2030 Agenda: Recognition for indigenous peoples, a challenge for governments | Álvaro Pop

09 Aug 2016

 According to figures from ECLAC, there are more than 800 indigenous peoples in Latin America, with a population of about 45 million. Photo: UNDP Guatemala

We cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without recognizing that we live in multicultural societies. With this in mind, upholding the rights of indigenous peoples becomes a necessary imperative.

Respect for indigenous peoples’ rights opens the door to enormous opportunities for advancing the SDGs. Their capacity to further develop their own systems of education, health, justice and traditional food will strengthen each country’s efforts and investments.

There are more than 300 million indigenous people in the world, speaking more than five thousand languages and keeping their heritage alive. This is the true wealth of humankind.

Indigenous peoples have suffered and survived holocausts over the past 500 years and more. They are the guardians of knowledge about the plants and animals that surround us; they have understood the cycles of nature in constant, mutually-respectful dialogue with Mother Earth.

They have cared for more than 60 percent of the world’s water-producing forests. Today, from the core of our communities, we call on everyone to work for new and better ways of producing wealth for the benefit of all.

The SDGs are the agenda of the present, safeguarding the future of humanity. Indigenous peoples take pride that their age-old struggle is reflected in it. Thus, an intercultural dialogue between peoples and between governments and peoples is crucial to achieving the SDGs. This exchange should be reflected in national action plans and in the budgets that support them. Without this we are likely to stray from the path to achieving the SDGs.

The UN System-wide Action Plan (SWAP) for securing the rights of indigenous peoples, launched at the opening of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May 2016, is part of this process. This SWAP calls on agencies, funds and programmes to observe indigenous peoples’ rights. I recognize its positive scope and as Forum Chairperson I fully support it.

In both cases, compliance with free, prior and informed consultation is vital for all the world’s indigenous peoples. In particular, governments should consult when designing administrative and executive actions that affect the life and territory of indigenous peoples. This mandate from the UN Declaration and the International Labour Organization Convention 169 are fundamentally important in national definitions regarding utilization of natural resources.

Indigenous peoples and governments must think strategically in the future. We must develop a roadmap for more stable and dynamic engagement and action by indigenous peoples for the benefit of humanity. Consequently, working for them to become Permanent Observers in the General Assembly is an act of natural justice that we have to begin to plan together.

This moment holds tools for intercultural dialogue and development that we must not waste.

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