May 14th, 2007 07:23 EST
UN indigenous forum tackles land, resource issues
More than 1,000 indigenous representatives from all regions of the world are gathering at United Nations Headquarters in New York for the two-week session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to focus on issues related to lands, territories and natural resources.
These matters are widely viewed as central to indigenous peoples' efforts to gain recognition for their rights. “With the increasing desire of States for more economic growth, senseless exploitation of indigenous peoples' territories and resources continues unabated,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum, which will meet from 14 to 25 May.
The majority of the world's remaining natural resources – minerals, freshwater, potential energy sources and more – are found within indigenous peoples' territories, she said. Access to and ownership and development of these resources remain contentious.
Recent decades have seen some progress in the area of legal recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to the protection and control of their lands, territories and natural resources, but in practical terms, this has not always translated into action.
Threats to indigenous peoples' lands and territories include such things as mineral extraction, logging, environmental contamination, privatization and development projects, the classification of lands as protected areas or game reserves, the use of genetically modified seeds and technology, and monoculture cash crop production.
Estimates point to more than 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries worldwide. While they are from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds, they generally suffer from similar problems, such as lack of basic health care, limited access to education, loss of control over land, abject poverty, displacement, human rights violations and economic and social marginalization.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by the UN Economic and Social Council in July 2000. It is composed of 16 independent experts, functioning in their personal capacity. The Economic and Social Council appoints the members, eight of whom are nominated by Governments and eight nominated directly by indigenous organizations in their regions.
Efforts to highlight indigenous issues at an international, intergovernmental level started in 1923 when Chief Deskaheh of the Cayuga Nation went to Geneva to speak to the League of Nations – the UN's predecessor – and defend the right of his nation to live on their land under their own laws and faith. Maori Leader Ratana made the same journey to Geneva in 1924 to plead the case of his peoples. Even though they were not allowed to speak at the League of Nations, their vision nourished the generations that followed.
The participation of indigenous peoples in discussions and programmes that impact on them is a top priority of the Permanent Forum. A Trust Fund for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People has been established to fund small grants projects that focus on culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development by and for indigenous peoples.