The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - A brief history

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in July 2000, on the recommendation of the Commission on Human Rights.

The initial discussion

Discussions about establishing the Permanent Forum for indigenous peoples began in the late 1980s and is closely linked to the development of an international indigenous movement and to the progressive impact indigenous peoples have achieved within the Human Rights bodies of the UN over the last three decades. Indigenous peoples and others in the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations felt that the structures of the United Nations were not well-suited to consider issues of concern to indigenous peoples comprehensively. Although the idea of establishing a new body focusing on indigenous peoples’ issues within the UN system can be found in various indigenous and UN documents, it was not until the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 that this possibility was officially considered within the UN agenda.

Seminars on a future Permanent Forum

In 1995, the first seminar on the possible establishment of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples was held in Denmark. This initial seminar provided the first ever opportunity for official dialogue between indigenous representatives and governments on the possibility of establishing a new body within the UN system specifically focusing on indigenous issues. They discussed the potential scope of a permanent forum, which UN body the proposed forum would report to, the forum’s mandate and terms of reference, including what activities it might undertake, membership, indigenous participation, its relationship with the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, and financial and secretariat implications.

A second seminar was held in 1997 in Chile. This seminar was very significant as it helped considerably in defining the nature of the Forum more clearly and in broadening the consensus on the main issues, such as the need for this new body to be placed at a high level within the UN structure, preferably reporting to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the need for it to have a wide mandate, equal membership between governments and indigenous peoples and an open participation procedure.

The final step

Finally in July 2000 the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by ECOSOC. Read the ECOSOC resolution on the Establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (E/2000/INF/2/ADD.2)

The decision was a breakthrough achievement for indigenous peoples and their decade long struggle to gain access to the international community. The Permanent Forum broke new ground, as it formally integrated indigenous peoples into the UN. The new body is unique in several ways, perhaps most importantly in its parity composition. For the first time in history of indigenous peoples, they will be on an equal footing with members nominated by the States in a permanent UN body.