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Seventy-fourth Session,
15th & 16th Meetings (AM & PM)

Full Access to Justice through State, Traditional Systems Required for Upholding Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Special Rapporteur Tells Third Committee

One Traditional Language Lost Every Two Weeks, Says Mexico’s Delegate, Representing Bloc of Countries

Safeguarding land rights and providing effective access to justice are vital for the realization of indigenous peoples’ fundamental collective rights, delegates told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today in a half‑day discussion on the issue.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples noted that most indigenous peoples around the world only exercise “fragmented self-determination”.  Upon surveying States’ approaches to indigenous peoples’ right to autonomy and self-government around the world, she concluded that “in most cases the existing arrangements have not resulted in full compliance with these rights”.

She stressed the importance for indigenous peoples to have full access to justice, encompassing the State legal system as well as their own justice systems.  Indigenous people face threats to their lands, natural resources, sacred sites and livelihoods.  Preserving their rights is inextricable from conserving the environment, given that 80 per cent of biological diversity is found on indigenous peoples’ territories, she added.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates affirmed the importance of providing indigenous people robust land rights and attested to the entrenched marginalization and injustice they face, particularly in relation to their lands, cultures and languages.

Mexico’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said that 12 years after the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the world’s 370 million indigenous people are still uprooted, and face poverty, injustice, and marginalization.  One indigenous language is lost every two weeks, he said, and went on to suggest that 2022-2032 be proclaimed the international decade for indigenous languages.

Some delegates touched on more positive developments.  Nicaragua’s representative described a legal measure to confer communal land title of a large swathe of its national territory to people of indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, adding that they are represented in positions of power, in many levels of Government and in the justice system.

However, others emphasized the need to balance indigenous identity with concerns of assimilation and national integration.  Cameroon’s representative, for instance, expressed concern over unity and indivisibility, as a relatively young country whose claim to independence was based on its own right to self-determination, adding that a young country requires access to its natural resources in order to develop.

Also today, the Committee concluded its debates on the promotion and protection of children’s rights and the advancement of women.

Also speaking were representatives of Peru, Armenia, Cabo Verde, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lesotho, Morocco, Gambia, El Salvador, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Thailand, Ukraine, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Oman, Uruguay, Guatemala, Togo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Antigua and Barbuda, Iceland, Thailand, Montenegro, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, Colombia, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil, United States, Guatemala, South Africa, Venezuela, Namibia, Iran, Costa Rica, Nepal, Ukraine, Panama, Denmark (speaking for the Nordic and Baltic countries), Paraguay, Bolivia, as well as from the Sovereign Order of Malta.

Also speaking were a representative of the European Union and an observer of the Holy See.

Representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Fund for Indigenous Peoples in Latin America also made interventions.

China’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 14 October, to begin its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its debate on the rights of indigenous peoples today, taking up the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, transmitted through a Note from the Secretary-General (document A/74/149).  Also today, the Committee concluded its debate on the promotion and protection of the rights of children (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4264), and its debate on the advancement of women  (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4262).

Statements:  Children’s Rights

GONZALO ARNALDO RIVERA ROLDAN (Peru) expressed regret that many children are not protected within their families.  He touched on progress his country has made on children’s wellbeing, including enhanced State investment in the national action plan for childhood 2021, which includes better access to health services.  There has been a reduction in the incidence of infantile anemia.  However, challenges remain, especially in helping children who are without parental care, who are entitled to live, grow and develop within a family.  “We cannot diminish or limit the rights and guarantees for girls, boys and adolescents,” he stressed, adding that improving the lives of the most vulnerable children, who are displaced or indigenous, is a prime condition for tackling inequalities and fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.

ZOYA STEPANYAN (Armenia) described a national programme that aims to address the needs of children in vulnerable situations by improving protection systems, guaranteeing inclusive and accessible education for children with disabilities, and preventing violence against children.  The Government has also pledged to provide free universal health coverage for all children under age 18.  Armenia works with civil society and myriad international organizations to provide these services.  Addressing the precarious reality of children in armed conflict, she underscored the need to support unimpeded humanitarian access.  Armenia rejects unlawful military use of civilian infrastructure and has committed to promoting the safety of children by signing onto multiple international agreements.

JOSÉ LUIS FIALHO ROCHA (Cabo Verde) said his country has joined most international legal instruments relating to children’s rights and is currently ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes protocols for submitting reports.  Cabo Verde is enhancing its policies, including measures to eliminate child labour.  Those measures include a list of work considered dangerous for adolescents and children.  Cabo Verde also has a committee to combat violence and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.  The primary responsibility for implementing children’s rights policies lies with Governments.  However, Governments are not alone and enjoy support from families and civil society, as well as international cooperation.

SVEN ALKALAJ (Bosnia and Herzegovina), associating with the European Union, said his country is guided by the Convention and its Optional Protocols, and attaches particular importance to the issue of children in armed conflicts.  In 2013, Bosnia and Herzegovina established the Council of Children to foster implementation of the Convention.  Further, the Council of Ministers is currently preparing a new action plan covering 2020-2030, which will outline priority objectives and measures for creating the best possible living conditions for children and families.  To this end, he highlighted two objectives:  children’s right to education and to live in a family environment.  Major progress has been made in promoting children’s rights to grow up in a family environment, with a focus on deinstitutionalization of children.

