The Indigenous World 2021: 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 ECOSOC and, through it, to the UN agencies, funds and programmes, to raise awareness on Indigenous peoples’ issues, promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to Indigenous peoples’ issues within the UN system and promote respect for and full application of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and follow up on its effectiveness.
Established in 2000, the Permanent Forum is composed of 16 independent experts who serve for a term of three years, acting 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 make up the world’s Indigenous peoples, with one seat rotating between 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.
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, which is submitted to the ECOSOC.
2020 was a challenging year for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and, indeed, for the entire world. With preparations well underway, the annual session was postponed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic just a few weeks before it was due to take place. Throughout the year, the Permanent Forum continued to carry out its mandate, readjusting to the new circumstances.
For the period of 2020-22, 12 new experts joined the Permanent Forum: Mr. Vital Bambanze (Burundi); Ms Tove Søvndahl Gant (Denmark); Ms Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Chad); Mr. Grigory E. Lukiyantsev (Russian Federation); Mr. Bornface Museke Mate (Namibia); Ms Hannah McGlade (Australia); Mr. Darío José Mejía Montalvo (Colombia); Mr. Simón Freddy Condo Riveros (Bolivia); Mr. Geoffrey Scott Roth (USA); Ms Irma Pineda Santiago (Mexico); Mr. Sven-Erik Soosaar (Estonia); and Mr. Aleksei Tsykarev (Russian Federation). Of the total number of members, seven are women and nine are men.
International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples and Pandemics
In December 2020, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) organized an international expert group meeting entitled “Indigenous Peoples and Pandemics”, as recommended by UNPFII and endorsed by ECOSOC. The meeting consisted of five two-hour sessions over five days on an online platform at different times of the day to facilitate participation from all regions.
Over the five-day discussion, there was a sense of urgency among experts regarding the need for various stakeholders to take actions to redress the extreme disadvantages faced by Indigenous Peoples in fully enjoying their rights. Some issues highlighted were: the lack of culturally-appropriate access to health services, as well as to some basic services such as water and sanitation, threatening the survival of Indigenous Peoples; the inadequate response programmes by some governments during the pandemic; the lack of full and effective participation by Indigenous Peoples in decision-making; the limited or no access to remote learning due to limited access to the Internet, connectivity and electricity.
Nevertheless, Indigenous Peoples have continued to organize themselves to respond to the pandemic by exercising their self-determination and taking care of their members by, for example, providing food and supplies, oxygen tanks, rapid COVID-19 tests, and taking special measures to protect their elders.
The meeting further emphasized the increase in violence, killings or invasions of Indigenous lands by miners and landgrabbers, who are entering Indigenous communities and infecting them. Another issue of concern was the lack of support for Indigenous women and girls, in particular, who faced higher numbers of rapes and domestic violence during the pandemic. Indigenous leaders and experts stressed the urgent need to rebuild trust between Indigenous Peoples and health systems.
The meeting was attended by Indigenous experts, members of the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism, UN entities, government representatives, academics, NGOs and the general public. A report of the expert group meeting will be presented at the 2021 session of the Permanent Forum.
Pre-sessional meeting (Finland)
Each year, a pre-sessional meeting of the Permanent Forum is hosted by a Member State. At the invitation of the Government of Finland, the Permanent Forum members met from 10-14 February 2020 in Inari, Finland. This pre-sessional was significant as it marked the first meeting of the 2020-2022 membership of the Forum. At these meetings, the Forum members prepare the upcoming session, identify their priorities and elect their Bureau members. The Forum members met with representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, members of parliament, government officials and civil society, as well as members of the Sámi parliaments in Finland and Norway in order to be better informed of the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Finland and the Sápmi region and discussed the government’s efforts and initiatives to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
2020 session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Permanent Forum postponed its 2020 annual session with the theme of “Peace, justice and strong institutions: the role of Indigenous Peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16”. The theme has consequently been rolled over to the 2021 session.
In an effort to continue its engagement and support, the Permanent Forum held virtual meetings throughout the year with a range of partners, including Member States, Indigenous Peoples, and UN entities, on issues of relevance to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A series of informal regional consultations also took place on the specific situation and priority issues of the seven Indigenous socio-cultural regions, and these included discussions on implementing the recommendations of the Forum, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Development Agenda, with particular relevance to Goal 16. The outcome of the session will be considered by ECOSOC. More informal consultations are expected to take place in early 2021.
COVID-19 dedicated web page and related reports
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch-Secretariat of the Permanent Forum created a dedicated web page on COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples. The web page is updated on a regular basis and contains a wide range of informational resources, including statements on COVID-19 by UN-mandated bodies on Indigenous Peoples’ issues and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, as well as relevant reports, articles and announcements from UN agencies and other entities. Throughout 2020, UN-DESA also published several key publications on Indigenous Peoples and COVID-19, including “Indigenous Peoples and the COVID-19 pandemic: Considerations” and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples, Policy Brief #70”.
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020 (9 August)
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated annually on 9 August at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In 2020, due to COVID-19, the event was held online and the theme was COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples’ resilience. The event brought together Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, United Nations agencies, Member States, civil society, relevant stakeholders and the general public.
