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Our take-aways from the 16th Session UNPFII

May 8 2017
At IWGIA we are happy to have once more participated at the United Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and supported the attendance of many of our partners. We believe this is a unique space to build cross-border partnerships and advance demands from the ground. This time, we brought four relevant side events to fuel the discussion on the implementation of the UNDRIP in the year of its 10th anniversary. We are also very proud to have supported the first ever Indigenous Media Zone led by indigenous women at the United Nations. After an intense two-week session, we bring you the highlights of the #UNPFII16.

“Endorsement does not guarantee effective implementation”

The 16th session opened on April 24th with a strong message: “Endorsement of the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) does not equal implementation”.

The session started by setting the goal of renewing the commitment and efforts to make real each of the articles of the UNDRIP on the ground. The Vice-President of the General Assembly Durga Prasad Bhattarai highlighted that even though the indigenous cause has gained considerable global awareness, the progress on its implementation has been inconsistent and uneven.

On another positive note, Canadian Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett brought a strong message of support to the indigenous cause: “We will amend laws written in a paternalistic and colonial way. We invite you to join us in this shared journey of reconciliation with indigenous peoples”.


On April 25th, the UN hosted a high- level event of the General Assembly to mark the Tenth Anniversary of the UNDRIP. The spotlight was to commemorate the Declaration, an undeniable landmark international human rights instrument for indigenous peoples.

Marking the UNDRIP anniversary, the UN recognised the vital role of this instrument as the most comprehensive document for indigenous peoples around the world. The Declaration grants indigenous peoples rights to self-determination, traditional lands, territories and resource, education, culture and health in their own terms.

President of Bolivia Evo Morales, highlighted that the experience of Bolivia should guide global processes. “We have gone from being a colonial state to a plurinational country”, he described. For him, indigenous peoples are a “moral compass of humanity” and therefore should not be excluded in any decision making process affecting them.

With more than 1.000 indigenous representatives present at the UN headquarters, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples delivered a speech offering a summary of the advances and challenges faced by indigenous peoples to see their rights fully implemented.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz has been involved with the draft of the UNDRIP since 1995 and firmly believes that it is an essential instrument to recognise and strive justice for the historical denial of indigenous peoples rights.

“In the last 10 years we have witnessed progress with the adoption of several national laws consistent with the UNDRIP and also the UN system and its bodies have created their own policies for engagement with indigenous peoples”, she explained. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur stressed that still indigenous peoples are being criminalised. In this sense, she highlighted that even though states committed to protecting indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land and resources, they are being harassed and cornered for defending their territories.

“There is still a long way to go to see an effective implementation. That is why today we have to identify and confront obstacles for its implementation”, among them the strong pressure of extractive industries operating on indigenous land.

Albert Barume, African Chair Person to the UN Expert Mechanism, put the adoption of the UNDRIP in perspective: “the Declaration came to revalue those cultures and modes of production that had been previously considered useless and doomed to disappear”. For Barume this instrument is vital to rebuilding the trust between indigenous peoples and States and a roadmap to reconciliation.

“We need to work to fully and widely domesticate the UNDRIP through national legal and policy frameworks”, he explained and added: “for that opinions and perceptions of indigenous peoples need to change.The Media will be of particular relevance in order to address this challenge”.

Find everything you need to know about UNDRIP here.


One of the most important processes discussed during the first week was the issue of enabling the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions with the UN system on topics affecting them. This is an ongoing consultation process lead by the President of the UN General Assembly. Even though the topic was not as such part of the UNPFII’s agenda, the session provided an opportunity for the advisors appointed by the PGA to hold two consultations with indigenous peoples’ representatives.

Putting it into perspective, indigenous peoples have been the champions of gaining space in the international arena. In the last 20 years, they have achieved the adoption of a comprehensive Declaration protecting their rights globally and the establishment of several UN bodies to address their demands: the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the UN Permanent Forum on indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

If we look at the UN system as a pyramid, they have successfully been able to climb right up to the top while creating global awareness of their demand and struggle. Their demand is based on the purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations, that call for developing friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. A right that is also granted to indigenous peoples in the UNDRIP.

