25 July 1997

Press Release


19970725 Meeting to Open as Marchers Mark Twentieth Anniversary of First International Conference to Counter Discrimination Against Indigenous People

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 25 July (UN Information Service) -- More than a thousand people are expected to march through the main gates of the Palais des Nations the morning of 28 July to mark the twentieth anniversary of the first international conference on discrimination against indigenous people and the opening of this year's session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

The annual Geneva meeting of the Working Group attracts more than 700 people from 50 countries, with representatives of indigenous people from all continents and ecological regions -- from the forests of Amazonia to the north of Alaska and Greenland; from the Saami people in Northern Russia to the Masai in Kenya to Australia's aborigines.

This year, the Working Group has decided that during its review of developments it will focus on issues relating to environment, land and sustainable development. The experts on the Working Group believe that while indigenous peoples have protected the environment over the centuries, few have had their role as guardians of nature confirmed, being instead too often excluded from the political process. In many regions indigenous peoples see land as a fundamental basis of their lifestyle and are seeking legal protection of their homelands and legal control of their resources. There has been some progress, with several States beginning to develop land-rights legislation.

Also at this year's session, to last from 28 July to 1 August, the Working Group will resume discussion on the creation of permanent forum within the United Nations structure for indigenous peoples and will have before it the report of the second workshop on a permanent forum on indigenous people held from 30 June to 2 July 1997 in Santiago, Chile.

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The formal proceedings of the Working Group form only part of the events of the Palais des Nations' annual "week of the indigenous". The extensive informal programme will include substantive activities such as workshops and briefings by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization. Indigenous people will also conduct their own consultative meetings, including a weekend preparatory meeting of indigenous organizations and evening sessions to assess each day's formal proceedings. In addition, films about indigenous subjects will be presented in the United Nations Cinema throughout the week. Among the dignitaries expected to participate in the week-long session is the recently appointed Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator John Herron. The Canadian Government is also sending senior officials to hold a seminar on its substance abuse programme, in the context of the particular health problems of indigenous populations.

The Working Group was established in 1982. It is the main international forum on indigenous issues and a reference point for governments, non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and the United Nations system. A catalyst for most UN system action in relation to indigenous peoples, the panel makes recommendations to the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, to the Commission on Human Rights and to the General Assembly. The Working Group has a mandate to review developments relating to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples and to give attention to the evolution of international standards concerning indigenous rights. This fifteenth session precedes the annual meeting of the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

Erica-Irene Daes of Greece is the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group. The other members are Miguel Alfonso Martinez (Cuba), Vladimir Boutkevich (Ukraine), El-Hadjé Guissé (Senegal) and Ribot Hatano (Japan). The members are independent experts and serve in their personal capacity.

Twenty-two indigenous participants are being sponsored by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations for this session. These representatives come from Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Peru, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Mexico, Mauritius, Nigeria, Honduras, Russia and the United States.

The first participants of a pioneering Indigenous Fellowship Programme will also participate in the Working Group's meeting to learn about human rights at the international level. The Programme offers six months of training and practical experience in human rights and the United Nations system in cooperation with indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations at Geneva. The fellows, currently working at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, are: Kaori Tahara (Japan), Talyev Victor Georguyevich (Russia), Sebastiao Alves Rodrigues Manchinery (Brazil) and Bineet J. Mundu (India). * *** *

For information media. Not an official record.