UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly on Monday approved a resolution strengthening the rights of more than 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide who remain marginalized and impoverished seven years after the adoption of a U.N. declaration aimed at protecting the rights of native peoples.
The Outcome Document was endorsed by consensus at the start of the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples which. The two-day meeting brought together more than 1,000 delegates from indigenous communities along with various heads of state and U.N. officials.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said indigenous people are "central to our discourse of human rights and global development" and have an important role in the push for a more sustainable use of natural resources.
The U.N. chief stressed that indigenous people have the "full support" of the U.N. and said the document must bridge the gap between promises and results. He welcomed delegates with greetings in indigenous languages from Latin America, South Africa, New Zealand, Malaysia, North America, Norway and Sweden.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said statistics reveal "the harsh imprint of poverty and the marginalization suffered by indigenous peoples."
He pointed to disproportionate levels of imprisonment, the denial or lack of access to education in indigenous communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, and a greater risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth for indigenous women in southeast Asia.
"Such stark statistics translate into thousands of human tragedies," Zeid said. "Thousands of violations of human rights."
Aili Keskitalo, president of the Sami Parliament in Norway, told the General Assembly that indigenous people have for decades been marginalized, discriminated against and ignored. She said this has begun to change since the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved in 2007.
"The challenge now remains to implement the provisions of the declaration, by closing the gaps between theory and practice, between inspiration and reality," she said.
The primary goals, she said, are to prevent the loss of territory and resources, to end discrimination, to maintain cultural identity, and to help find solutions to climate change.
Keskitalo said the new Outcome Document is important because if recognizes that indigenous people and their institutions will be allowed to participate in U.N. debates and actions that effect their communities.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala told the Assembly that the rights of indigenous peoples have consistently been violated and called for a more rigorous program to make good on the promises of the 2007 declaration.