And with their languages and cultures remaining under constant threat, the indigenous peoples have dealt a major blow to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A group that is already at risk is at risk of being left further behind,” warned General Secretary António Guterres.
In addition, their lack of participation in decision-making processes has often resulted in their specific needs being overlooked or ignored.
“As we work to recover from the pandemic, we need to prioritize inclusion and sustainable development that protect and benefit all people,” said the top UN official.
Exploited and attacked
The land of the indigenous peoples is one of the most biodiverse and resource-rich in the world, which has led to increased exploitation, conflicts over resources and land abuse, said the UN chief.
“Violence and attacks against indigenous leaders and women and men working to defend indigenous peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources have grown dramatically,” he added.
Mr. Guterres urged everyone to “get better” to promote inclusive, participatory laws and policies with strong and accountable institutions that ensure justice for all. and to “promote and maintain” the right to health for humans and the environment.
“We need to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” he stressed, adding that they are “essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that their voices need to be heard”.
The Secretary General recalled the need to ensure “equal and meaningful participation, full inclusion and empowerment” for the realization of human rights and opportunities for all indigenous peoples.
End stigma, end discrimination
General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir stressed that as we prepare for the next pandemic, we need to “involve indigenous communities who are at higher risk for emerging infectious diseases due to the destruction of extractive industry ecosystems and climate change,” he said .
And since indigenous peoples are the stewards of more than 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, they need to be involved in managing the climate crisis, Bozkir said.
“Decision makers should reflect the population that is governed by the decisions they make,” he said. “It is the only approach that will end stigma, discrimination and cultural threats and improve access to vital services such as education, healthcare and justice.”
Strength in diversity
The Assembly President highlighted the “intrinsic link between language and identity” and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which begins next year, to promote it fully.
Our strength lies in our diversity – President of the General Assembly
“Our strength lies in our diversity. If we do not realize this, we will fail not only indigenous communities but all people everywhere, ”said the UN official.
Violations of human rights law must stop
ForumChair Anne Nuorgam said violence against indigenous peoples as well as against indigenous human rights defenders was a “major concern”.
She said that of at least 331 human rights defenders were killed in 2020; Two thirds dealt with the rights of the environment and indigenous peoples.
And in the case of murdered indigenous women, “the vast majority of these crimes” go unpunished.
Ms. Nuorgam claimed that these atrocities “do not occur in a vacuum.”
“As governments increasingly criminalize the activities of indigenous peoples’ organizations and use counter-terrorism laws to damage and end their human rights activism, we see a sharp rise in violence against indigenous human rights defenders,” she said.
“This has to stop,” she said, describing them as clear violations of the internationally recognized human rights law, which “make our societies less stable, less secure and less equal”.