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Indigenous World 2019: UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (Permanent Forum) is an expert body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with the mandate to provide advice on indigenous issues to the Council and, through ECOSOC, to the UN agencies, funds and programmes, to raise awareness on indigenous peoples’ issues and promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous peoples’ issues within the UN system.

Established in 2000, the Permanent Forum is composed of 16 independent experts who serve for a three-year term in a personal capacity. They may be re-elected or re-appointed for one additional term. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and elected by the ECOSOC, based on the five regional groupings used by the UN, while eight are nominated directly by indigenous peoples’ organizations and appointed by the ECOSOC President representing the seven socio-cultural regions that broadly represent the world’s indigenous peoples, with one seat rotating among Asia, Africa, and Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Permanent Forum has a mandate to discuss indigenous peoples’ issues relating to the following thematic areas: culture, economic and social development, education, environment, health and human rights. Article 42 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) mandates the Permanent Forum to promote respect for and full application of the UNDRIP and to follow up on its effectiveness.

The Permanent Forum meets each year for ten working days. The annual sessions provide an opportunity for indigenous peoples from around the world to have direct dialogue with members of the Forum, Member States, the UN system, including human rights and other expert bodies, as well as academics and NGOs. The Permanent Forum prepares a report of the session containing recommendations and draft decisions that are submitted to the ECOSOC.

2018 was an ambitious year for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Having just celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2017, which was an opportunity to take stock of progress, the Permanent Forum was well-prepared to advise on concrete actions to bridge the implementation gap between the Declaration and the reality for indigenous peoples around the world. The Permanent Forum urged action across numerous cross-cutting issues, including collective rights to lands, territories and resources, advancing the rights of indigenous women and girls, and incorporating indigenous rights and priorities into the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

International Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Development in the Territories of Indigenous Peoples

In January 2018, UN DESA organized a three-day international expert group meeting on the theme “Sustainable Development in the Territories of Indigenous Peoples”, as recommended by UNPFII at its 2017 session. The meeting served as an opportunity to highlight the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as the cross-cutting dimensions of economic, social and environmental development. Participants discussed indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, the relationship between self-determined sustainable development and forms of autonomy, land grabbing and displacement of indigenous peoples, and the 2030 Agenda. Several proposals were made during the discussions, including to the need to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources, their experiences of self-government and different forms of autonomy as part of the right to self-determination and to support indigenous peoples’ participation in international processes. The meeting was attended by PFII members, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism, along with experts from the seven indigenous socio-cultural regions, academics and NGOs. The report of the meeting informed the discussions at the 2018 session of the Permanent Forum.

Pre-sessional meeting (Bolivia)

Each year, a pre-sessional meeting of the UNPFII is hosted by a Member State. At the invitation of the Government of Bolivia, the Permanent Forum members convened from 24 February to 3 March 2018 in La Paz and Sucre, Bolivia. The Forum members met with the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, representatives of indigenous peoples’ organisations, government ministries and civil society, as well as with the UN Country Team to be better informed on the situation of indigenous peoples in Bolivia. They discussed the policies and priorities of the government in implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Forum members also discussed the preparations and conduct of the upcoming session.

17th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The Permanent Forum held its 17th session from 16 April – 27 April 2018 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The main theme of the 2018 session was Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources”, which was discussed through interactive panels. Although some States have recognized the collective rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories and resources, there remains a wide gap between formal recognition and actual implementation. The Forum stated that “the lack of enforcement of laws, as well as contradictory laws and regulations, frequently results in the de facto denial of the rights accorded to indigenous peoples.” The Forum stressed that “ensuring the collective rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories and resources is not only for their well-being, but also for addressing some of the most pressing global challenges, such as climate change and environmental degradation. Advancing those rights is an effective way to protect critical ecosystems, waterways and biological diversity.”[1]

The Permanent Forum also facilitated dialogue around topics related to the follow-up to the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, including the development of national action plans, and implementation of the United Nations system-wide action plan on the rights of indigenous peoples and the SDGs. There were concerns raised regarding acts of intimidation and reprisals against indigenous leaders and human rights defenders who are targeted for their advocacy and actions in support of indigenous rights, with indigenous women often at the forefront of these struggles.

