Indigenous World 2020: UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (Permanent Forum) is an expert body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with the mandate to provide advice on Indigenous issues to the Council and through ECOSOC, to the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, raise awareness on Indigenous Peoples’ issues and promote the integration and  coordination of activities relating to Indigenous Peoples’ issues within the United Nations system. 

Established in 2000, the Permanent Forum is composed of 16 independent experts who serve for a term of three years, functioning in their personal capacity. They may be re-elected or re-appointed for one additional term. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and elected by the ECOSOC, based on the five regional groupings used by the United Nations. Eight members are appointed by the ECOSOC President based on nominations by Indigenous Peoples’ organizations representing the seven socio-cultural regions that broadly represent the world’s Indigenous Peoples, with one seat rotating among Africa, Asia, and Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Permanent Forum has a mandate to discuss Indigenous Peoples’ issues relating to culture, economic and social development, education, environment, health and human rights. Article 42 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mandates the Permanent Forum to promote respect for and full application of the Declaration and to follow up on its effectiveness.

The Permanent Forum meets each year for ten working days. The annual sessions provide an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples from around the world to have direct dialogue with Member States, the United Nations system, including human rights and other expert bodies, as well as academics and NGOs. The Permanent Forum prepares a report of the session with analysis on priority issues, as well as recommendations to Member States, the UN system and Indigenous Peoples to advance implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Forum has grown to be recognised as the main global forum for global discourse and dialogue on rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch, in the Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), is the substantive office on Indigenous Peoples at UN HQ. It supports the work of the Permanent Forum; follows up on the 2014 World Conference on the Indigenous Peoples, with a particular focus on the system wide action plan; and supports Member States in their implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

International Expert Group Meeting on Conservation and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In January 2019, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) organised a three-day international expert group meeting on Conservation and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as recommended by UNPFII at its 2018 annual session.[1] To engage with Indigenous Peoples in their regions and to facilitate the participation of Indigenous Peoples, the meeting was held at the United Nations Office at Nairobi in Kenya.

The meeting highlighted the need for a people-centred conservation model that collaborates with Indigenous Peoples and respects their right to self-determination, including the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Participants discussed Indigenous Peoples’ experiences of forceful evictions, criminalization of traditional livelihoods and the militarization of conservation, as well as good practices of co-management. The meeting highlighted the need for recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge and institutions, and the role they play in sustainably managing their environment. Several proposals were made to engage Member States and global conservation organizations in the monitoring and evaluation of conservation activities and projects and its effect on Indigenous Peoples, as well as the development of global standards on conservation and human rights.[2]

The meeting was attended by Indigenous experts, members of the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism, UN entities, governmental representatives, academics and NGOs. The report of the expert group meeting informed the discussions at the 2019 session of the Permanent Forum.

2019 Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The Permanent Forum held its 18th session from 22 April to 3 May 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The main theme was the Generation, Transmission and Protection of Traditional Knowledge. Panellists and participants highlighted the gains and achievements as well as the need to continue to address this key priority issue. The Forum stated that:

Although there is increasing awareness in international forums related to climate change, environmental degradation, food security and genetic resources, as well as science, technology and innovation, of the importance of traditional knowledge, Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge remains threatened by misappropriation, misuse and marginalization. Urgent action is needed to ensure that such knowledge systems do not disappear. Furthermore, indigenous knowledge should be recognized as an equal source of information in the inter-scientific dialogue to meet the challenges mentioned above.[3]

The Permanent Forum also facilitated dialogue around topics related to Indigenous languages, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, follow up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and conservation. Human rights and the continuing violence against Indigenous Peoples human rights defenders featured prominently in the dialogue on human rights.[4] The Forum continued its practice of conducting regional dialogues on the priority issues of the seven Indigenous socio-cultural regions. The regional dialogues brought together representatives of Member States and Indigenous Peoples, with the members of the Forum moderating the discussions to draw out key concerns and offer possible solutions and good practices as a way forward. The Permanent Forum also conducted interactive policy dialogues with Member States, the UN system and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations to follow-up on actions taken or planned to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Press conferences and in-depth interviews with Indigenous representatives and Permanent Forum members drew out key challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples in different countries around the world. An Indigenous media zone was organised by UNDESA in cooperation with the Department of Global Communications and other partners, to provide a space for Indigenous representatives to discuss and share widely through e-communication tools including in their own languages.

