UN experts: Indigenous peoples cannot be ‘deleted’ from new global development goals

22 July 2014 – Indigenous peoples face distinct development challenges, and fare worse in terms of social and economic development than non-indigenous sectors of the population in nearly all of the countries they live in, according to a group of UN experts.

The new United Nations sustainable development goals must not be a step backwards for indigenous peoples, warned the UN experts group* on indigenous peoples.

“However,” the experts stressed, “indigenous people can also contribute significantly to achieving the objectives of sustainable development because of their traditional knowledge systems on natural resource management which have sustained some of the world’s more intact, diverse ecosystems up to the present.”

Sámi UN Photo - John IsaacTheir call comes after a meeting held by the open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals last week in New York to draft a set of goals which will be presented to the UN General Assembly in September.

The group of experts noted with concern that all references to ‘indigenous peoples’ have been deleted in the latest zero draft document on the sustainable development goals, which is currently being discussed by the open-ended Working Group, even though the term had been included in earlier drafts.

“Using the term ‘indigenous and local communities’ undermines the gains achieved by indigenous peoples regarding their assertion of their distinct status and identity as peoples and the rights accorded to them under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international instruments,” the experts said.

The term ‘indigenous peoples’ - they noted - has been consistently used in the Johannesburg Declaration of 2012 and the Rio+20 Programme of Action (2012), called ‘The Future We Want’, not to mention a wide range of national constitutions, laws, and policies.

The experts urged UN Member States in the open-ended Working Group to listen to the proposals made by indigenous peoples’ representatives in this process and to ensure that ‘indigenous peoples’ will be used consistently in the outcome document. 

“It has been widely acknowledged that indigenous peoples have not been accorded the attention they deserve in national development processes and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” the experts said.

“The new Sustainable Development Goals present a unique opportunity to remedy these shortcomings and the historical injustices resulting from racism, discrimination and inequalities long suffered by indigenous peoples across the world,” they underscored.

“We urge States to affirm that the human rights-based approach to development should be a key framework in achieving sustainable and equitable development and this should, likewise, be clearly stated in the outcome document of the open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” the experts concluded.
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