GENEVA / NEW YORK (21 July 2014) – The new United Nations sustainable development goals must not be a step backwards for indigenous peoples, a group of UN experts* on indigenous peoples has warned today. Their call comes after a meeting held by the open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals last week in New York to draft a set of goals which will be presented to the UN General Assembly in September.
“Indigenous peoples face distinct development challenges, and fare worse in terms of social and economic development than non-indigenous sectors of the population in nearly all of the countries they live in,” they said.
“However,” the experts stressed, “they can also contribute significantly to achieving the objectives of sustainable development because of their traditional knowledge systems on natural resource management which have sustained some of the world’s more intact, diverse ecosystems up to the present.”
The group of experts noted with concern that all references to ‘indigenous peoples’ have been deleted in the latest zero draft document on the sustainable development goals, which is currently being discussed by the open-ended Working Group, even though the term had been included in earlier drafts.
“Using the term ‘indigenous and local communities’ undermines the gains achieved by indigenous peoples regarding their assertion of their distinct status and identity as peoples and the rights accorded to them under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international instruments,” the experts said.
The term ‘indigenous peoples’ – they noted – has been consistently used in the Johannesburg Declaration of 2012 and the Rio+20 Programme of Action (2012), called ‘The Future We Want’, not to mention a wide range of national constitutions, laws, and policies.
The experts urged UN Member States in the open-ended Working Group to listen to the proposals made by indigenous peoples’ representatives in this process and to ensure that ‘indigenous peoples’ will be used consistently in the outcome document.
“It has been widely acknowledged that indigenous peoples have not been accorded the attention they deserve in national development processes and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” the experts said.
“The new Sustainable Development Goals present a unique opportunity to remedy these shortcomings and the historical injustices resulting from racism, discrimination and inequalities long suffered by indigenous peoples across the world,” they underscored.
For the UN experts, the issue of free, prior and informed consent in the Post-2015 Development Agenda must be addressed consistently with the minimum standards established by the UN Declaration. “The Sustainable Development Goals are an opportunity to gain agreement on measurable commitments regarding free, prior and informed consent,” they stated. They also called for the disaggregation of data across all indicators in order to enable a better assessment of the status and conditions of indigenous peoples with regard to the goals.
“We urge States to affirm that the human rights-based approach to development should be a key framework in achieving sustainable and equitable development and this should, likewise, be clearly stated in the outcome document of the open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” the experts concluded.
(*) The experts:
Ms. Dalee Sambo Dorough, the current chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which advises the UN on indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Permanent Forum is made up of sixteen independent experts from all of the world’s regions.
Mr. Albert Deterville, who heads the five-strong Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that provides the UN Human Rights Council with specific studies and research on the rights of indigenous peoples, such as the right to education and the right to participate in decision making.
Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, the new Special Rapporteur tasked by the UN Human Rights Council with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.