The aim of the event was to share innovative ways in which Indigenous Peoples have continued to demonstrate resilience and strength in the face of the pandemic while confronting grave threats to their survival, and to highlight how the preservation and promotion of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge and practices can be leveraged more fully during the pandemic so that they can build back stronger.
Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development
As an expert body of the Economic and Social Council, the Permanent Forum 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 (SDGs) and Agenda 2030.
At the July 2020 High-level Political Forum at UN headquarters in New York under the theme of “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”, Member States noted that progress had been uneven and acceleration was needed in many areas regarding the SDGs in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reflected on the extent to which the international community had responded to the pandemic in a way that puts it back on track to achieve the SDGs and accelerate progress during the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.
Fourteen of the 47 Member States referenced Indigenous Peoples in their voluntary national reviews, emphasizing that the key to successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the principle of leaving no-one behind centred on symbiotic partnerships forged with civil society, the private sector, academia, relevant state entities, and Indigenous communities. Some Member States also noted the challenges of data disaggregation by ethnicity and indigeneity.
In the summary of the July 2020 High-level Political Forum, the President of ECOSOC reported that many speakers had emphasized the need to involve vulnerable groups, including Indigenous Peoples, in decision-making and to take their needs and rights into account. It was further stated that the COVID-19 pandemic had had a devastating and highly disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable communities, notably Indigenous Peoples, inter alia, exacerbating pre-existing economic, social and environmental inequalities and threatening the achievement of the SDGs.
At the 2020 United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, under the theme of “Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development”, held in September at UN headquarters in New York, the importance of the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples was acknowledged by Member States. A call was made for all Member States to, inter alia, mobilize a full and effective partnership across states and societies, engaging all relevant businesses and consumers, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities. It was further stated that living in harmony with nature should be promoted through education, science, technology and traditional knowledge, while at the same time safeguarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and empowering local authorities, women and youth.
The grave socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were also underscored, as many countries noted the opportunities to build back better, including efforts to spend more resources on sustainability and greener and bluer economies while ensuring equity and improving the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no-one behind, the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch/Division for Inclusive Social Development of UNDESA has been providing technical support to Member States for their implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2020, UNDESA continued to work closely with the Government of Uganda, providing capacity development and policy advice on the preparation of an affirmative action programme on Indigenous Peoples in the country. In 2020, the development of the affirmative action programme took place through both virtual drafting meetings and community-level consultations. This support is provided within the framework of the System-Wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and includes policy and legislative review, capacity development for government officials and Indigenous representatives and the organization of dialogues that bring together Indigenous representatives, government officials and relevant stakeholders.
This support is also provided by UNDESA at the request of governments from developing countries and it is always provided within the context of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDESA will continue to provide support to Uganda in 2021 as well as other countries when such requests are received. UNDESA also provides support to Resident Coordinators and United Nations Country Teams on matters related to Indigenous Peoples.
System-wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Inter-Agency Support Group (IASG) for Indigenous issues consists of more than 40 UN entities and other international organizations and has the main task of implementing the System-Wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (SWAP). The SWAP was officially launched by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2016, at the 15th session of the Permanent Forum. The Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch/Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (IPDB/SPFII) is the permanent co-chair of the IASG and plays a central role in the implementation of the SWAP.
The annual IASG meeting was hosted by the 2020 co-chair, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in cooperation with IPDB/SPFII, and held online from 14-16 December. The meeting was attended by the Chairs of the UNPFII, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and focused on the way forward and follow-up to the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination’s Call to Action on Indigenous Peoples, issued in November 2020.
The key outcome of the IASG annual meeting was to enhance coordination, especially given the challenges faced by each entity in carrying out its work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of the IASG annual meeting, participants identified concrete actions on three main topics: Indigenous human rights defenders; engagement with UN Country Teams; and engagement and participation of Indigenous Peoples and other partners (policy dialogue and capacity development).
Members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the 2020-2022 term
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the 2020 to 2022 term are as follows:
- Mr. Aleksei Tsykarev (Russian Federation)
- Ms Anne Nuorgam (Finland)
- Mr. Bornface Museke Mate (Namibia)
- Mr. Darío José Mejía Montalvo (Colombia)
- Mr. Geoffrey Roth (United States of America)
- Mr. Grigory Evguenievich Lukiyantsev (Russian Federation)
- Ms Hannah McGlade (Australia)
- Ms Hindou Oumarou Ibrhaim (Chad)
- Ms Irma Pineda Santiago (Mexico)
- Ms Lourdes Tibán Guala (Ecuador)
- Mr. Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal)
- Mr. Simón Freddy Condo Riveros (Bolivia)
- Mr. Sven-Erik Soosaar (Estonia)
- Ms Tove Søvndahl Gant (Denmark)
- Mr. Vital Bambanze (Burundi)
- Ms Xiaoan Zhang (China)
Please visit the UNPFII website for more information about the members and the selection process: www.un.org/Indigenous
This article was written by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum.
This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here
Notes and references
 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Indigenous Peoples. “COVID-19 and Indigenous peoples.” 2021. https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/covid-19.html
 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, COVID-19 Response. “Policy Brief No. 70: The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples.” May 2020. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/publication/PB_70.pdf
 UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB). “Building an Inclusive, Sustainable, and Resilient Future with Indigenous Peoples: A Call to Action.” November 2020. https://unsceb.org/building-inclusive-sustainable-and-resilient-future-Indigenous-peoples-call-action