Indigenous people are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty, the UN chief told the opening session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last Monday.
And as their languages and cultures remain under constant threat, indigenous peoples have taken a major blow from the COVID-19pandemic.
“An already vulnerable group risks being left even further behind” warned Secretary -General António Guterres.
Moreover, their lack of participation in decision-making has often meant their specific needs are overlooked or ignored.
“As we work to recover from the pandemic, we must prioritize inclusion and sustainable development that protects and benefits all people”, said Mr Guterres.
Exploited and attacked
Indigenous peoples’ lands are among the world’s most biodiverse and resource-rich, which has led to increased exploitation, conflicts over resources and land misuse, the UN chief said.
“Violence and attacks against indigenous leaders and women and men working to defend indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources have grown dramatically”, he added.
Mr Guterres urged everyone to “do better” at fostering inclusive, participatory laws and policies with strong and accountable institutions that provide justice for all; and to “promote and uphold” the right to health for people and the environment.
“We must implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, he stressed, adding that they are “indispensable to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and their voices need to be heard”.
End stigma, discrimination
General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, underscored that in preparing for the next pandemic, “we must engage indigenous communities who are at a higher risk for emerging infectious diseases as a result of the destruction of ecosystems from extractive industries and climate change”, he said.
And as indigenous peoples are the stewards of more than 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, they must be included in addressing the climate crisis, said Mr. Bozkir.
“Decision makers should reflect the population who is governed by the decisions made”, he said. “This is the only approach that will end stigmatization, discrimination, and cultural threats, and improve access to vital services such as education, healthcare, and justice”.
Strength in diversity
Highlighting the “intrinsic link between language and identity”, the Assembly President encouraged everyone to use the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which kicks off next year, to promote it widely.
Violations of human rights law ‘must stop’
Forum Chair Anne Nuorgam said that violence against indigenous peoples, as well as indigenous human rights defenders, is a “major concern”.
She stated that of the at least 331 human rights defenders were killed in 2020; two-thirds were working on environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights.
And in the case of murdered indigenous women, “the overwhelming majority of these crimes” go unpunished.