Indigenous Forum Closes on Note of Hope, and Caution

  • by Marguerite A. Suozzi (united nations)
  • Friday, April 30, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

This year's session focused on 'Development, Culture and Identity', especially using articles 3 and 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework within which to address economic and social development within indigenous communities.

Article 3 and 32 recognise indigenous peoples' right to self-determination and development using their own priorities and strategies to develop their territories.

Too often, these rights are not respected, according to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines, a co-chair of the forum and the founder and executive director of Tebtebba Foundation, who sees large corporations threatening the rights and sovereignty of indigenous communities across the globe.

'We are very much aware about this issue and the fact that U.N. standards are not normally used by the corporations,' Tauli-Corpuz told reporters on Friday.

'We do have recommendations in terms of how some U.N. mechanisms like the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general on Business and Human Rights, as well as other bodies, should look into how corporations are affecting indigenous peoples and what kinds of standards, both voluntary and legally binding standards, can apply to corporations so that they will be able to address the issues of human rights violations in the operations of these business corporations,' Tauli said.

Carlos Mamani of Bolivia, another co-chair of the forum, was encouraged by the increased participation of member states this year, with a 'record number of 15 states' (out of 192) submitting voluntary reports to the forum, as well as other high ranking officials within the U.N. system participating in dialogues with leaders of the indigenous community and civil society groups.

Mamani was encouraged by the participation of Bolivia and Paraguay in the forum this year, and the presence of a representative from Brazil at the panel on indigenous peoples and forests. At the beginning of the forum, New Zealand announced its support for the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, news which Mamani welcomes and encourages.

The United States and Canada are also making strides in rethinking their position on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, according to Mamani, and have recognised the 'devastating consequences' of the discovery doctrine for indigenous peoples.

Mamani described the debates that took place throughout the forum as 'fruitful' and placed emphasis on the forum's recognition and visibility of concepts and paradigms important to the indigenous community such as 'living well', a notion which has been expressed by speakers of Quechua, Aymara, Waorani and other aboriginal languages.

Mamani also highlighted the importance of forests to indigenous peoples and announced that 2011 will represent the International Year of Forests.

'We heard Mr. [Romano] Prodi from the European parliament affirm that indigenous peoples are the keepers of the forest,' said Mamani, adding that throughout history, 'The forests of indigenous people have suffered nefarious consequences due to extraction activities but also because of colonialism.'

As in previous years, human rights concerns remain a major focus at the forum. However, its mandate is to address issues of relevance to indigenous communities such as those related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, not to name and shame countries thought to be encroaching on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Tauli-Corpuz did indirectly point fingers at certain countries however, expressing her concern for indigenous communities affected by large-scale development projects that do not account for the rights of indigenous peoples, and also described the building of huge hydroelectric dams as a major threat to indigenous peoples in various countries.

She expressed her fears that these projects could lead to massive displacements of indigenous communities.

'The forum is still very much concerned about the eviction of indigenous peoples from their forests, due to the expansion of biofuel plantations, due to conservation programmes like national parks, wildlife reserves and biosphere reserves, and also due to the expansion of extractive industry operations in many indigenous people's communities,' she said.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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