“We want to have a voice equal to other sectors of society. We want to bring our concerns and solutions”, explained Rune Fjellheim, director of the Saami Parliament of Norway.

This is an open process that it is expected to conclude with a decision by the General Assembly in September 2017, while in the eyes of many represents one of the biggest challenges for the state-centric model that governs the UN system today. Questions still remain on the modalities of such an enhanced participation, selection mechanisms and criteria and what this shift will mean for indigenous organisations and communities on the ground.

Get all the details on this process here.

Here you can read how indigenous peoples reach this momentum.

Read the Zero Draft of the resolution here.

How to drive national policy actions to implement UNDRIP?: Cross-border experiences

On Thursday 27th, together with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) we brought together indigenous leaders from 6 countries to share their unique experiences of engaging in policy dialogues with their governments to make the UNDRIP tangible on the ground. The policy dialogues have been funded by IWGIA with the grant provided by IFAD.

The indigenous miskita leader Mirna Cunningham moderated the panel composed of representatives from Salvador, Paraguay, Myanmar, Nepal, Congo D. R. and Tanzania.

“We aimed at having the indigenous organisations as the protagonists of the dialogues, while also securing the political will of the governments involved and the support of UN agencies”, explained Cunningham about the criteria guiding the efforts.

During the event, the indigenous representatives explained how they are carrying their agendas at a national level and which are the differences in each regional context.

The experiences shared were a clear example of how international agendas take shape by the effort in local hands. “The joint effort with our governments encourages us to see our agendas consolidated in public policies”, described Hipólito Acevei from Paraguay.

You can watch the full event here.

Indigenous peoples’ rights in the SDGs: How not to leave no one behind?

With the aim of driving the debate around indigenous participation in the Agenda 2030, together with several of our partners we discussed indigenous peoples rights in the Global Goals. Our partners, Tebtebba Foundation, the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), International Labour Organisation ILO, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and the Forest Peoples Programme, gave insights on how indigenous peoples can engage on the SDGs by collecting their own data to monitor the implementation of their rights.

Secretary-General of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) Joan Carling provided key updates on the SDGs and a practical guide on the engagement of indigenous peoples in the National Voluntary Reviews.

There was also time to go in depth into the advantages of using The Indigenous Navigator tool (@IndigenousData), one of the new projects we have embarked on with the support of the European Union.

“The Indigenous Navigator is a tool for and by indigenous peoples to gather their own data and use it for multiple purposes”, explained Martin Oelz from ILO. He explained that project is now in a pilot phase and that they welcome contributions to ensure that the data gathering is open and participative.

“We are the best ones to assess if the monitoring is working for us”, said Atama Katama from Pacos Trust from Malaysia. Katama explained why is important for indigenous communities to be part of the construction of indicators to measure the Global Goals.

Watch the full side event here.
Get to know more about the Indigenous navigator on

Our yearbook in New York: 30 years documenting indigenous peoples’ rights

On the year marking the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ (UNDRIP), we edited and presented a comprehensive edition focused on the implementation of the UNDRIP at the Permanent Forum.

The presentation spotlighted the need to document indigenous rights and demands, as well as making sure reliable data inform and lead national policy actions.

Our partner IFAD described the book as ‘an untouchable book’ that is used as an entry point by anyone working on the topic.

Ib Petersen explained that fact-based tools like The Indigenous World are and will be the key to ensure that the Development Agenda 2030 leaves no one behind. He highlighted that disaggregated data is crucial to driving development from the local communities. Petersen also congratulated IWGIA for being able to produce and provide such a tool every year in a short period of time of work, a task that no other organisation has managed to cope with.

A fact-based source that informs decision makers

All panelists agreed that The Indigenous World is a source that drives global processes by informing policymakers, the judiciary system, and academia.