The 2019 Forum was attended by representatives of Governments, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and entities, parliaments, human rights institutions, intergovernmental and United Nations entities, academics and non-governmental organizations. Approximately 2,000 people from more than 70 countries attended the 18th session.[5]   

International Year of Indigenous Languages

Drawing on the findings of a 2016 DESA organised expert meeting on indigenous languages, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended that the UN declare an international year to mobilise attention and action on preserving indigenous languages. Following on from this, the UN General Assembly resolution (71/178) of January 2017 proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages in recognition of the urgent need to preserve, promote and revitalise endangered languages.[6] The International Year was launched with events at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 28 January 2019 and a High-Level meeting of the General Assembly on 1 February at UN Headquarters in New York. 

The International Year was successful in raising awareness on the situation of Indigenous languages and the need for urgent action, inspiring events in all regions across the world. The Strategic Outcome Document of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages identified eight conclusions and made specific recommendations regarding each conclusion. These conclusions reflect the importance for language preservation and promotion for Indigenous Peoples as well as all other peoples, not only to protect their identities and cultures but also to promote peace development and good governance in all societies. The conclusions also note that existing mechanisms do not reflect the needs of Indigenous language speakers and that Indigenous language users have been left behind. States, academia, the private sector, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples themselves must do more to protect and promote Indigenous languages. Finally, the Strategic Outcome Document supported the proclamation of an International Decade on Indigenous Languages.

Considering the rapid rate of disappearance of Indigenous languages and the fact that their reclamation and revitalization will require a sustained effort by all stakeholders, the General Assembly proclaimed an “International Decade on Indigenous Languages” 2022-2032 based on a Permanent Forum recommendation[7] and the preliminary results of the International Year, highlighting that a sustained effort is needed to preserve the world’s biodiversity through Indigenous languages.  A closing event was organised by the President of the General Assembly on 17 December, calling for continued action and attention to reclaim and revitalise Indigenous languages.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2019 (9 August)

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated annually on 9 August at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2019 the theme was Indigenous languages, to promote the International Year on Indigenous Languages. The event brought together Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, United Nations agencies, Member States, civil society and relevant stakeholders.

The aim of the event was to highlight the critical need to revitalise, preserve, and promote Indigenous languages and share good practices through a panel of experts, followed by storytelling and a presentation of innovative initiatives on Indigenous languages. The event also showcased creative initiatives including a map of Indigenous languages, a virtual storyteller, a game and videos on Indigenous languages at the United Nations visitor’s lobby.

2030 Agenda

2019 was the first time that two high-level political forums were organised – at ECOSOC and at the General Assembly, as called for in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), entitled “The Future We Want”. At the July 2019 High-level Political Forum at UN headquarters in New York, an in-depth review of progress was undertaken on six of the Sustainable Development Goals 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17, where Member States presented information on progress made at the national and sub-national level, as well as challenges and lessons learned. Thirteen out of 47 Member States referenced Indigenous Peoples in their voluntary national reviews, emphasizing that the key to successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the principle of leave no one behind centred on symbiotic partnerships forged with civil society, the private sector, academia, relevant State entities, and Indigenous communities. In the summary of the July 2019 High-level Political Forum, the President of the Economic and Social Council, stressed that legal barriers and discrimination were among the biggest challenges to reducing inequality. Groups including Indigenous Peoples, inter alia, were at risk of being left behind if barriers to their full and equal participation in society were not removed. On the issue of science policy interface, Governments, academia, the private sector, civil society and others were urged to come together to invest in science for sustainable development – and to consider mission-driven and innovative approaches that complemented traditional research, as well as the incorporation of Indigenous, local and lay knowledge.

At the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Summit, held in September at the UN headquarters in New York, Heads of State and Government followed up and reviewed the progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Goals. There was wide recognition that greater urgency was needed to reach the Goals. In response, Member States adopted a political declaration and unanimously pledged to mobilise financing, enhance national implementation and strengthen institutions to achieve the sustainable development objectives by the 2030 target date. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a global call for a decade of action to mobilise for the 2030 Agenda and announced annual platforms to drive the progress of the Goals, with the first scheduled for September 2020.

Within the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and leaving no one behind, the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch/Division for Inclusive Social Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, has been providing technical support for Member States in their implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2019, UN-DESA worked closely with the Governments of Uganda and Namibia, providing capacity development and policy advice. This support is provided within the framework of the System-Wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and includes policy and legislative review, capacity development for government officials and indigenous representatives and the organization of dialogues that bring together Indigenous representatives, government officials and relevant stakeholders. This support is provided by UN-DESA at the request of governments from developing countries and it is always provided within the context of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN-DESA will continue to provide support to Uganda and Namibia in 2020 as well as other countries when additional requests are received. UN-DESA also provides support to Resident Coordinators and United Nations Country Teams on matters related to Indigenous Peoples.