The Forum initiated a series of regional dialogues to focus on the specific situation and priority issues of the seven indigenous socio-cultural regions. The regional dialogues brought together representatives of Member States and indigenous peoples, with the Forum members moderating the discussions to draw out key concerns and offer possible solutions and good practice as a way forward. The Permanent Forum members also continued the practice of interactive policy dialogues with Member States, UN agencies and indigenous peoples’ organisations to follow-up on the efforts being made or planned to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Over 2,000 people from more than 80 countries attended the 17th session, representing more than 300 indigenous peoples’ organizations and 75 academic institutions.

During the PFII session, there were press conferences and in-depth interviews with indigenous representatives and UN expert members. An Indigenous Media Zone was organized during the 2018 session, in close cooperation with the Department of Public Information and indigenous journalists, which offered a space for indigenous representatives to discuss and share widely through e-communication tools.

Indigenous women at the Commission on the Status of Women

The March 2018 session of the Commission on the Status of Women focused on challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls as well as women’s participation in and access to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women. In the agreed conclusions[2] of the Commission, several references were made to indigenous women, recognizing that those living in rural and remote areas, regardless of age, often face violence and higher rates of poverty, limited access to health care services, information and communication technologies, infrastructure, financial services, education and employment, while also acknowledging their cultural, social, economic, political and environmental contributions, including to climate change mitigation and adaptation. A Vice-Chairperson of the Forum, as well as other indigenous women leaders, participated in this discussion. In addition, two panel discussions[3] were held entitled “Indigenous Women: Key Actors in Achieving the 2030 Agenda (Implementing SDG 5)” and “Indigenous Women’s Rights: a vital tool to ensure gender equality and economic and social empowerment.” These were co-organized by the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch-Secretariat of the PFII/DESA, International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and other partners.

Agenda 2030

As an expert body of the Economic and Social Council, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has a key role in ensuring that the rights and priorities of indigenous peoples are considered in the review and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. Drawing on key issues that emerged from panel discussions and dialogues on the 2030 Agenda at its annual session, in its report to ECOSOC the Permanent Forum emphasized that the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on ensuring access to affordable and modern energy for all poses threats as well as opportunities for indigenous peoples. The Permanent Forum thus encouraged States to work with indigenous peoples to develop guidelines for responsible renewable energy development. The Permanent Forum reiterated that countries undergoing voluntary national reviews at the high-level political forum in 2019 should include indigenous peoples in their reviews, reports and delegations. Member States were also invited to report on good practices of including indigenous peoples’ indicators in the voluntary national reviews to the Forum at its 2019 session.


System-wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Inter-Agency Support Group, which consists of more than 40 UN entities and other international organizations, is in the process of implementing the System-wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (SWAP), which was officially launched at the 15th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2016 by the United Nations Secretary-General. As the main UN body tasked with advising ECOSOC on indigenous issues – and, through ECOSOC, to the UN agencies, funds and programmes - the Permanent Forum has a central role and contribution to play in strengthening the implementation of the SWAP. Several Member States have already produced national and international action plans, such as El Salvador, and there is the Ibero-American Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in April 2018 by the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. The annual inter-agency support group meeting was organized in Colombia by FILAC and IPDB-SPFII as co-chairs, bringing together IASG members as well as indigenous representatives and the UN Country Team in Colombia. The focus was on the implementation of the SWAP rights of indigenous peoples at country, regional and global level.
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2018

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated each year at UN headquarters on 9 August. Increasingly, this Day is gaining recognition, with celebratory events taking place around the world. The theme of the 2018 International Day was “Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement.” The event included a panel discussion on the current situation of indigenous territories, the root causes of migration, trans-border movements and displacement, with a specific focus on indigenous peoples living in urban areas and across international borders. The panel also examined the challenges and ways forward to revitalize indigenous peoples’ identities and encourage the protection of their rights in or outside their traditional territories. Guest panellists ranged from government representatives to indigenous experts representing different regions of the world. More information can be found at the International Day’s dedicated website.[4] 

Notes and references

[1] E/2018/43 – E/C.19/2018/11 at p. 10

[2] See UNWomen’s outcome document from CSW 62 at http://bit.ly/2SOslwQ

[3] See Indigenous Women and the Commission on the Status of Women at http://bit.ly/2SNoNed

[4] See UN DESA’s page on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2018 at http://bit.ly/2SPiqXK

This article was elaborated by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum.

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