UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, twelfth session
20-31 May 2013 (UN Headquarters, New York)

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) ended its twelfth session with calls for providing better health care and education; recognizing collective land and resource rights, especially in multilateral banks’ safeguard policies; enshrining “culture” as the fourth pillar of sustainable development; and strengthening indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa. At the opening session, Néstor Osorio, President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, although much indigenous traditional knowledge had been undermined and destroyed “through centuries of genocide, language loss, discrimination and forced migration”, indigenous peoples remained “the custodians” of many of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. For centuries, indigenous peoples “shared their knowledge with others as collective goods for the benefit of humankind, not as private property to be protected and sold,” he said, noting that there was a growing number of consumer products, such as cosmetics, medicines and handicrafts, derived from indigenous traditional knowledge that were sold by private corporations for profit, while the original owners of that knowledge saw little or no benefits. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, called on the UN system to harmonize its processes and programmes relating to indigenous peoples and ensure their activities reinforce the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). He warned that any new multilateral agreements on the protection of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, such as those negotiated under WIPO, should not undermine existing international standards on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Forum forwarded a series of draft decisions to ECOSOC, including agreement to rename itself the “Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and a call for indigenous peoples to have equal participation in the drafting of all documents regarding the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. On health, the Forum called for a focus on ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of indigenous peoples, and addressing the high suicide rate among indigenous youth. On indigenous peoples in Africa, the Forum recognized that groups identified as comprising indigenous peoples on the African continent have suffered, and continue to suffer, particular injustices, including the denial of their basic rights, such as the right to recognition and the right to lands, territories and related resources. Such denial has led to the eviction of indigenous peoples from their lands and the erosion of their hunting and other traditional occupations and lifestyles, thereby threatening their very survival and well-being as peoples. The text stresses the need to raise awareness about indigenous peoples on the continent, and for robust and effective measures, including legislative measures, to ensure recognition of and respect for their human rights; and encourages states to adopt a rights-based approach to conservation and to ensure that national policies regarding indigenous pastoralism complied with UNDRIP.

Following a one-day dialogue with international financial institutions and regional development banks addressing their policies for engagement with indigenous peoples, including discussion of how the principle of free, prior and informed consent is implemented, the document notes that the development projects financed by those institutions had significant impacts on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and recommends that international financial institutions unequivocally acknowledge the collective right of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources in their safeguard policies and in all development project contexts. It calls upon them to ensure that the projects they funded fully respected the rights of indigenous peoples in their implementation.

The thirteenth session is expected to be held from 21-23 May 2014 in New York, with focus on the theme of good governance. Visit the meeting webpage … Read the UN background release … Read the Secretary-General’s statement … Read the Special Rapporteur’s statement … Read the UN closing press release … Visit the media and news webpage of the session … Read a REDD-Monitor article on conflicting views on REDD …