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22th. session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo: UN

UN Permanent Forum analyzes relevant documents on the rights of Indigenous Peoples

03 May, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

The 22nd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held from April 17 to 28, 2023, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, analyzed relevant documents on the rights of indigenous Peoples. This year, the special theme was “Indigenous Peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health and climate change: a rights-based approach”. [1]

According to the information released by the UN, the participants of the Forum — created in 2000 as a specialized agency that provides advice to the UN Economic and Social Council — pointed out that intergovernmental negotiations, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the right to health and development and the rights of indigenous peoples should be considered interconnected and essential for a possible integrated framework for the governance of the planet’s health.

At the event, as usually happens (only with the interruption caused by the pandemic), a multitude of delegations of Indigenous Peoples from all over the world meet with the experts of the Permanent Forum and many other delegates from multiple international organizations and UN Member States, to discuss a loaded thematic agenda.

The participants also called on Member States to ensure that indigenous peoples participate fully and effectively in all planning and policy-making processes to combat climate change.

Determinants of Indigenous Health in the 2030 Agenda

In the field of health, the document “The determinants of Indigenous health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” was considered, prepared by three of the experts of the Permanent Forum, whose preparation coincided temporarily with the WHO global report that is working on a list of social determinants of equity in health. That document recommends adding indigenous status and its 37 determinants of indigenous health as additional or cultural determinants of health.

For the authors of the document, it is essential to define a set of indigenous determinants of health that leaves aside the concept of “diverse population” or “minority health”, that United Nations agencies use, and Member States adopt to promote measures and initiatives that influence indigenous health.

In addition, they highlight the need for United Nations agencies and Member States to recognize the existence of standardized practices due to colonization, which are mainly responsible for the risk factors that threaten the health of Indigenous Peoples.

The participants of the Forum called on Member States to develop specific plans to improve the health of indigenous peoples, including the sexual and reproductive health of their women, paying special attention to the health of bi-spiritual people and indigenous children, nomads and semi-nomads and those living in voluntary isolation, in initial contact, in remote areas and other vulnerable situations.

Application of free, prior and informed consent

Another document under consideration by the Permanent Forum has been the one entitled “Application of free, prior and informed consent in the context of Indigenous Peoples”.[2]

According to this text, prepared by one of the experts, all parties should contribute to the paradigm shift that involves considering Indigenous Peoples as rights holders. Companies should stop treating Indigenous Peoples as stakeholders and instead recognize their collective and individual rights. The private sector should therefore embrace new approaches to long-term collaboration with Indigenous Peoples based on confidence-building and dialogue.

In order to respect the mutual interests and rights of Indigenous Peoples, private companies should: (a) develop specific policies and strategies for dealing with Indigenous Peoples; (b) apply recognized international standards; (c) apply environmental, social and governance principles; and (d) implement policies of public engagement, transparent information and effective communication with Indigenous Peoples and companies.

The document also affirms that States, Indigenous Peoples and private companies should jointly develop national standards for the implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the development of businesses and promote public-private collaboration in the field of sustainable development of Indigenous Peoples, since a participatory process of national standard-setting will allow companies, including small ones, to adhere to such standards, accept free, prior and informed consent and gradually develop their own policies.

[1] E/C.19/2023/5 Los determinantes de la salud Indígena en la Agenda 2030  para el Desarrollo Sostenible, por Simón Freddy Condo Riveros, Hannah McGlade and Geoffrey Roth

[2] E/C.19/2023/6 Aplicación del consentimiento libre, previo e informado  en el contexto de los Pueblos Indígenas por Alexey Tsykarev