NKOPANE RASEENG MONYANE (Lesotho), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the inclusion of Goal 16.2 gives renewed impetus towards realizing the right of every child to live free from fear, neglect, abuse and exploitation.  There has been a leap in commitment across Africa to address violence against children.  This has been strengthened by the launch of a continent-wide campaign to address early child marriage, as well as national action plans constructed in a small but growing number of countries.  Yet, the protection of children’s rights in some countries, including Lesotho, has not been fully institutionalized.  A recent Health Ministry assessment found that 13,219 girls aged between 14-17 years were not enrolled in school; 1,742 of them were married.

MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco) said far too many children are deprived of their rights to life, education, peace, and adequate nutrition, adding that they must be spared the agony of forced military recruitment and displacement.  “Children are humanity’s most vulnerable actors, but they are also the future actors of humanity,” she said.  Therefore, creating the right conditions for their economic and social development is vital.  Morocco has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as its three Optional Protocols and regional instruments, and is upgrading its policy framework in order to implement its obligations.  She went on to describe several child rights policies, including a pan-African campaign to improve the lot of street children in African cities.

BINTA JENG (Gambia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country has a long record as a signatory to all international conventions on children’s rights.  It upholds those rights through law enforcement, as well as work with State and non-State actors.  Citing significant strides in addressing child marriage and female genital mutilation — both of which are banned by law — she said victims are provided with technical and logistical support.  Outlining a range of national policies aimed at protecting children, she asked international partners to help fund the health and education programmes enshrined in the national development plan.  The Gambia provides free basic and secondary education, with a special emphasis on the girl child, and has adopted policies to ensure that victims of early marriage are re-enrolled in school and reintegrated back to society.

EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador) said that as today is International Day of the Girl Child, girls’ rights should be celebrated and the persistent challenges to their wellbeing addressed.  El Salvador ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and has reformed domestic laws to fulfil its commitments for ensuring children’s wellbeing.  There are 2 million children and adolescents in El Salvador — comprising 31.6 per cent of its population.  Next week, the Government will launch a programme to support childhood development through football, establishing football schools throughout the country as a way to instil discipline and other values.

LALA MEHDIYEVA (Azerbaijan) said that it is unacceptable that the number of children maimed or killed in armed conflict has dramatically increased in recent years.  “We regret that the basic tenets of international humanitarian law and human rights law are being disregarded by some State actors, including in our region,” she said.  The foundation for lifelong success is built in early childhood.  Children with special needs, refugees and internally displaced persons are entitled to a free education and medical care.  During the past year, more than 80 projects to help children from low-income families and children with disabilities have been carried out, and as a result, new day-care centres have been built in 13 regions, and community-based rehabilitation centres for children with disabilities have opened in 22 regions.  The Government aims to better understand societal attitudes towards children with disabilities and offer recommendations to support their transition to an education system that fully supports them.

Mr. GETACHEW (Ethiopia), associating himself with the Group of 77, and the African Group, said the rights of children are enshrined in the Constitution, which assures the right to education, health and access to safe water.  National laws have been strengthened in line with international human rights conventions, and punishment and cruel and inhuman treatment in schools is penalized.  There are now 16 safehouses around Ethiopia, which provide safe environments to children who have experienced sexual and psychological violence.  He touched on a national campaign to correct public perceptions and make people aware of international human rights instruments concerning children, which have been translated into five languages.  In addition, Ethiopia has improved health indicators, including a reduction in stunting, malnutrition, and mortality of children under five years old.

THANCHANOK UTHAIWAN (Thailand), aligning himself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Government is developing national policies that combat online violence against children, particularly cyber-bullying.  National schemes aim to improve child nutrition and combat mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.  Thailand’s comprehensive universal health coverage ensures essential services for mother and child from pre-conception through other crucial periods of child development, ranging from family planning and antenatal care to vaccination, disease screening and counselling.  Thailand is focused on promoting more science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, particularly among women and girls.  It is also working to ensure that migrant children have access to essential services, including birth registration, and free public education and health care.

VERONIKA TARADAI (Ukraine), associating herself with the European Union, said the Government recently launched a nationwide child development programme to ensure equal opportunities and to protect children from violence.  Ukraine has also taken steps to protect minors from online sexual exploitation.  Ukrainian children are suffering the consequences of Russian aggression in parts of Donbas and temporarily occupied Crimea.  According to UNICEF, hostilities in the region are threatening access to safe water and sanitation for 500,000 children.  Moreover, large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk are contaminated by explosive remnants of war.  “As a result of Russian aggression, 119 children have become victims of landmines since 2014,” she said, condemning all such violations.  “Children shall remain children, not soldiers,” he stressed.

ALIE KABBA (Sierra Leone) said his country ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990.  Sierra Leone then adopted other pertinent normative positions at the regional and international levels.  It has enacted numerous national strategies to monitor issues surrounding children’s rights, such as the Sexual Offences Act 2019.  It also introduced Free Quality Education Programme for every child from primary to senior secondary school levels in all Government and Government-assisted schools.  

