UN Special Rapporteur: Despite Efforts to Advance Development, Rights of Indigenous Peoples Remain Few and Far Between

By | 14 November, 2014

UNVictoria Tauli-Corpuz Reports on World Conference of Indigenous Peoples, Calls for Stronger Recognition and Protection of Essential Human Rights

(Geneva, November 14, 2014). Despite global efforts by the United Nations to advance social and economic development , the rights of Indigenous Peoples remain widely neglected and often unenforced, according to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Tauli-Corpuz stressed the importance of human rights in her report to the United Nations General Assembly regarding the outcomes of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, held on 22-23 September, 2014.

“There have been many positive milestones in the path that Indigenous Peoples have traveled over the past two decades,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “However, even though the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples(UNDRIP) in 2007, not all of these rights have been embraced throughout the world. Although the many commitments to respecting rights that were made in New York—from government leaders and companies alike—are certainly a step forward, we need to take stock and address how these rights can be better observed and protected.”

Over the past 20 years, the world’s Indigenous Peoples have taken a number of significant steps, in addition to the adoption of UNDRIP, that build an international framework enshrining their rights and aspirations. These include the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the creation of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), and the establishment of the Special Rapporteur post.

Many more steps need to be taken, however, before Indigenous Peoples can exercise their rights and continue to ensure their vital contribution to the global ecosystem. Tauli-Corpuz pointed to instances where governments redefine the notion of “Indigenous Peoples” as a means of negating the full rights that would normally be enjoyed by Indigenous Peoples.

The United Nations has embraced the need to tackle the root causes of poverty, and in too many places it is Indigenous Peoples that have the fewest resources in day-to-day living,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “We see the current focus however, on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, to have tremendous potential. To root out global poverty, the international community now has to embrace the needs of Indigenous Peoples and uphold their rights against the economic pressures that would strip their land of the natural resources it contains.”

The outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples also stressed the importance of maintaining indigenous cultures and beliefs. The importance of traditional medicine and knowledge, often cast aside in modernization programs, must also be upheld. Tauli-Corpuz cited a number of successful programs where conventional approaches to address infectious disease transmission and reproductive health needs incorporated traditional approaches.

In a similar vein, Indigenous Peoples’ religious and cultural beliefs—and the sites and objects that they hold sacred—must be respected and protected. Participants at the Conference agreed, for example, to develop fair, transparent and effective mechanisms for repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains.

“The Conference embraced the need to respect Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and strategies to sustain their environment,” concluded Tauli-Corpuz. “So much of our land is under siege, especially from industries that would extract natural resources like gold and silver, timber, oil and gas, and then leave devastation in their wake. We need to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples–the proven protectors of much of the world’s resources–so we can tackle development on our own terms.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in June 2014, tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights worldwide. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.

Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She played a key role in drafting and negotiating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pushing for its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. She was the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous activist and leader who has an expertise on human rights (particularly on indigenous peoples’ rights and women’s rights), development and environment issues, institution building, community organizing and leadership development.

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