High Level United Nations Conference Focuses on World's Indigenous Peoples


United Nations press release

Date of publication: 
18 September 2014

High Level United Nations Conference Focuses on World’s Indigenous Peoples on September 22-23

New York, NY – Indigenous Peoples represent remarkable diversity – more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. These peoples continue to self-identify as distinct peoples with strong links to traditional territories with their own social, economic and political systems as well as unique languages, cultures and beliefs.

Today, many Indigenous Peoples struggle to remain on their lands and retain the right to their natural resources. Other Indigenous Peoples have long since been removed from their lands, denied their languages and traditional ways, and have consequently been left impoverished. In order to address these injustices Indigenous Peoples effectively advocate for their rights and have engaged the United Nations (UN) since its establishment. Indeed, they also brought their concerns to the predecessor of the UN, the League of Nations in the 1920s.

On September 22-23, 2014 the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), a high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), will be held at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Over a thousand Indigenous and non-Indigenous delegates will have the opportunity to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration sets out minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples of the world and was adopted by the UNGA on September 13, 2007. Meeting participants will include a wide range of parties and stakeholders, including the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Heads of State or Government and high-level representatives of Member States, high-level representatives of entities of the UN system, Indigenous Peoples, civil society organizations and national human rights institutions. It is expected that the WCIP will result in a concise, action-oriented outcome document on the implementation the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the promotion of the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, prepared by the President of the General Assembly on the basis of inclusive and open consultations with Member States and Indigenous Peoples.

“The UN General Assembly’s adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 is hailed as a milestone in the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a triumph for justice and human dignity. It is indeed not difficult to concur with these views, as the Declaration represents the world community’s commitment towards redressing the historic injustice faced by the world’s Indigenous Peoples. The World Conference provides Member States and the UN an excellent opportunity to demonstrate a firm commitment towards the realization of the Declaration, by adopting an action-oriented outcome document. However, the world’s Indigenous Peoples struggle for their rights does not end with the World Conference, but the Conference could become an important stepping stone towards achieving improved implementation of their rights.” Mr. John B. Henriksen, International Representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway, and member of the Global Indigenous Coordinating Group (GCG) for the World Conference.

“This is the time for states to demonstrate their adherence to their international human rights obligations by committing to clear actions at all levels in response to the demands made by indigenous Peoples for them to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of Indigenous Peoples in line with the full implementation of UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous Peoples.” Ms. Joan Carling, Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and a member of the GCG.

Monday 22 September
9am-1pm – Opening Plenary Meeting
3-6pm – Roundtable 1: United Nations system action to implement the rights of Indigenous peoples
3-6pm – Roundtable 2: Implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples at the national and local level

Tuesday 23 September
3-5pm – Roundtable 3: Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources
3-5pm – Panel Discussion: Indigenous priorities for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda
5-6pm – Closing Plenary Meeting

Draft Outcome Document:

Background Information:
Little progress was made on advancing Indigenous Peoples’ rights internationally until the 1980s, when the Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established in Geneva and the International Labour Organization adopted Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was launched in 1994 followed by a Second Decade, which will end in December 2014.

During these two decades, the UN and Indigenous Peoples have made significant progress in their collaboration, with the establishment of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. In 2007 the General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration sets out minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.

The General Assembly, in its resolution 65/198 of 21 December 2010, decided to organize a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, in order to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In its resolution 66/296, the General Assembly further decided that the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples would be held on 22 September 2014 and in the afternoon of 23 September 2014 in New York.

The World Conference will be composed of two plenary meetings in the form of an opening and a closing session, three interactive round-table discussions and one interactive panel discussion, with the opening meeting beginning at 9 a.m. on 22 September 2014, followed, in the afternoon, by two round-table discussions taking place simultaneously.

To provide valuable input into the preparatory process for the World Conference, the President of the General Assembly organized on 17 and 18 June 2014 an informal interactive hearing with representatives of Indigenous Peoples and representatives of entities of the UN system, academic institutions, national human rights institutions, parliamentarians, civil society and non-governmental organizations, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the present resolution.

The World Conference will result in a concise, action-oriented outcome document prepared on the basis of inclusive and open informal consultations with Member States and indigenous Peoples.

Detailed schedule:

Side events:

Live and on-demand webcast coverage of the plenary meetings, roundtables, panel discussion and press conference will be available on: http://webtv.un.org

Highlights of the opening plenary meeting and press conference in broadcast quality will be available at: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/unifeed/

Meeting Summaries: Meeting summaries will be available at: http://www.un.org/en/unpress/

Indigenous Interviewees: The GCG will have available a list of Indigenous delegates available for interviews. Contact alyssa [at] wcip2014 [dot] org to arrange interviews.

