General Assembly marks 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The General Assembly Hall at UNHQ was a place of celebration on 25 April 2017 as the President of the General Assembly (PGA) convened a meeting to mark the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). H.E. Mr. Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Vice-President of the General Assembly, called on the international community to renew its commitment to indigenous peoples.

Main topics raised were the achievements made since the adoption of UNDRIP and the challenges that remain. Examples of achievements include increased political participation of indigenous peoples to advance their rights and the emergence of national laws and policies based on the principles and norms contained in UNDRIP. Examples of challenges that remain, arising from the gap between rhetoric and practice, include economic marginalisation, fragmentation in legal frameworks and the criminalisation of activities involved in their livelihoods and of indigenous peoples advocates and defenders. Specifically vulnerable to these challenges include indigenous women, youth and indigenous persons with disabilities.

The 2030 Agenda is an effective platform to further advance and achieve the implementation of UNDRIP. Integrating indigenous peoples into development programmes is a good opportunity for Member States to achieve the SDGs and will simultaneously improve the situation of indigenous peoples on the ground, closing the existing gap between rhetoric and practice.

H.E. Mr. Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Vice-President of the General Assembly, called on the international community to renew its commitment to indigenous peoples by building stronger partnerships built on foundations of trust and working collaboratively to achieve the Declaration’s aims and secure a world in which the rights of all indigenous peoples were promoted and protected.

Ms. Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chairperson  for the Permanent Forum  on the Rights of Indigenous Issues (PFII), recalled the use of UNDRIP in domestic and regional courts as a means of protecting indigenous peoples, as well as the successes of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. She also welcomed the ongoing consultations with the PGA on increasing the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations.

The Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Albert Barume, noted the timid but important efforts by some countries to undertake legal and policy reforms and to establish domestic and regional monitoring bodies. Mr Barume said that indigenous peoples have affirmed ownership of UNDRIP and use it as a tool to secure their rights, dignity and self-determined realities.

The Prime Minister of Canada has mandated a working group to review all federal laws and annual meetings between the Prime Minister and First Nations to establish their priorities for joint deliberations and to make sure there is joint accountability for results.

In Guatemala there are proposals for constitutional reform and political reform such as budgetary changes. Guatemala have also developed a National Development Plan which invites other Member States of the United Nations to carry out the same exercise which will allow them to measure progress and challenges in the context of implementing UNDRIP.

This event was not just a celebration but also a platform to both recognise the challenges that still remain in implementing the UNDRIP and calling Member States, indigenous peoples organisations and other stakeholders to action, to further advance its effective implementation at all levels. According to the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, ‘The most fitting way to mark the Declaration’s anniversary is to honestly identify and confront the obstacles it faces’.

There was consensus among speakers that endorsement of UNDRIP does not mean implementation. The gap between rhetoric and practice is evident in the challenges that indigenous peoples continue to face. Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations, identified some of these key challenges as: lack of political representation, economic marginalisation, poverty, lack of access to social services, discrimination, fragmentation in legal frameworks, conflict over land, exclusion from peace processes and the criminalisation of the activities involved in their livelihoods as well as indigenous peoples advocates and defenders. Specifically vulnerable to these challenges include indigenous women, youth and indigenous persons with disabilities.

Various calls to action were issued by speakers, for example: there was a specific call on Asian Member States to demonstrate political will to implement UNDRIP with clear practical policies; and it was recommended that the African Development Bank adopt safeguards to protect the principles of UNDRIP and relevant UNESCO policies.

The 2030 Agenda is also an effective platform to further advance and achieve the implementation of UNDRIP. Integrating indigenous peoples into development programmes is a good opportunity for Member States to achieve the SDGs and will simultaneously improve the situation of indigenous peoples on the ground, closing the existing gap between rhetoric and practice.
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