According to Albert Barume IWGIA’s yearbook is unique because it also represents an indispensable resource for research and teaching. “One of its features is its simplicity and the fact that summarises what is wrong while pinpointing best practices”, he said. For him, the book is a voice of many communities, that informs policymakers on what is current on the ground through a balanced approach, which for Barume is not an easy product to find.

Les Malezer closed the presentation by adding that The Indigenous World plays a key role when promoting human rights. “The book allows anyone to get a broad perspective and learn about the good and bad practices in many countries. There is not any other reference like this, which also informs the judiciary system as this book does”, he explained.

Watch our launching here.


The 16th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues brought a new achievement for indigenous peoples: the first ever Indigenous Media Zone, which we are very proud to have supported.

According to Mohawk indigenous journalist and educator Kenneth Deer “indigenous journalists were working on the field in isolation without getting any recognition”.  For him, indigenous peoples have systematically faced the obstacles to access media accreditation at the United Nations. Looking into the future, he thinks that indigenous media has the power to drive new dialogues by educating the non-indigenous.

To achieve this goal “our media has to be recognised as an equal media by non-indigenous mainstream media, they need to take up our issues”, he explained.

Indigenous Media: Raising the profile of existing voices

What does it mean for indigenous communicators to be able to access UN spaces? “We see us as spokespersons for our communities, which is a task that goes beyond being only a professional journalist”, says Nahuatl communicator Guadalupe Martínez Pérez who is in charge of the Indigenous Media Zone at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

According to her, this advancement is setting a precedent at the United Nations and open a space for all indigenous communicators. “We can see that it took us 20 years to only get inside the system and now we are making our next strong step,” she describes. Guadalupe thinks that being able to cover the international process from inside the UN is a much richer experience compared to only being a participant or observer.

“This way we have been able to expand our coverage to other languages and regions. We can only recommend that in the years to come other indigenous communicators take up this task, so it becomes a permanent space for us”, she says.

You can read and watch their coverage on


Indigenous peoples and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development

The second week of the session was focused on the involvement of indigenous peoples in the Global Goals. On May 4th the Indigenous Major Group presented a statement pinpointing their major concerns regarding the indigenous role in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Joan Carling on behalf of Indigenous Major Group described which the gaps are for indigenous peoples in this process. She pointed towards the following as obstacles: lack of disaggregated data based on indigenous identifier; non-recognition of indigenous peoples as distinct groups with specific perspectives and rights; lack of meaningful participation in designing and implementing development interventions, which consequently were not culturally sensitive and the focus on economic growth with less attention to environment and social dimensions resulting to negative outcomes for indigenous peoples.

Carling also stressed the urgent need to legally recognise and secure the customary lands and resources of indigenous peoples, and empowerment of indigenous women as key elements in achieving the SDGs.

The Major Group also raised their recommendations to the Permanent Forum. They called for:

  • Strengthen the collaboration for the engagement of indigenous peoples in the SDG processes
  • Inclusion of the indicator on the legal recognition of the customary land rights of indigenous peoples for the targets under Goal 1 and 2
  • To call on UN agencies, funds and programmes to establish partnerships with indigenous peoples’ organisations
  • To urge States to establish specific mechanisms for consultation, participation and representation of indigenous peoples in local and national process
  • To call on States to allocate adequate funding and resources to implement appropriate plans and strategies

Learn more about relevant indicators to monitor the SDG in this video with Joji Cariño (Forest Peoples Programme) and Martin Oelz (International Labour Organization), moderated by Lola García-Alix (IWGIA).


Alarming situation of indigenous human rights defenders

Marking the anniversary of the UNDRIP, the criminalization of human rights defenders was one of the main issues raised at the Permanent Forum.

“At the moment there are many laws and policies used to criminalised indigenous human rights defenders”, explained Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. For her, this is a clear sign that governments are using tools to take indigenous organisations to an illegal situation.

