High Commissioner opening statement to fifteenth session of Expert Mechanism on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

OHCHR

Colleagues and friends,

It is with great pleasure that I open the fifteenth session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am also delighted that this session is being held in-person again, and hope that this will facilitate exchanges and dialogue as well as increased participation by indigenous peoples in United Nations meetings.

I would like to welcome the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the representative of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples.

I particularly welcome the indigenous grantees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples. I urge you to take this opportunity to discuss your achievements, raise your concerns and propose solutions to better promote and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples are increasingly recognized as agents of change and solution-holders, in matters ranging from climate change to desertification, land degradation and drought. They are increasing their resilience to environmental challenges through traditional knowledge and sustainable land practices that have evolved over generations.

But we have unfortunately witnessed how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected indigenous peoples, deepening pre-existing social inequalities. In addition, it negatively impacted the transmission of indigenous languages and traditional knowledge.

However, it also showed that traditional indigenous practices can contribute to increased food security, health, well-being and recovery from COVID-19.

And it hammered home the importance of ensuring that indigenous peoples can exercise their right to self-determination, including self-government.

Colleagues,

Around the world, I welcome the encouraging developments for indigenous peoples we have recently witnessed.

Last year alone brought a significant amount of progress. For the first time, New Zealand appointed an indigenous woman as Minister of Foreign Affairs. In Chile, an indigenous woman was elected as president of the new Constitutional Assembly. In Norway, the Supreme Court held that the concession for a wind turbine park in the Fosen-halvøya (Fosen peninsula) area violated the indigenous Sami people’s right to exercise their cultural rights because the windmills prevented them from herding reindeer in the area. And in the United States of America, Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, became the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the country’s history.

I would like to note the commitment of Canada to move forward with the implementation of the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. This was confirmed by the entry into force in June last year of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The Act provides a roadmap to implement all the provisions of the UN Declaration in Canada through legislation, in partnership with indigenous peoples.

This year, we are also seeing some progress in the right direction. The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has issued a ruling recognizing the need to obtain the consent of the affected indigenous communities before undertaking oil, mining or other extractive plans or projects. And the United States of America has appointed the first-ever Native American federal judge and the fifth Indigenous woman in the country’s history to serve on a federal court.

I am also delighted that the Expert Mechanism’s decisive support to the ongoing process of repatriation of the Yaqui Maaso Kova (ceremonial deer head) from the National Museum of World Culture in Sweden to the Yaqui people in Mexico has yielded very concrete results. In May, the museum communicated the Swedish government’s approval of its recommendation to repatriate the sacred Maaso Kova, to the Yaqui people. I am very pleased that the first step of the repatriation has been undertaken – the Maaso Kova was handed over to the Mexican Embassy on 3 June.

Colleagues,

Amidst all of these positive developments, EMRIP’s work can further contribute to the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The EMRIP studies contribute to further understanding of the Declaration and represent important tools for Member States and indigenous peoples to advance its implementation. This year, the topic of the Expert Mechanism’s study looks at treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between indigenous peoples and States, including peace accords and reconciliation initiatives, and their constitutional recognition, focusing on article 37 of the Declaration.

This important topic encompasses a wide range of issues, from the rights to self-determination, to land, territories and resources, to the requirement that indigenous peoples be consulted in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent on matters that may affect them.

Respecting and enforcing treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between indigenous peoples and States strengthens partnerships, promotes peaceful and respectful co-existence, and contributes to a healthy and safe civic space. This is all the more crucial in contexts where we witness rising threats against and attacks on indigenous peoples, including increased criminalisation of their activities particularly those carried out in defence of their lands and resources, or their struggles against the large-scale impacts of extractive industries and agribusiness, infrastructure projects and hydroelectric dams.

The Expert Mechanism’s country engagement mandate represents another valuable tool for Member States and indigenous peoples to work together towards the implementation of the Declaration. I encourage further requests for country visits from both Member States and indigenous peoples.

I would also like to highlight the joint and complementary work between EMRIP and other human rights bodies, including the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I remind Member States that they may also call on EMRIP, under its amended mandate, to assist them in the implementation of recommendations emanating from the Universal Periodic Review procedure, the treaty bodies, special procedures and other relevant mechanisms.

For the last fifteen years, EMRIP has been assisting Member States in achieving the goals of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I take this opportunity to encourage Member States to give due consideration to the Expert Mechanism’s recommendations in the development of legislation and policies related to indigenous peoples. Listening to the voices of indigenous peoples in these processes and enhancing their participation in decision-making, in line with the Declaration, is the best way towards advancing their rights and leaving no one behind.

I wish you a fruitful session ahead.

Thank you.

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