Indigenous peoples’ rights are recognized, supported on UN commemorative day

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“Respect indigenous peoples rights” by United Nations Climate Change is licensed under CC by 2.0.

August 9 was International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and this year the day is especially poignant. Exactly ten years ago, on September 13, the UN General Assembly signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment,” the UN reported. “They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that distinct them from those of the dominant societies in which they live.”

A history of marginalization

The term ‘indigenous people’ refers to populations who are descendent from the original inhabitants of a region. They may maintain the traditions or customs of an early culture that may or may not contain elements of a colonizing culture.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, there are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples in the world. But despite their comprising less than five percent of the population, indigenous peoples represent around 15 percent of the world’s poor.

Indigenous peoples often experience a lack of formal recognition of their autonomy, as well as an absence of laws that protect their lands, cultures and businesses.

“The land on which Indigenous Peoples live are often rich in resources and have been appropriated, sold, leased or simply plundered and polluted by governments and private companies,” Amnesty International reported.

Displacement and dispossession can lead to increased poverty rates and a disintegration of cultural autonomy.

The Declaration and its mission

Given that indigenous communities have experienced social, political and economic discrimination and marginalization – at all levels of government – the declaration was a significant step forward.

The UN General Assembly recognized that the status of indigenous communities globally is a shared priority.

“Considering that the rights affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between States and indigenous peoples are, in some situations, matters of international concern, interest, responsibility and character,” the Assembly affirmed in the declaration.

The Declaration also stated that it is the role of the UN to promote and protect the rights of indigenous communities across the globe.

Despite the goals of the Declaration, as well as verbal confirmation for implementation by participating nations, there is still a lack of recognition of indigenous peoples from some local, state and regional governments.

“Although some countries have taken constitutional and legislative measures to recognize the rights and identities of indigenous peoples, exclusion, marginalization and violence against indigenous peoples continues to be widespread,” the UN reported in their press release for International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

So – now that the reality of the conditions of indigenous peoples is on the table – what is the UN doing to address the reality of continued, systematic marginalization?

Advancing the rights of indigenous communities

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations established an indigenous peoples’ caucus in 2015, which was composed of one representative from each of the seven socio-cultural regions of the globe: Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean, the Artic, Central and Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasa, North America and the Pacific.

One of the goals of the caucus is to “enable an agile mechanism of representation to ensure handing over and follow up by several indigenous leaders.” Such representation would ensure that the priorities, rights and autonomy of indigenous peoples would be recognized by governments.

The UN harnessed the power of communication through social media – in partnership with Twitter – to create a branded emoji for the hashtags #WeAreIndigenous and #IndigenousDay. The emoji will be live from August 8 to September 15.

The goal of the emoji is to reach younger audiences with the message that the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples should be protected.

The South African Human Rights Commission – an independent chapter nine institution that exists under the South Africa’s Constitution – also commemorated the anniversary of the UN’s Declaration. In a press release, the Commission emphasized their continual support for the human rights of the country’s indigenous people.

From November 2015 to March 2016, the Commission held Investigative Public Hearings for alleged human rights violations against the Khoisan nation, an indigenous people in South Africa.

“The Commission urges the South African government, all stakeholders and the public at large to commemorate this day and reiterate their commitment to address the main concerns of land, recognition, basic services and language in efforts to make the rights of the Khoisan indigenous people a reality,” the Commission announced in their press release.

 

 

 

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