The Special Rapporteur brought the attention that in 2016 more than 180 defenders have been killed for raising their demands and 40 % of them are indigenous from various regions in the world. In relation to this trend, she expressed that this push indigenous organisations to focus more on protecting themselves rather than strengthening their organisations and communities.

Tauli-Corpuz also referred to her recent visit to Honduras as a clear case that exemplifies how indigenous leaders are being threatened to defend their lands. “There is a lack of determination from the prosecutors to pursue the case of Berta Cáseres. It is a constant harassment”, she explained.

As many other indigenous leaders present at the Forum, the Special Rapporteur highlighted that the use of excessive force is used against pacific indigenous protests as the case f the Sioux tribe in the United States, where private security from the company involved and local police attacked non-violent defenders.

Watch the press briefing here.


Relentless advance of extractive industries on indigenous land

During the second week, we were able to bring the debate about the right to consultation in the context of extractives activities. Together with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, we discussed the impact of extractive industries on indigenous peoples’ rights in Latin America and Africa.

At the side event, IACHR’s Commissioner Francisco José Eguiguren clearly explained the states’ obligations in cases of extraction or exploration on indigenous land: “they must establish dialogue until they reach agreements with indigenous communities about extractive projects”. For Eguiguren development can't be antagonistic to the human rights of indigenous peoples.

Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also sent a strong message: “we need to deconstruct this idea that indigenous peoples are against progress, development, and jobs”.

The participants were also able to get a print copy of the IACHR’s report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples. The report highlights the breadth and complexity of the problems caused by extractive and development activities and set forth a comprehensive framework of inter-american human rights standards on the subject. Read and download the report here.

Also, the representative of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Ms. Hawe Bouba (Cameroon) presented the report on Extractive Industries and Land Rights in Africa. The book supported by IWGIA documents the experiences of indigenous communities in Uganda, Namibia, Cameroon and Kenya and points towards the states as primary obligation holders.

Indigenous women’s rights: Debate on forced sterilisations in Peru

This year we had the opportunity to promote a very relevant debate about indigenous women’s rights: sterilisation of indigenous women in Peru. Together with our partners ONAMIAP and FIMI we briefed the participants about the cases and presented a sneak peek of a new documentary on the topic.

From 1996 to 2000 the government of President Alberto Fujimori implemented across Peru and in the context of a national family planning programme an unprecedented sterilisation programme targeting indigenous and peasant women as well as men. It is estimated that some 314,600 women and 24,580 men were sterilised. Although the authorities claimed that they had obtained the written consent of the victims, it has emerged that the vast majority of the women were unable to read what they were signing and did not understand what they were agreeing to. It has also emerged that the sterilised women suffered serious and multiple consequences: they were abandoned by their husbands, stigmatised by their communities, and many suffered from a number of health problems that left them unable to work.

The issue remained hidden for many years. Feeling shame, few women organised around it and human rights organisations long tended to focus their attention on the atrocities committed during the internal armed conflict. Only now do the conditions seem to be in place for systematic work to be conducted on the issue of these sterilisations. Investigations have also revealed the methods (blackmail, threats, house-to-house visits, financial incentives, etc.) used to meet the numerical targets for tubal ligations. The Latin American and Caribbean Committee for Women’s Rights (CLADEM) has concluded that only 10% of the women that were sterilised over the period in question had actually given their “genuine consent”.

We are happy to have brought these cases to the UN and let the women victims’ voices be heard.

Watch the trailer of our new documentary on the topic here.


“When indigenous peoples enjoy their rights and well-being, then the society as a whole is healthier and a better place for us all,” said Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

She concluded that there is evidence of positive cooperation between the Member States and indigenous peoples to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights, but the progress so far has been too slow.

Since the establishment of the Permanent Forum, its annual sessions have fostered dialogue and cooperation between indigenous peoples and the Member States. At its closing, the Permanent Forum called for concrete actions and commitments to achieve the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in spirit and in practice.

Watch the summary of the conclusions here.