Social Media: #WCIP2014
Follow the Indigenous Global Coordinating Group Media Team coverage on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WCIP2014), Twitter (https://twitter.com/WCIP2014), Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/user/wcip2014/) and Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/wcip2014).
Indigenous Global Coordinating Group
The Indigenous Global Coordinating Group (GCG) is responsible for the coordination of Indigenous Peoples preparatory activities for the high level plenary session of the General Assembly to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Established in 2012, the GCG comprises representatives from the geopolitical regions of Africa, Arctic, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific and Russia as well as the indigenous women’s caucus and the indigenous youth caucus. More info: www.wcip2014.org

Contact: Alyssa Macy, 1-414-748-0220, alyssa [at] wcip2014 [dot] org


Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership with UN Continues to Evolve

Tebtebba press release

19 September 2014

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines/New York, September 19—Time was when indigenous peoples’ representatives and activists were practically just at peripheries of, not inside, the United Nations’ headquarters. But thanks to their own true grit over the years, indigenous peoples had persistently lobbied hard for mechanisms and spaces within the UN system, which, after almost three decades, finally brought results in their favor.

Now indigenous peoples are no longer outsiders. They can now “have the floor” inside the UN halls, with even some of them in the podium, chairing or moderating important international sessions.

“Since the turn of the millennium, the UN System has made progress to strengthen its attention and support to indigenous peoples,” said a new report coordinated and edited by Birgitte Feiring, a Copenhagen-based indigenous peoples’ rights and governance expert.

The new report said the “most visible institutional and normative breakthroughs” were the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2000, the appointment of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples starting 2001 and the establishment of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in 2007.

Indigenous peoples worldwide also saw as a “historic milestone” the adoption in 2007 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). But it took 25 years or a quarter of a lifetime of relentless lobbying before the UNDRIP was finally adopted, say indigenous peoples’ activists and lobbyists.

All these recent milestones and developments “confirm the relevance and importance of indigenous issues to the core purposes of the United Nations,” said the report.

These developments also provide the UN system with a “common normative framework and specialized mechanisms to promote implementation, within Member-States and the UN system itself,” the report added.

Commissioned by the Philippine-based indigenous institution Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) and the Chiang Mai, Thailand-based Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact or AIPP, the report will be launched September 24 in New York following the September 22-23 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples or WCIP.

The new report, which will be published later as a book, is entitled, “United Nations and Indigenous Peoples in Developing Countries: An Evolving Partnership.”

The report will be simultaneously launched with a new book entitled, “Indigenous Peoples and the Extractive Sector: Towards a Rights-Respecting Engagement,” which was co-published by Tebtebba, the London-based Philippine Indigenous Links (PIPLinks), and the Middlesex University of London. The event will also launch the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility.

The report by Feiring and her team of consultants explores the efforts undertaken by the UN system in helping indigenous peoples realize their rights. The report also reviews the “good practices generated that can inspire and inform further action and recommendations, which may be considered,” as the UN System sets out to define the System-Wide Action Plan, called for by the WCIP in New York.

The report reviewed four agencies, which are central to indigenous peoples’ issues, given their mandate and focus. These include the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Labour Organization (ILO), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Development Program (UNDP).

The UNDRIP so far has helped a great deal not only in requiring the UN system in promoting indigenous peoples’ rights but also in mobilizing financial cooperation and technical assistance, factoring in the specific situation of indigenous peoples throughout its diverse agencies, funds and programs, said the report.

The report also cited the UNPFII for its “catalytic role in furthering the mainstreaming of indigenous peoples’ rights” within the UN system, and its role as “a global clearing house” and consultation mechanism for information, knowledge and resources.

“However, the potential of using the UNPFII recommendations as a roadmap for addressing indigenous peoples’ issues within the UN system is challenged by difficulties in systematically monitoring recommendations,” said the report. And there are agencies that do not regularly report to the Forum, it added.

The report also cited the “enormous importance” of the Special Rapporteur’s communications and reports “as they carry the authority and legitimacy given to the mandate by the Human Rights Council.”

The country reports of the Rapporteur provide an in-depth analysis of the situation of indigenous peoples as well as recommendations so their rights could be fulfilled.

The report cited various examples where UN Country Teams or agencies have specifically used the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur to guide their work.

In Cambodia, UN agencies collaborated with indigenous communities in implementing legislation and policies concerning titling of indigenous peoples’ communal lands.

In Orissa, India, an IFAD project is helping secure land titles for 30,000 landless people and so far about 15,000 land titles have been secured in some 450 villages.

Another similar IFAD project helped indigenous peoples in Northern Mindanao, Philippines secure certificates to their ancestral domains.

In Bangladesh, UNESCO has an ongoing pilot adult literacy program in three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It also supported a two-month festival on the culture of the Bandarban Hill People.

In Bolivia, the UN Population Fund’s country program is addressing the reproductive health and rights of indigenous women, including how to prevent sexual violence.

In Namibia, UNESCO has supported Early Childhood Development Programs in the Caprivi and Ohangwena Regions since 2003, establishing kindergartens for San children.

These are just among some of the several cases cited in the report highlighting the evolving partnership between the UN system and indigenous peoples.

Feiring and her team said they hoped the report can serve as “catalogue of ideas to inspire both indigenous representatives and UN officials.” (Maurice Malanes/Tebtebba Indigenous Information Service)