International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2013
9 August 2013 (UN Headquarters and worldwide)

This year’s International Day theme was “Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.” The theme aims to highlight the importance of honouring agreements between States, their citizens and indigenous peoples, emphasizing the principles of friendship, co-operation and peace. A special programme of activities took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US. At the opening, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the post-2015 development agenda should incorporate the rights, perspectives and needs of indigenous peoples, who have made clear that they want development that takes into account culture and identity and the right to define their priorities. UN Assistant Secretary-General Shamshad Akhtar, on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, called on everyone to adopt a stronger level of commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Paul Kanyinke Sena, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), stressed the need to address injustices of the past, especially in the post-colonial context of nation building, calling for greater efforts in Africa, and highlighting that honouring treaties, agreements and other arrangements allows for conflicting notions of territoriality, cultural practice and ideas of development to be reconciled for the greater common good. UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay noted that “even when signed or otherwise agreed more than a century ago, many treaties remain the cornerstone for the protection of the identity, land and customs of indigenous peoples, determining the relationship they have with the State.” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio de Souza Dias provided an overview of instruments developed under the Convention related to traditional knowledge, noting they will all contribute to the achievement of Aichi target 18 – that by 2020, the traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities and their customary use of biological resources are respected and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention, with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities.

Irina Bokova, Director-General, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that global sustainability must build on local foundations reflecting the views and needs of local communities, including indigenous peoples; and highlighted UNESCO’s leadership of inter-agency work to include indigenous knowledge in the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). WIPO Director General Francis Gurry stressed that indigenous peoples and local communities have a direct stake in the negotiations underway at WIPO with the objective of reaching agreement on an international legal instrument/s which will ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya stressed that the right of indigenous peoples to recognition and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constrictive arrangements is a key right recognized in UNDRIP. The International Land Coalition affirmed the role of indigenous peoples as custodians of land, water and biodiversity, and highlighted the 2013 Antigua Declaration, which expresses concern over land grabbing and criminalization of customary forms of land and resource use. Visit the Day’s webpage, including links to programme and statements …

Special Rapporteur issues report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples
UN Special Rapporteur release, 6 August 2013

ARIZONA, USA: The annual thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, which he will present to the Human Rights Council in September 2013, addresses issues related to extractive industries and implications that they have for the rights of indigenous peoples. In the report, the Special Rapporteur systematically sets forth a series of observations and recommendations regarding models of natural resource development, the obligations of States, the responsibilities of companies, consultation processes, and the principle of free, prior and informed consent to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, within the context of challenges posed by extractive industries on a global scale. These observations and recommendations build upon the Special Rapporteur’s previous reports and draw on information gathered through country visits, seminars, written submission from various sources and independent research. He presents and analyzes the preferred model, resource extraction and development through indigenous peoples’ own initiatives and enterprises; the standard scenario, when States or third party business enterprises promote the extraction of natural resources within indigenous territories; and conditions for getting to and sustaining indigenous peoples’ agreement to extractive activities promoted by the State or third party business enterprises.

The Special Rapporteur invites indigenous peoples, governments, companies, and NGOs to an open dialogue on the report and its recommendations. To this end, the Special Rapporteur will conduct an on-line seminar on his website within the coming weeks and engage in an inter-active dialogue with interested parties in Geneva, during the session of the Human Rights Council. Read the release … Download the report [pdf] …

Sixth session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
8-12 July 2013 (Geneva, Switzerland)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) will be addressing: the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; follow-up to past mandated thematic studies; the draft study on access to justice in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, for finalization and submission to the Human Rights Council at its 24th session; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with focus on the use of the Declaration to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and the results of the questionnaire to seek the views of states and indigenous peoples on best practices with regard to possible appropriate measures and implementation strategies to attain its goals; and proposals to be submitted to the Human Rights Council for consideration and approval, including on how the EMRIP’s thematic expertise could assist the Council in the implementation of its mandate and mechanisms. Visit the session’s webpage, including links to background documents … Download the draft study on access to justice [pdf] … Download the compilation of recommendations, conclusions and advice from EMRIP studies on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples [pdf] …

“If we fail our environment, we fail to protect our human rights,” warn UN experts on Earth Day
OHCHR release, 22 April 2013

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: “We continue to fail to protect and conserve our environment in many respects, often with dire consequences for the enjoyment of human rights, despite great progress in some areas,” today warned a group of United Nations independent experts on the occasion of Earth Day 2013. “When our rivers are being depleted and polluted, the livelihoods of many vulnerable groups are put in jeopardy,” explained UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, “including the ability for those groups to access sufficient and safe drinking water, grow food, and harvest from traditional fisheries.” “When mining and other extractive activities take place within indigenous territories without adequate environmental safeguards”, said UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, “a wide array of those communities’ human rights are usually violated or put at risk.” “These are but a few examples of the many challenges continuing to face the international community due to the deterioration of the environment,” the group of experts said. “Now it is time to take this occasion to recognize the fundamental link between a clean and healthy environment to the realization of a wide array of fundamental human rights,” they said. “It is also essential that the international community recognize the critical role that human rights law can play to ensure environmental protection.” Read the release …

