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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2014: "Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples"

Today, 9 August, the world marks the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, focusing on the implementation of their rights. Seven years after the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and six weeks before the United Nations’ first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, there is an ever more urgent need to bridge the implementation gap.

This is clearly shown in one of the major current international processes - the formulation of universal Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs), which will determine the direction of global sustainability and development efforts for the next 15 years.

Indigenous peoples are significant for the post-2015 development agenda for several reasons. Indigenous Peoples consist of over 370 million people worldwide and make up 15 % of the world’s poor. 2/3 of indigenous peoples live in developing countries and despite the universal nature of the goals, the developing countries will be key actors. Indigenous peoples represent more than 5000 distinct ethnic groups and are the guardians of most of the world’s biological and cultural diversity.    

Despite this, we see that indigenous peoples and references to the implementation of their rights are losing ground in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The post 2015 development agenda thus represents an imminent risk of a setback for indigenous peoples’ rights. If not included into the goals, targets and implementation mechanisms, Indigenous peoples will continue to be invisible to mainstream development or be its victims.

The Sustainable Development Goals could be a setback from Rio

The idea to formulate global Sustainable Development Goals came from the Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable development that stressed “the importance of the participation of indigenous peoples in the achievement of sustainable development”; and recognized “the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of global, regional, national and subnational implementation of sustainable development strategies.” (The Future we want: para 49)

The process towards formulating the goals also set off to a good start for indigenous peoples, with the early inclusion of the term “Indigenous Peoples” in numerous goals, targets and means of implementation. Indigenous peoples’ expectations were further reinforced when, at the UN Permanent Forum in May 2014, his Excellency Ambassador Korosi, Co-Chair of the UN working group entrusted with proposing the future goals, assured inclusion of indigenous peoples.

However, indigenous peoples are not mentioned in the preamble of the document currently being discussed and they figure in just two out of 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals: under Goal 2, where they are referenced as “small-scale food producers”, and under Goal 4 regarding equal access to education and vocational training.  All other references to the term “Indigenous Peoples” and to internationally recognized rights of indigenous peoples that were included in various drafts over the course of the last year have now been erased.

One of the most critical issues that have been deleted is the reference to indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Former drafts stressed the importance of “inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels” and made specific reference to “ensure Free Prior and Informed Consent and local communities in decision-making and natural resource management”. This reference is absent from the present document.

Another serious omission is the lack of reference to indigenous peoples’ right to land. Under the proposed Goal 2, which refers to indigenous peoples, only access to land is mentioned. Although, secure and equal access to land is crucial for indigenous peoples, it is essential that their secure and equitable right to land and other natural resources is also guaranteed.

If not, the proposed goal to “double by 2030 the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers, including indigenous peoples, pastoralists and fishers” will potentially lead to further exploitation and marginalization of indigenous peoples, undermining their food security and putting to risk their future cultural and physical survival.

Moreover, while Target 1.4 calls for men and women to have equal rights, it does not recognize community land rights. Considerable land in Africa and many countries in Latin America and Asia is held by communities based on shared history, culture, language or lineage. While most governments recognize customary tenure arrangements, few have established the strong legal protections needed to secure community land. If the Sustainable Development Goals do not reflect community land rights, indigenous peoples’ communities will be left vulnerable to losing the remaining of their traditional lands, territories and resources in the name of sustainable development.

The World Conference must take concrete action to improve the lives of 370 million people

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007. This year, we are reaching the end of the 2nd International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, culminating in the celebration of a High Level Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly to be called the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September. It is now more critical than ever, that States and the UN System reiterate the commitment to the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and put pressure on the member states, which are reluctant to develop concrete action to ensure the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights in the post-2015 development framework.

Indigenous peoples make up around one third of the world’s extremely poor rural population. To successfully achieve sustainable development, governments must commit to ensure full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and recognition of their rights. Let us not make the same mistake as with the Millennium Development Goals. If indigenous peoples are not explicitly and meaningfully referred to in the operative text of the new goals, they will encounter immense constraint and exclusion from the implementation and monitoring processes and thus be left behind in terms of all indicators for sustainable development.

Today, on indigenous peoples’ day, we remind ourselves of the needs and gaps before indigenous peoples can enjoy their human rights as all other peoples of the world. In about a month from now, world leaders have a unique opportunity to make change that will concretely improve the living conditions for 370 million people. On 22-23 September in New York, the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will provide governments and UN agencies with a platform for reiterating their commitment to the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples and take concrete actions to move forward.

Tags: Global governance

About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Download here.

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Denmark
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
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