Mr. DJIGUEMDE (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the Group of 77, and the African Group, described programmes for vulnerable children and families, including vocational training in skills such as gardening and sewing offered at more than 1000 apprenticeship centres, and classes to help children conscripted to armed groups catch up with what they missed at school.  Burkina Faso aims to reduce inequality by providing cash transfers for vulnerable children, including orphans, on the streets and in rural areas.  It is working to end child abuse and funding ambitious programmes with trained staff catering to children with disabilities.  However, due to a lack of resources, female-genital mutilation, child labour and early marriage persist.  His country is working to strengthen the legislative and regulatory framework to tackle such problems, he added.

RAHMA KHALFAN SALIM RASHID AL ABRI (Oman) said the 2014 law on children safeguards the right to life, protection from violence, education and health care.  Children have the right to a dignified life so they can develop psychologically and physically.  Noting that Oman has prohibited early or forced marriage — and all violations of children’s rights — he detailed another programme to support families and to raise awareness among people who are preparing for marriage so they have a healthy family life and children can grow in a healthy manner.  Children have the right to health care and Oman provides the best level.  Noting that education is obligatory to grade 10, she said Oman also has a high level of school attendance, and more broadly pointed to the law on kindergartens, which allows for day care that can be used by both citizens and foreign nationals.  Further, Oman has opened preparatory schools in distant regions where there are no private schools, allowing children to have pre-school education.

ZEBIB GEBREKIDAN (Eritrea), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said 15,000 children die daily from preventable disease.  Despite progress, 20 million children worldwide miss out on life-saving vaccines such as for measles and tetanus.  The Convention was the first international treaty Eritrea ratified following its independence, and while her country has made much progress on the Goals relating to children, much remains to be done.  Eritrea is working to safeguard the rights of children, particularly access to education, street children, violent offences and access to nutrition.  Work in these areas is being done at the sub-regional level across the country.

Mr. BERMUDEZ (Uruguay) highlighted the issue of children lacking parental care, which will lead to irreversible negative consequences.  Stressing the importance of treating children as individuals with rights, not just in need of protection, he appealed to all States to fully ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.  He went on to describe Uruguay’s policies to protect the rights of girls and adolescents, to combat infant poverty and to protect those who are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence.  Strengthening policies to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has allowed Uruguay to reverse negatives trends, and make progress in ending poverty, malnutrition and infant mortality.  Sexual exploitation and violence against children must be eliminated everywhere it takes place:  in houses, schools, workplaces and detention centres.

LUIS ANTONIO LAM PADILLA (Guatemala) said the Convention’s ratification by numerous States has bolstered recognition of the human dignity of childhood.  But if the international community does not accelerate progress, 70 million children could die before their fifth birthday.  Guatemala is particularly vulnerable to trafficking of people for sexual purposes.  Migration towards the north has led to another source of victimization.  Guatemala is now a country of origin, transit and destination for international trafficking, a crime that has increased throughout its territory.  Trafficking for sexual reasons is devasting for victims and can lead to suicide or death at the hands of perpetrators.  Stressing that trafficking is a form of modern slavery and must be eradicated, he called for examining the problem on a transnational basis.

ABRA ESENAM GUINHOUYA (Togo), associating herself with the African Group, said social protection for children is incorporated into the Constitution, which recognizes rights to education and health, as well as protection against all forms of violence and exploitation.  To meet its goals in this area, Togo has improved the legal framework and created the economic and social conditions needed to protect children.  Following a 2016 study, Togo elaborated a new strategy for the children’s wellbeing, and once adopted, it will help the Government better solve problems facing vulnerable children.

GASTON KIMPOLO (Congo), associating with the African Group, described his country’s coordination mechanism for protecting children and a related national framework, with laws outlining the minimum work age and actions to support children with disabilities, among others.  Congo aims to improve social services, prevent conflict and end violence against children, notably exploitation and sexual abuse.  The national framework — establishing that all children are equal — states that every child has a right to education and no child should be subject to dehumanizing punishment which would affect their physical or psychological wellbeing.  Congo is also committed to fighting xenophobia and all forms of discrimination.

GLENTIS THOMAS (Antigua and Barbuda) said children are suffering health risks caused by climate change, a phenomenon that is threating the life and liberty of all children.  From heat waves to relentless droughts to devastating storms, children are the most vulnerable in all societies.  “Too small to cope.  Too poor to adapt.  Too simple to plan.  Too weak to protect themselves,” he said.  Child labour, abuse and hunger, along with obesity, asthma and other health issues caused by air pollution are among the problems.  Antigua and Barbuda places great emphasis on universal education and health care, he said, as well as on social protections and environmental laws.

HELEN S. VON ERNST (Iceland) described measures her Government has taken to strengthen children’s rights, including improvements to its legal, social and policy framework.  To protect children against violence, stronger policies have been implemented and there is better sharing of statistics and research between Government agencies and non-governmental organizations.  As for sexual and other serious violence, over the past three decades, Iceland has instituted the “Barnahaus (Children’s house) model”, a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to gather evidence and provide therapeutic services out of centres, whose success has led to its adoption by 20 other countries.  Recalling recent widespread youth protests against Government inaction on climate change, she said Iceland has approved a proposal aimed at increasing children’s participation in the formulation of Government policies.