System-wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Inter-Agency Support Group (IASG) for indigenous issues consists of more than 40 UN entities and other international organizations and has the main task of implementing the System-wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (SWAP). The SWAP was officially launched by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2016, at the 15th Session of the Permanent Forum. IPDB/SPFII is the permanent co-chair of the Inter-Agency Support Group and plays a central role in the implementation of the SWAP. Throughout 2019, UN-DESA supported the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through national action plans in Namibia and Uganda, with the active cooperation of other IASG colleagues.

The annual IASG meeting was hosted by the 2019 co-chair, the International Labour Organization (ILO), in cooperation with IPDB, and held from 11-13 September at ILO Geneva headquarters. In addition to United Nations representatives, the meeting was attended by the Chairs of PFII, EMRIP and the SRIP, representatives of the ILO tripartite system (Permanent Mission of Mexico, International Trade Union Confederation and International Organization of Employers) as well as the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development. The meeting focused on ways forward to strengthening the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples further to relevant thematic discussions. The key outcome of the IASG annual meeting was to identify synergies and opportunities for greater collaboration, including at the regional level.

As follow up, the IASG co-chairs and other UN representatives met with the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, the Gambia in October 2019, to discuss cooperation and collaboration. The Chair of the PFII also participated at the meeting to provide input and support.

International Expert Group Meeting on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (November 2019)

In November 2019, UN DESA organised a three-day international expert group meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The theme of the meeting was Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is also the special theme of the 2020 session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This followed the practice of organizing expert meetings outside of UNHQ, to bring the UN closer to Indigenous Peoples in the different regions, and to bring in the UN Country Teams.

SDG 16 aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Participants discussed the impacts of conflicts on Indigenous Peoples and the challenges related to their participation in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, the recognition of their institutions, good practices, protection of indigenous human rights defenders, access to justice for remote communities, lessons learned from drafting of peace accords and their implementation and finally, the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and institutions at different levels.[8] Gaps in the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and opportunities to identify further areas where Indigenous Peoples can contribute were also discussed.

Based on the significant inputs, proposals and recommendations were made to ensure the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and institutions in the context of SDG 16. The meeting was attended by Indigenous experts, members of the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Expert Mechanism, UN entities including the country team, academia and NGOs. It was organised by UNDESA/IPDB in close cooperation with the University of Chiang Mai, and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. The report of the expert group meeting will inform the discussions at the 2020 session of the Permanent Forum under the same theme.

Members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the 2020-2022 term

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the 2020 to 2022 term are as follows:

  • Mr. Aleksei Tsykarev (Russian Federation)
  • Ms. Anne Nuorgam (Finland)*
  • Mr. Bornface Museke Mate (Namibia)
  • Mr. Darío José Mejía Montalvo (Colombia)
  • Mr. Geoffrey Roth (United States of America)
  • Mr. Grigory Evguenievich Lukiyantsev (Russian Federation)
  • Ms. Hannah McGlade (Australia)
  • Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrhaim (Chad)
  • Ms. Irma Pineda Santiago (Mexico)
  • Ms. Lourdes Tibán Guala (Ecuador)*
  • Mr. Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal)*
  • Mr. Simón Freddy Condo Riveros (Bolivia)
  • Mr. Sven-Erik Soosaar (Estonia)
  • Ms. Tove Søvndahl Gant (Denmark)
  • Mr. Vital Bambanze (Burundi)
  • Ms. Xiaoan Zhang (China)*

*Nominated for a second term.

Please visit the UNPFII website for more information about the members and the selection process: www.un.org/indigenous.

This article was elaborated by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum

Notes and References

[1] E/2018/43 – E/C.19/2018/11 p. 4

[2] For more information, see the Report of the EGM at E/C. E/C.19/2019/7

[3]  E/2019/43 at p. 6

[4]  E/C.19/2019/7 at p. 1

[5] E/C.19/2019/INF/1

[6] See the General Assembly’s Resolution at A/RES/71/178 p. 2

[7] E/2019/43 at p. 8

[8]See the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch’s concept note at https://bit.ly/2YuMIiT

 

This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here

Tags: Global governance

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