Indigenous peoples ‘moral compass of humanity’ UN told

By agency reporter
April 26, 2017

Endorsement of the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not equal implementation, speakers told the UN General Assembly at a special meeting to celebrate the Declaration’s tenth anniversary and renew commitment to its tenets as a vital solution towards attaining a just and sustainable world.

Since the Declaration’s adoption, global awareness of indigenous peoples had grown. However, progress had been inconsistent within countries and uneven around the world, Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Vice-President of the General Assembly told the High-level event marking the 10th anniversary of the landmark UN Declaration.

“To fulfil the commitments made under the Declaration,” he said, “stronger partnerships – built on a foundation of trust – must be forged between among Governments, indigenous peoples, the United Nations, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders.”

He invited the international community to renew its commitment to indigenous peoples, work collaboratively to achieve the Declaration’s aims and secure a world in which the rights of all indigenous peoples were promoted and protected.

Delivering the keynote address, Evo Morales Ayma, the President of Bolivia, described how the indigenous movement in his country had brought together other sectors of society, including transport workers and the middle class, to build a new Bolivia.

“There are no issues in which indigenous peoples could not or should not be involved”, he said, explaining that for centuries, they had resisted 'invaders' who sought to extinguish their identity. Indeed, indigenous people around the world shared the same history.

Describing war as the direct product of capitalism, he pointed out that, for the rich, there is no crisis as they continued to accumulate wealth on the backs of the poor. “Humanity is in danger”, but that is a challenge, not destiny. “Indigenous peoples have shown that we can resist. Brothers and sisters, we can and we must.”

And indeed, indigenous peoples can make their own future. What had been achieved in Bolivia – a country that had gone from a colonial State to a sovereign and plurinational one – demonstrates what could be done at a global level. “Indigenous peoples are the moral compass of humanity, with their own ways of organisation and production,” he said, adding that their responsibility is to organise a global fight “to save humanity and the world.”

Kyung-wha Kang, the UN Secretary-General’s Senior Adviser on Policy, said to ameliorate progress on the rights of Indigenous peoples, several tools should be used, including the three relevant United Nations mechanisms – the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism. In addition, the UN system-wide action plan and ongoing consultations could also be used to help to amplify indigenous voices in the Organisation’s processes.

While hailing the progress made this far, Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights said: “The struggle is far from over. Although the Declaration was approved 10 years ago, many of the obstacles that led to its enactment are still present today. Endorsement of its fine principles, alas, does not equal implementation.”

So once again, the indigenous movement – with its diverse voices, including those of indigenous women, youth, and persons with disabilities – is “rising to meet the challenge of making the Declaration a reality”, he said pointing, to the ‘water protectors’ in Standing Rock, South Dakota, in the United States, as well as those speaking up for their rights, from Nepal to Mexico, who are insisting that their informed consent must be sought.

Yet extractive industries continued to destroy their land, seeing the indigenous populations on them not as a vital element, but as an obstacle. Human rights defenders were being killed. The Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called for follow up on enforcing indigenous peoples’ rights.

* The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can be dowloaded here

* United Nations


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.