MICHAEL ESPIRITU, Sovereign Order of Malta, said the Order is committed to serving the physical, material, and psychological needs of migrant and refugee children.  In Turkey, where half of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees are children, the Order maintains an orphanage for unaccompanied minors, two schools, and rehabilitation centre.  In Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and northern Syria, it supports paediatric hospitals and mobile medical units serving refugee children.  To address undernourishment, the Order provides nutritional support for 500 children in Togo yearly; in Guatemala, its feeding centre feeds 100 daily.  The Order focuses on the children of marginalized communities, particularly the Roma.  Lastly, caring for children who are sick and disabled remains central to the Order’s 900-year mission, he said, pointing to the special attention given to newborns and their mothers.  In the West Bank, the Order’s Holy Family Hospital delivers 70 per cent of babies, offering women the opportunity to give birth under safe and modern conditions.

ANN KYUNG UN DEER, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), drew attention to the worrying trend of selective implementation of law — happening primarily for reasons of national security, and in the emblematic case of children associated with groups designated as terrorists.  Children associated with certain categories of people are treated as exceptional cases to whom existing law does not apply.  If a child is born of a “migrant” or “violent extremist”, he or she is treated with lower standards of protection.  Millions of children in conflict zones daily face discrimination, ostracization and stigmatization.  For children affiliated with groups designated as terrorists, she expressed concern over discrimination against children based on their age; the separation of children above a certain age from their families and decisions against returning foreign children to countries of origin based on age; and sentencing extremely young children associated with armed groups for their own alleged criminal wrongdoing.  She urged States to enforce the principle of best interest of the child; the right of all children not to be separated from their parents against their will; and the obligation to reintegrate children who have participated in armed conflict.

Statements:  Women’s Advancement

SUPACHAI TEERAMUNGCALANON (Thailand) associating with the Group of 77, and with ASEAN, applauded the Secretary-General’s Gender Parity Strategy, noting that for the first time in history, women hold 38 per cent of senior positions.  For its part, Thailand has incorporated gender-responsive policies into public health services, criminal justice and efforts to promote human rights, with special attention given to combating violence against women.  While women account for 64 per cent of Thailand’s workforce, they make 40 per cent of a CEO’s salary, and 34 per cent of a Chief Financial Officer’s pay.  Thailand ranks first in the world for women’s enrolment in higher education, with 1.41 women attending university for every man.  In the last election, women took 81 out of 500 seats in Parliament — double that of the previous election.  “We are committed to step up efforts to further expand women’s participation in politics and in decision-making from local to international levels”, he declared.

Ms. AL-WAHAIBI (Oman) said the Constitution outlines equality between men and women and includes an article on women’s rights.  In Oman, the labour code calls for gender equality in the workplace, while women more broadly are entitled to own property and land.  They have access to job opportunities alongside men and contribute to development.  Women also occupy senior positions in the public sector, she said, noting that in 2016, 41 per cent of all civil servants were women.  Women also comprise 21 per cent of people working in the private sector.

MILICA PEJANOVIĆ ĐURIŠIĆ (Montenegro) said her country has undertaken numerous activities to advance gender equality, including the establishment of a legislative and institutional framework.  Affirmative action, introduced through a quota of 30 per cent for the less-represented gender in electoral lists, helped to increase women’s political participation in the local and national parliaments.  Amendments to the electoral law, prepared by the Women’s Political Network, will further increase the quota to at least 40 per cent in the Parliament by 2020.  With the action plan to develop women’s entrepreneurship from 2015 to 2020, Montenegro has created an environment to support women’s economic empowerment.

NKOPANE MONAYENE (Lesotho) said the Beijing Platform for Action is a powerful tool for gender equality and a key to sustainable development, peace, equality and human rights.  To achieve Goal 5 (gender equality), Lesotho has put in place legislative, administrative and pragmatic measures to ensure equal representation of women and men in all governance structures, from the executive to the legislative and judiciary.  Cultural and religious factors are challenges for a patriarchal society in which economic and property relations are dominated by males.  A male-dominated society that is economically underdeveloped is a breeding ground for domestic violence, involving physical, sexual or emotional abuse.  The Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act removes the minority status of women, granting them equal access to economic resources and facilities.

Ms. BERTRAND (France) said no country has established gender equality.  France aims to achieve such parity by eliminating inequalities and violence against women, and by encouraging access to new digital technology.  In July 2020, France will host the Generation Equality Forum under the auspices of United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

PAUL BERESFORD-HILL, Sovereign Order of Malta, said the Order provides health care, and supports migrants, refugees and human trafficking victims.  He affirmed support for women’s rights and equal treatment for all.  The education of girls and the reintegration of victims of gender-based violence into society are keys to achieving equality.  The Order works with local, regional, national and international groups to bring education and rehabilitation to those in need.  Earlier in 2019, Malta appointed ambassadors in Geneva and Nairobi to combat human trafficking, which disproportionately affects women and girls.  Because there is stigma against survivors, and they are often excluded by their own families, Malta has established community outreach programmes in high-risk areas.  Counsellors help communities embrace them with compassion rather than punish them with exclusion.

