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11th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement by United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore

9 July 2018

Excellencies,
Distinguished members of the Expert Mechanism,
Colleagues and friends,

It is an honor to join you at the opening of this 11th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

370 million indigenous peoples in some 90 countries in all regions of the world; yet constituting only 5 per cent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples account for 15 per cent of the world’s poor.

Facing systemic discrimination and exclusion from social, political and economic power, by most indicators, indigenous peoples suffer deprivations of their rights disproportionately as compared to non-indigenous peoples.

They are displaced by war and environmental disaster; dispossessed of ancestral lands; deprived of resources necessary for their survival, both physically and culturally; they robbed even of their very right to life.

“The land is sacred. .... The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies.”1

The stark reminder of this Indigenous leader’s plea is made all the more poignant given just how under threat are indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territory and resources as evidenced tragically in recent months’ attacks against and killings of indigenous peoples across the world.2

In this world – this Expert Mechanism can make a world of difference – make a defining contribution for the promotion and protection of indigenous rights, particularly their land rights. That contribution can be built from core contributions: by emphasising just how essential is the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples to the proper design and development of projects on indigenous lands and by your strong exercise, of course, of your new mandate for country engagement, which as you have argued, must be understood to be inclusive of direct and active engagement with indigenous peoples themselves, in particular with peoples from regions and countries where previously participation had been limited. I note you have already undertaken two country engagement missions - to Finland and Mexico – and very much look forward to hearing of their outcomes when you discuss the findings tomorrow.

By bringing the State and indigenous peoples together to resolve human rights concerns, this new “engagement” mandate may well prove itself to be an invaluable method for the securing of greater human rights compliance. And perhaps – with its example of creating opportunity and space for dialogue and practical advice, it could lead the way to greater use of similar processes for the implementation of human rights more generally.

These issues of voice, engagement and participation resonate throughout your human rights work as will be further evidenced in the new study on Free, Prior and Informed Consent that you will consider this afternoon. The opportunity this provides to further clarify the meaning of FPIC, as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP), is very much welcome and we trust it will lead to influential guidance in support its implementation.

As the Report emphasises States must obtain indigenous peoples’ consent – through active engagement - when taking measures that may affect them.

Is it not just that those living on, with and in relationship to land should also have a measure of control in regard to that land? To land upon which they depend for their livelihood -- spiritual existence -- their survival – their dignity.

Is it not right that indigenous peoples should be in a position to say “yes” or “no” to a project that could do immeasurable harm to their way of life, sometimes even risk their community’s very survival?

Excellencies, colleagues

As this Study highlights, Free, Prior and Informed Consent is not a matter of tokenism nor is it merely a matter of information or consultation. Free, Prior and Informed Consent is not about ticking a box or some other pro-forma method by which only to pay lip service to indigenous peoples’ rights.

No! What it is, is a process by which to ensure meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples so that they can truly, authentically, actually affect the outcome. In other words, Free, Prior and Informed Consent is a manifestation of the right to self-determination, which has been called the “heart and soul” of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There must be no room left in which to ignore this requirement. Seeking to undermine Free, Prior and Informed Consent with false claims that “it is an obstacle to development” propagates - as this report highlights “volatile business environments that threaten the viability of investments”3. Upholding Free, Prior and Informed Consent is not only a call for good business for rights, it is an example of rights being good for business!

Excellencies, colleagues, compliance with FPIC help us defend the defenders. Reprisals against human rights defenders are a grave threat to their freedoms of expression, of assembly, of association and as we seen in so many tragic instances, even constitute a threat to their right to life.

We all were appalled by the recent threats to the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples even as she sought to uphold these very principles. As the Assistant Secretary General (ASG) for human rights emphasized when speaking at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this year “penalizing indigenous representatives for communicating with the UN is a flagrant violation of human rights”. I reiterate his call to indigenous communities to inform our office of any cases of reprisals of which they are aware.

Distinguished members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous fellows and grantees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples - please know that we stand with you, that OHCHR is keen to support you, that the High Commissioner looks to you and that Member States do value you, as you work to better secure dignity, justice, equality and autonomy for all indigenous peoples and thus work to resolve a far better balance – a far more sustainable balance – between people and planet for peace and for prosperity.


Notes:

1. Mary Brave Bird, Richard Erdoes (2007). “Ohitika Woman”, p.220, Grove Press

2. IWGIA World report 2018.

3.First Peoples Worldwide report.