As the United Nations celebrated today the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that indigenous peoples still faced threats to their lives and destruction of their “belief systems, cultures, languages and ways of life.”
Underscoring these threats, the UN refugee agency reported that virtually all of the 84 indigenous groups in Colombia face forced displacement or are threatened by it because of internal strife, while the UN Development Programme (UNDP) issued a new survey showing that Chile’s Mapuche people, the country's largest indigenous group, suffer many social and economic disparities.
“The human family is a tapestry of enormous beauty and diversity. The indigenous peoples of the world are a rich and integral part of that tapestry,” Mr. Annan said in his message for the Day, usually marked on 9 August but observed today. “They have much to be proud of and much to teach the other members of the human family. The protection and promotion of their rights and cultures is of fundamental importance to all States and all peoples.”
Noting that the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has given indigenous peoples a home at the UN, he added: “As a mechanism for partnership between indigenous peoples, the Member States and the United Nations system, the Permanent Forum gives hope that the motto of the Decade – ‘partnership in action’ – is being turned into reality in the areas of economic and social development, environment, health, education, culture and human rights.”
Celebrating “the existence, diversity and achievements” of indigenous peoples, the Secretary-General declared: “We honour their struggles to preserve their cultures, protect their lands and combat discrimination. We pay tribute to those who, without relinquishing their identity, move comfortably between the traditions of their ancestors and the wider, rapidly changing modern world.”
The Chairman of the Permanent Forum, Ole Henrik Magga, noted the abuses indigenous people still faced and made a vibrant appeal for preserving their culture and languages.
“We deplore and condemn the egregious violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances, the discrimination in the criminal justice system, the forced displacement, the extreme poverty, the danger of extinction of isolated indigenous communities, the continuing threat to indigenous cultures and indigenous lands that indigenous peoples still suffer,” he said in a message. “But now that indigenous peoples have a place within the family of nations we look forward to a real and constructive partnership with States and intergovernmental organizations. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is a vehicle that will allow us to gain a higher profile and come closer to the end of exclusion and discrimination and have our human rights respected.”
On Colombia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a new report by the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) painted “a grim picture.” It shows that nearly 13,000 indigenous people fled their original homelands in 2001 and 2002. During the first half of this year, over 50 indigenous persons had been murdered and as many as 3,000 had to flee their homes in fear for their lives.
On the inferior conditions of Chile’s 600,000 Mapuche people, who account for about 4 per cent of the population, UNDP reported that their human development index (HDI), based on income, life expectancy and education levels, is 0.642, compared with 0.736 for other Chileans.