MATTHIEU COGNAC, International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the past quarter century has witnessed considerable gains in female participation in schools and access to the job market.  Yet, girls still are more likely than boys to not complete their basic education and young women — even those who attain higher levels of education — struggle to find decent jobs.  Women are disproportionately represented in lower skill occupations.  Comparing women’s global unemployment, 4.7 per cent, with that of men, 5.4 per cent, he said the real issue is that women who do join the workforce face violence, discrimination and harassment.  Mobbing, physical and verbal abuse constitute human rights violations, he emphasized, and are recognized as such in the landmark ILO convention and resolution on eliminating violence and harassment at work, adopted earlier this year.

Ms. ELLIOTT, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), also speaking for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), said hunger is on the rise again, driven upwards by conflict and climate change.  More than 820 million people are hungry today, and on every continent, the prevalence of food insecurity is slightly higher among women than men, with the largest differences found in Latin America, she said, noting that the goal of “zero hunger” can only be achieved when everyone has equal opportunity and access to resources.  She pointed to laws that prevent women from inheriting and owning land and assets, which perpetuate poverty and hunger.  The impact of climate change, drought and floods, which adversely affect food production, are not gender neutral as conflicts, natural disasters and crop failures reduce the life expectancy of women significantly more than men.  She called for investing in gender-transformative approaches that tackle the underlying sociocultural causes of gender inequality in rural areas.

KIERAN WILLIAM GORMAN-BEST, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said women account for almost 50 per cent of all migrants and are increasingly migrating as individuals.  Women and girls on the move are often at greater risk of all forms of violence and continue to be targeted by traffickers.  Globally, nearly three quarters of all identified victims of trafficking are women and girls.  To improve their situation, cooperation between Governments and civil society should be strengthened and high-quality data gathered on the link between migration and gender.  Consumers and private sector actors also must be mobilized to prevent exploitation from occurring in the first place.  The gendered nature of the link between migration and labour must not be overlooked.

Briefing and Interactive Dialogue:  Indigenous Peoples

VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, presenting her thematic report on the recognition and exercise of indigenous people’s right to self-determination (document A/74/149), stressed that the recognition of this right has largely had a positive transformative impact on international law, and in turn, improves human rights compliance, lessens discrimination and inequalities, amplifies the legitimacy of States, and is at the heart of efforts to redress past and ongoing rights violations.  However, upon having surveyed a variety of scenarios involving the realization of indigenous people’s self-determination around the world — ranging from countries which did not recognize their rights to States with contemporary treaty relations with indigenous peoples — she observed that “in most cases” indigenous peoples can “generally only exercise what could be termed as ‘fragmented self-determination’”.

She said adequate self-determination and autonomy can only be achieved by the full recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and natural resources, to maintain and develop their own governing institutions, and to enjoy the ways and means to finance their autonomous functions.  This can only be achieved with “true intercultural dialogue, that takes into account indigenous peoples’ own concepts of autonomy or self-government”, she continued, adding that mutual trust must be built for dialogue to be fruitful.  Moving on to the thematic report on access to justice, presented to the Human Rights Council in September, she observed that effective access to justice encompasses access to the State legal system as well as their own justice systems.  She pointed out that without full access to justice, indigenous people are exposed to threats to their lands, natural resources, sacred sites and livelihoods.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of the United States, recalling Executive Order 13175, which obliged his Government to consult with tribal governments on policies affecting them, asked how States might vest power with proper authorities.  The representative of the European Union called for a practical engagement, in particular, human rights guidelines on discrimination, thanking the Special Rapporteur for her work.

Namibia’s delegate recalled her country’s history of colonialism and apartheid, which remains a challenge for most indigenous peoples.  She asked the Special Rapporteur how a common understanding on ancestral land rights can be established. Australia’s delegate said indigenous women play a pivotal role within their communities, pointing to her country’s partnering with indigenous Australians to improve their situation.

Cuba’s delegate said indigenous peoples’ rights have been seriously breached, noting that a great deal must be done to ensure that their rights are recognized, especially that to autonomy and self-determination, and requesting examples of positive practices the Special Rapporteur encountered during her work.

Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ replied that the indigenous peoples should be supported more in their financial and technical resources so they can establish a more self-governing community.  Significant progress has been achieved on the issue of ancestral land rights and restitutions.  Recalling the example of Latin America, she cited provisions that indigenous peoples should be given land of equal quality to that from which they were displaced.

Stressing the importance of inter-cultural dialogue and non-violent approaches to such, she offered examples of indigenous women leaders.  Data show that recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and protecting the environment, particularly forests, go hand-in-hand, she said, noting that 80 per cent of biological diversity is found on indigenous peoples’ territories.  Supporting their rights therefore brings benefits to the entire world.

Also engaging in the dialogue were the representatives of Mexico, Guatemala, Canada and Lichtenstein.

Statements:  Indigenous Peoples

LUIS GERARDO ELIZONDO BELDEN (Mexico), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said in the 12 years since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples still face specific vulnerabilities.  They are uprooted, marginalized, and face poverty and injustice.  Making their voices heard, their contributions taken into account and their knowledge harnessed is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda.  “With the imminent close of the International Year of Indigenous Language, there is an urgent need to promote indigenous languages,” he said, adding that one indigenous language is lost every two weeks.  Against this backdrop, 2022-2032 could be proclaimed the international decade for indigenous languages.   He called for the repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains through relevant stakeholders and agencies, pointing out that the Declaration states that indigenous people have the right to manifest and teach their customs, spiritual traditions and ceremonies.