UN experts urge World Bank to adopt human rights standards on the eve of key gathering in Washington
OHCHR release, 18 April 2013

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: The UN Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, right to food, and foreign debt called on the World Bank to adopt human rights standards during the review of its environmental and social safeguard policies which apply to project finance. The review offers an important opportunity for broadening the scope of the World Bank’s safeguard policies in key areas related to human rights such as disability, gender, labor, land tenure, and the rights of indigenous peoples. The first consultation period concluded on 21 April, and a first draft of the revised policies is expected to be released for public comment in the next few months. For the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya “this review is an opportunity for the World Bank to heed the call of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides that States, intergovernmental organizations, and UN specialized agencies, including the World Bank, shall promote respect for full application and realization of, its provisions.”“World Bank financed large-scale development projects often have an impact on land used by small-scale farmers, negatively affecting their right to food,” said the Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter. In his view, “the updated safeguard policies must ensure that the voice of affected communities is more effectively heard, through inclusive and participatory impact assessments and through effective accountability mechanisms that provide effective remedies for any harm caused.” Read the release …

Thousands of minority languages threatened by assimilation, conflict and forced displacement – UN expert
OHCHR release, 12 March 2013

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND:  The UN Independent Expert on minority issues Rita Izsák warned that half of the world’s estimated 6,000 plus languages will likely die out by the end of the century, and urged world governments to take significant and urgent efforts to protect both minority communities and their language heritage. “Some groups are vulnerable to factors beyond their control, such as policies of assimilation that promote dominant national or official languages, the impact of conflict, or forced displacement from their traditional lands,” Ms. Izsák said during the presentation of her latest report to the UN Human Rights Council. “Some countries have aggressively promoted a single national language as a means of reinforcing sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity.” “Language is a central element and expression of identity and of key importance in the preservation of group identity,” she underlined. “Language is particularly important to linguistic minority communities seeking to maintain their distinct group and cultural identity, sometimes under conditions of marginalization, exclusion and discrimination.” In her view, protection of linguistic minority rights is a human rights obligation and an essential component of good governance, efforts to prevent tensions and conflict, and the construction of equal and politically and socially stable societies.
In her report, Ms. Izsák analyses various threats to the existence of minority languages and linguistic minorities, the importance of recognition of minority languages and linguistic rights, the use of minority languages in public life, education, in the media, in public administration and judicial fields, minority-language use in names, place names and public signs, participation in economic and political life and the need for provisions of information and services in minority languages. Read the release … Download the report [pdf] …

Report of the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John H. Knox
Doc. A/HRC/22/43, December 2012

This first report of the Independent Expert, to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at its 22nd session in March 2013, is intended to place the mandate in a historical context, present some of the outstanding issues relevant to the relationship between human rights and the environment, and describe the current and planned programme of activities. The Independent Expert explains that many issues related to the obligations that human rights law imposes regarding environmental protection need greater study and clarification. His first priority is therefore to provide greater conceptual clarity to the application of human rights obligations related to the environment, taking an evidence-based approach to determining the nature, scope and content of these obligations.

It is noted in the report that indigenous peoples are at particular risk from many kinds of environmental damage because of their cultural and economic dependence on environmental resources. Their procedural rights have received detailed recognition in international instruments, for instance ILO Convention 169 concerning the protection and integration of indigenous and other tribal and semi-tribal populations in independent countries includes a general requirement that governments consult with the peoples concerned whenever giving consideration to measures that may affect them directly. More specifically, it provides for the assessment of environmental impacts of proposed development activities and makes clear that the rights of indigenous peoples to the natural resources pertaining to their lands include the right to participate in the use, management and conservation of these resources. Similarly, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to participate in decision-making on matters that would affect their rights and provides that States shall consult with the indigenous peoples concerned to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing measures that may affect them, particularly with respect to projects involving the development, use or exploitation of natural resources. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated that the State must consult with the community regarding any proposed concessions or other activities that may affect their lands and natural resources, ensure that no concession is issued without a prior assessment of its environmental and social impacts and guarantee that the community receives a reasonable benefit from any such plan if approved. With respect to “large-scale development or investment projects that would have a major impact”, the State must do more than consult; it must obtain the community’s “free, prior, and informed consent, according to their customs and traditions”.

Download the report [pdf] … Visit the website of the 22nd regular session of the Human Rights Council … Visit the Independent Expert’s webpage …

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