of the Iroquois Confederacy — only to be turned away. He tried again in 1925, along with the Maori Leader Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, and again, the doors were closed. In the following decades, indigenous peoples continued — with the patience of mountains and persistence of rivers — to seek a voice and a space in the international political arena.
Today, 98 years later, the Forum’s twentieth session heard from the Vice Presidents of Bolivia and the United States, both of whom are indigenous. “We have opened the doors,” she said.
But there is still so much more to do, she continued. Indigenous peoples around the world are facing the same challenges: lagging behind the general population in all development indicators, with limited access to health care and education and lacking secure rights to their lands, territories and resources. They still suffer grave abuses for speaking up on behalf of their communities.
“We need the killings and the criminalization to stop,” she declared. “We need enhanced participation in the United Nations system, and we need full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Acknowledging that the session was held in a hybrid format, with some members physically present at United Nations Headquarters and others connecting virtually from their homes, she said that despite the challenges, participants from around the world stayed up late or awoke early to share their concerns, successes and good practices. She paid tribute to all indigenous leaders, sisters and brothers who died during the year working peacefully in defence of their rights, or who lost their life to COVID-19.
Over the last two weeks, she recalled discussions on the special theme of peace, justice and strong institutions — covering their rights to lands, territories, livelihoods or control over their own justice systems — as well as dialogues on the need to tackle rising inequalities, climate change, biodiversity loss, indigenous incarceration, forced displacement and sexual exploitation, to name a few.
The negative impact of the pandemic was addressed throughout, she said, marked by urgent calls for States and Governments to consider indigenous peoples’ needs in national programmes and policies, and to ensure their voices are heard in national, international, regional and global dialogues. At the United Nations, she drew attention to high-level support, seen in the recent call to action on “building an inclusive sustainable and resilient future with indigenous peoples” issued by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, and work of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues. She concluded by demanding that indigenous peoples’ human rights be recognized and respected. “We reaffirm our commitment to the struggle for life”.
Also today, the Permanent Forum approved several other documents as presented or orally revised by the session’s Rapporteur, Tove Søvndahl Gant (Denmark).
In document E/C.19/2021/L.4 related to this year’s theme, the Permanent Forum, considering climate change as a driver of insecurity, exacerbating conflicts over lands, territories and resources, called on the Security Council to consider indigenous peoples as partners.
In document E/C.19/2021/L.5 on its future work, the Permanent Forum recommended that the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) engage in an intersessional round table on COVID-19 with Forum members to ensure that ongoing mitigation planning and efforts are uniquely adapted to the needs of indigenous peoples.
By the terms of document E/C.19/2021/L.6 related to human rights, the Permanent Forum recommended that the Organization of American States establish a consultation mechanism, composed of experts from indigenous communities, as part of the effort to ensure national implementation of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169).
Through document E/C.19/2021/L.7 related to the outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Permanent Forum recommended that Member States continue to develop legislation to support genuine indigenous representation and participation in decision-making.
By the terms of document E/C.19/2021/L.8, related to its six mandated areas (economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights), the Permanent Forum urged Member States, the United Nations system and private philanthropic institutions to fund activities for the implementation of the global action plan the International Decade for Indigenous Languages. It also urgently recommended that PAHO and WHO create a permanent working group to evaluate the ongoing situation of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation and initial contact.
The Permanent Forum also approved the report of the twentieth session (document E/CN.19/2021/L.2), which will be finalized by the Rapporteur.