Mr. LOPEZ (El Salvador), on behalf of the Central American Integration System, welcomed General Assembly resolution 73/156, which urges Governments and the United Nations to realize commitments made at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  Given that countries in the System comprise more than 60 native peoples and 20 per cent of Central America, respect for multiculturalism and ethnic diversity in the region is considered one of bloc’s guiding principles.  He reaffirmed the right of indigenous peoples to their histories and languages while recognizing that traditional knowledge and practices can support social wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods.  He stressed the importance of access to justice in the protection of indigenous rights, and strengthened mechanisms to facilitate dialogue with indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

SILVIO GONZATO, European Union, said his delegation has prioritized fighting discrimination and inequalities based on indigenous origin or identity in relation to ensuring economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.  Education is a key component for empowerment.  The international decade of indigenous languages foreseen by the relevant resolution of the Human Rights Council’s forty-second session to be proclaimed by the General Assembly be a decade of collaboration.  The spike in numbers of indigenous rights defenders being targeted is deeply unsettling and unaccepting.

MARIE-LOUISE KOCH WEGTER (Denmark), speaking for the Nordic and Baltic countries, expressed great concern over the growing cases of reprisals against indigenous human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ representatives attending United Nations meetings, and United Nations mandate-holders working on the rights of indigenous peoples.  “This is not a new challenge, it is unfortunately ongoing and all too well known,” she said.  The Nordic and Baltic countries welcome the lessons learned from the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 through activities led by UNESCO.  Language is an essential component of and prerequisite for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, she said.

Ms. MIYAZAKI (Japan) said that in June 2008, the Government passed resolutions recognizing the Ainu as an indigenous people of Japan.  Following these resolutions, the Government released a statement establishing the Advisory Council for Future Ainu Policy.  At the Advisory Council, Japan’s authorities and representatives of the Ainu people discuss comprehensive and effective measures to address such issues as education, cultural revitalization and economic development.  One of the pillars of Japan’s policies for the Ainu people is the promotion of the Ainu culture.  Japan has provided support to various cultural projects, including an education programme on the Ainu language.

LEA REGINA MACKENZIE (Canada) said discrimination against indigenous people has led to human suffering, with far-reaching negative effects undermining political stability and economic progress.  For indigenous peoples, as for any community, free expression and free participation in decision-making lead to better economic, social and cultural outcomes.  There are examples across the world where representatives of indigenous peoples, working with Governments, have built more successful communities by adopting approaches grounded in respect for human rights.

Ms. MANSFIELD (Australia), acknowledging the pivotal leadership role that indigenous women play in their families and communities, and in the growth and diversity of Australian society, she affirmed the Government’s priority to improve their role and increase their opportunities for economic prosperity and safety.  Australia is working with communities with greater transparency, sharing data and funding information and supporting community decision-making.  The Government also is partnering with indigenous Australians in formal, shared decision-making to deliver and monitor the “Closing the Gap” framework, a domestic mechanism for improving indigenous communities.

Mr. HERNANDEZ, youth delegate from Mexico, pointing to the 68 national languages in his country, said Mexico is founded on indigenous peoples and their issues are a priority.  The national institute for indigenous peoples operates on the premise that indigenous peoples are recognized as public rights holders.  He described a reform which seeks to safeguard self-determination, autonomy, land, natural resources, indigenous normative systems, education and comprehensive development, to name a few areas.  Indigenous heritage is a common heritage, and as such, should be safeguarded.  In Mexico, indigenous languages have the same legal recognition as Spanish and he expressed concern over the rate of their extinction.

MANUEL ANTONIO MADRIZ FORNOS (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Indigenous People and the Central American Integration System, said indigenous people in his country simultaneously hold identities as indigenous peoples and peoples belonging to their nation State.  He described examples of this simultaneity in action, such as a model of bilingual education, intercultural health care, the recognition of traditional justice, and the official status given to indigenous languages.  All this strengthens indigenous people’s participation in Nicaragua’s socio-political and cultural life, he added, as does Law 445, which confers communal land title of an area covering a third of the national territory to people of indigenous and afro-descendent communities.  Moreover, indigenous and Afro-descendent people are represented in municipal councils, in regional governments, and work as magistrates and civil servants.  He went on to describe various improvements to infrastructure, such as trunk lines providing safe drinking water to remote communities as well as road links, which have aided indigenous people and promoted development. 

CAROLINA GUTIERRÉZ BACCI (Colombia) said indigenous peoples’ rights are enshrined in the Constitution and the Government works to secure their ethnic identity.  Colombia is particularly focused on protecting the rights of indigenous women, who are victims of violence.  Diversity is the essence of Colombia’s cultural heritage, she said, underscoring the crucial importance of preserving indigenous languages.  To this end, priority is given to native languages that are vulnerable to extinction.  Colombia employs mechanisms to revitalize, recognize and document indigenous languages, she said, underscoring the need to safeguard indigenous rights and the existence of indigenous peoples on their territory.

