Source: Small Island Developing States
3 May 2019: The 18th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) convened on the overall theme of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge: Generation, Transmission and Protection.’ The meeting drew attention to the role of indigenous peoples in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and highlighted the link between protecting indigenous languages and safeguarding traditional knowledge as a crucial element in addressing climate change and other challenges facing the global community today.
Case studies presented during the discussions illustrated how protecting indigenous knowledge and traditional legal systems can foster sustainable climate solutions and good governance.
Around 1,000 participants attended the Forum, which took place from 22 April to 3 May 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Key issues on the agenda included progress in commemorating the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, the 2030 Agenda, conservation and the rights of indigenous peoples, and the rights of indigenous women and children.
In addition to forwarding three decisions on the future work of the Forum to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for endorsement, the session adopted nine reports focusing on key Forum sub-themes. Among its recommendations, the Forum issued calls for: an international expert group meeting on indigenous peoples’ role in implementing SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions); proclamation of an International Decade on Indigenous Languages from 2021; and appointment of a special UN envoy to advance implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Summarizing the Forum’s outcomes, Chair Anne Nuorgam (Finland) said indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge is often unrecognized, along with their rights to land, education and resources.
Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge is often unrecognized, along with their rights to land, education and resources.
In its outcomes, the Forum expresses concern over the state of the world’s indigenous languages – and the attendant risk of losing invaluable knowledge – with an estimated 2,700 indigenous languages under threat of disappearing forever. In its final report, the Forum recommends the adoption of a rights-based approach to indigenous language issues that considers the full spectrum of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with UNDRIP. It further calls on Member States to formulate evidence-based policies, long-term strategies and regulatory frameworks, in cooperation with indigenous peoples, to ensure revitalization of indigenous languages and adequate, sustained support for bilingual, mother-tongue education. The Forum also reiterates the urgent need to develop an instrument to protect traditional knowledge under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources.
With regard to SDG implementation, Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief, PFII Secretariat, recalled the six specific references to indigenous peoples in the 2030 Agenda, including commitments to: double the agricultural output of indigenous small-scale farmers; ensure equal access to education for indigenous children; and empower and engage indigenous peoples in implementation of the SDGs. In its report on this topic, the Forum expresses concern that indigenous peoples are not receiving adequate information regarding SDG implementation, and reiterates the importance of data collection and disaggregation for tracking progress concerning implementation.
In outcomes related to UNDRIP, the Forum expresses its grave concern about the situation of indigenous human rights defenders who continue to be harassed, criminalized, prosecuted or even killed. It calls upon Member States to take a zero-tolerance approach to violence against such defenders, and requests that Canada, Mexico and the US, in cooperation with UN entities, by 2021 organize an international expert group meeting on ongoing issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, including the continuing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Forum also calls for a global scoping study of past forced sterilization programmes of indigenous peoples, to be led by UN agencies focusing on health, population and human rights.
In the report on its future work, the Forum agrees to commission studies on: best practices in promoting the protection of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources; experiences and perspectives on indigenous peoples’ autonomies; and the development of standards and redress mechanisms for protecting indigenous peoples’ rights in conservation. Other topics addressed during the Forum included a study on the high prevalence of tuberculosis among indigenous people that underscores the importance of ensuring that health services are tailored to specific contexts and traditional knowledge.
The PFII is one of three UN bodies that deal specifically with indigenous peoples’ issues. The other two are the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Permanent Forum was established on 28 July 2000, with the mandate to deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. [UN Press Release on UNPFII 2019 Outcomes] [DESA News Story on Traditional Knowledge] [UN Meeting Coverage, 3 May] [UN Meeting Coverage, 1 May] [UN Meeting Coverage, 26 April] [UN Meeting Coverage 25 April] [UN Meeting Coverage, 24 April] [UN Meeting Coverage, 23 April] [UN Meeting Coverage, 22 April 2019] [UNPFII Website]