ROMAN G. KASHAEV (Russian Federation) said his country continues to improve national legislation and its implementation relating to indigenous peoples.  In 2019, the Government drafted four laws on the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, including reparations for the industrial use of their territories.  The Russian Federation provides indigenous peoples with land rights, free use of water and hunting resources and traditional places of habitation.  It is working to improve mechanisms for decision-making at the regional and local levels for indigenous peoples, including representation in councils and advisories at federal and regional levels.  On language diversity, 277 languages and dialects are used in the Russian Federation and 81 languages can be studied as a school subject.  A fund to study the native languages was recently set up, he said.

FABIÁN OSWALDO GARCÍA PAZ Y MIÑO (Ecuador), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said his country is a pluri-national and intercultural State with indigenous peoples who conserve their own languages and cultures.  Ecuador’s national development plan affirms the country’s interculturality.  A main promoter of proclaiming 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages, Ecuador recognizes the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) carried out during this period, he said.

JORGE LUIS CEPERO AGUILAR (Cuba) said the rights of indigenous peoples should be enshrined in countries’ legal systems.  He advocated greater social protections for local communities and better safeguarding of indigenous rights to maintain traditional practices.  Facing violence, extreme poverty and marginalization, indigenous peoples also have been stripped of their land, he said, expressing support for efforts to harmonize policies based on respect for their values. 

JOÃO CARLOS FALZETA ZANINI (Brazil) said his country has two indigenous women in high-level positions, as well as a national programme to protect rights defenders from threats.  He underscored the importance of safeguarding indigenous peoples’ land rights, expressing concern over continued violence against indigenous peoples and emphasizing that the National Indigenous Foundation is fully committed to safeguarding their rights and lives.

JASON MACK (United States) said that indigenous people have been outspoken critics of abuses while being subject to attempts to discredit human rights agendas.  Since April 2017, China has detained more than 1 million individuals in internment camps, forced many to renounce their ethnic or religious identities and subjected them to forced labour, inhumane conditions and even death.  China also attacks members of minority groups abroad and is pressuring Governments to return asylum seekers belonging to these groups.  He expressed concern over ongoing abuses against indigenous peoples in Venezuela, citing a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees referring to traditional lands that have been militarized.

OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala), associating himself with the Central American Integration System and the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said that after more than 20 years of struggle, Guatemala in 2007 adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Guatemala has always worked to ensure the protection of their rights and interests and was the first country to carry out an assessment of the Declaration’s status in 2012.  It also celebrated 400 years of the sacred Mayan calendar.  Public policies underpinning multiculturality and citizen participation has helped Guatemala to fight discrimination.

TEBOHO JULIAH BABEDI (South Africa) said the Government has embraced the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages with efforts aimed at promoting and protecting indigenous languages and multilingualism.  Assimilation is the greatest threat indigenous peoples face and to protect their rights, South Africa has taken steps to deliver quality education, public health care, decent jobs with living wages and respect for their ancestral lands and cultural heritage.  Recognizing the important role of traditional leadership structures, she cited the critical role played by the South African National House of Traditional Leaders in maintaining democracy and advising the Government.  She deplored that multinational companies violate indigenous rights with total disregard for free, prior and informed consent, as well as the harassment, attacks and threats against indigenous communities.

ROBERT ALEXANDER POVEDA BRITO (Venezuela) said the Constitution values pluralism and supports indigenous peoples in maintaining their customs, noting that 12 October is a day on which the indigenous resistance to colonialism is celebrated.  Venezuela’s Constitution recognizes indigenous rights to ethnic ancestry, sacred places of worship, and their right to political participation.  In addition, the Government has worked to strengthen the use of indigenous languages as a means of cultural expression, having mandated that public and private schools located in indigenous areas teach native languages. 

Ms. YAYI (Cameroon) said the Constitution specifies the rights of indigenous peoples.  However, the achievement of independence by African countries has been based on the right to self-determination, and these young, fragile States have great concerns about their unity and indivisibility of countries.  In addition, these States need all their national resources to develop, she said.  The Cameroon Government routinely carries out consultations with Pygmies to develop consensus on issues before laws affecting them are drafted.  The State has also initiation sessions with the Pygmies to establish agreements to co-manage national parks.

NEKWAYA HELALIA NALITYE IILEKA (Namibia) said that to many indigenous people, land is more than an economic commodity; it is the basis of a cultural identify and centre of spiritual wellbeing for the individual and community.  Access to land and security of tenure remains a challenge for most indigenous people.  Namibia has established a Commission that is tasked with the common understanding of ancestral land rights, restitution and an establishment of the size of land lost.  The Government has recognized several indigenous groups as particularly marginalized.  They live in the most remote areas of Namibia, suffer from extreme poverty and have limited access to education and health services.  Uplifting indigenous people requires affirmative action through the creation of national policies to protect their social and political rights.

FREDRIK HANSEN, observer for the Holy See, welcomed steps taken by several Member States to recognize the right to autonomy or self-government of indigenous peoples, describing their extraordinary cultural and spiritual patrimony and contribution to the common good.  Indigenous peoples should be considered principal dialogue partners, especially when large development projects may affect their land.  Drawing attention to the tremendous pressure they withstand to sell or be removed from their ancestral lands, he expressed hope their right to keep distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions and engage freely with the State, will be respected.  He called for preserving, promoting and revitalizing indigenous languages.

MOHAMMAD HASSANI NEJAD PIRKOUHI (Iran) said the world owes much to indigenous peoples as valuable partners in efforts to realize the common development agenda.  Colonialism is the common denominator of their cause.  The inhumane treatment they have suffered forms a dark chapter of history, marked by reckless suppression of culture and language, forced assimilation, disappearance and the occupation of ancestral lands.  For decades, false creeds have been used to savage their human rights.  They face multiple forms of discrimination, regularly suffering harsher punishments that non-natives, as seen in the disproportionate numbers of indigenous persons in prison settings.  As racial supremacists gain ground, indigenous peoples risk losing hard-won achievements.

RODRIGO A. CARAZO (Costa Rica) said his country supports the rights of indigenous peoples in all international human rights instruments.  Costa Rica recognizes the historic debt it has to its indigenous people and respects their individual and collective rights, including to cultural practices and to self-determination.  In 2015, the Constitution was reformed to specify that Costa Rica is a multi-ethnic State, establishing the Government’s responsibility to maintain and foster indigenous languages.  As such, a national plan was formulated to recover the indigenous territory of Costa Rica by 2022, enforcing indigenous law.

MUDITA BAJRACHARYA (Nepal) said the Constitution guarantees the rights of indigenous nationalities to live with dignity, and protects their languages and traditions.  Nepal has placed high priority on preserving 59 indigenous peoples that comprise 34.5 per cent of the population, he said, underscoring Nepal’s commitment to realizing their social, economic and cultural rights.  He also pointed to initiatives aimed at protecting indigenous languages and encouraging easy access to school.

DARYNA HORBACHOVA (Ukraine) said her country guarantees the protection and enjoyment of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people within the sovereign and independent Ukrainian State. Since the temporary occupation of Crimea began in February 2014, Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians have faced numerous rights violations.  On 10 October, pro-Ukrainian activist Oleh Prykhodko was illegally detained by the Russian Federation occupation authorities in Crimea.  Illegal actions by the Russian Federation in occupied Crimea have been reflected in numerous reports, notably the Secretary-General’s recent report on the human rights situation in occupied Crimea.  The oppression and persecution of the indigenous people of Crimea requires special attention and systematic response from international organizations and the entire civilized international community.

ISBETH LISBETH QUIEL MURCIA (Panama) said her country was the first in Latin America to establish designated indigenous regions, recognizing five separate such regions.  In these areas, indigenous people elect their own authorities and control their own resources.  In addition, there is a permanent channel between the Government and native peoples, who significantly contribute to Panama’s cultural wealth.  The Government has revised the educational curriculum to prioritize the linguistic wealth of indigenous people.  Mindful of the challenges, the Government welcomes indigenous women’s growing participation in national life, including as elected officials and business-owners, she said.

JUAN MANUEL MONGELOS GALEANO (Paraguay), endorsing the statement by the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said his country is bilingual and recognizes two official languages:  Spanish and Guaraní.  The latter is an indigenous language broadly used by the population.  Paraguay is in the final stretch of a participatory section of its national plan, holding broad consultations with indigenous groups across the country.  Welcoming that 2019 was proclaimed Year of Indigenous Languages, he described a software that facilitates the follow up to the 2030 Agenda as related to indigenous peoples.

EDUARDO FERNANDO LEÓN PEÑARANDA (Bolivia), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said the new Constitution outlines that his country is a pluri-national State of people living in democracy, with all communities participating on an equal footing.  Bolivia recognizes the existence of various cultures with distinct languages and traditions. There are about 7,000 languages around the globe yet only about a quarter of them are spoken.  Minority languages are spoken mainly by indigenous peoples and these languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, he said.

Ms. CUNNINGHAM, speaking on behalf of the Fund for Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, said the latest data shows that indigenous communities receive the least amount of development assistance from the international community.  She called for the expansion of the voluntary indigenous fund, which would increase the visibility of historically excluded sectors and help ensure that they achieve justice and equity.  She said the international community should establish a day devoted to indigenous languages, which would bring visibility to the danger of their disappearance.

MATTHIEU COGNAC, International Labour Organization, pointed to statistics and research demonstrating that indigenous peoples suffer from the worst forms of labour exploitation.  They face barriers in the labour market as they have limited access to education and vocational training, and their traditional knowledge and skills are not necessarily valued.  As a result, they are vulnerable to bonded labour, trafficking, hazardous work and the worst forms of child labour.  Recalling ILO Convention No. 169, the only multilateral treaty dedicated specifically to the protection of the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, he underscored its role in facilitating the development of law and institutions aimed at guaranteeing their rights.

Right of Reply

The representative of China rejected the accusations made by the representative of the United States.  China practices an ethnic policy of equality and there are no indigenous people in China.  The series of measures taken in Xinjiang seek to prevent the emergence of terrorism at the source.  These measures are supported by the 25 million people in Xinjiang.  There are not so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang, but rather, the United States is using fake news to interfere in China’s affairs.  The United States delegates have not been to Xinjiang themselves and they are in no position to throw around irresponsible remarks.  It has long been the practice of the United States to smear human rights records in other countries but turn a blind to its own problems, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.