Indigenous peoples assert their rights and aspirations in dialogue with UN agencies

Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN headquarters, site of an interactive
dialogue between indigenous peoples and UN agencies on 24 May. ©IFAD
NEW YORK – As the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues wrapped up the first week of its current two-week session, participants engaged in a full day of spirited dialogue on issues of mutual concern with UN agencies and funds. The dialogue unfolded during a 24 May plenary session at UN headquarters here. Its tone was constructive but pointed at times, as indigenous peoples’ representatives repeatedly underscored the need for free, prior and informed consent on development activities affecting their ancestral lands.

The right to full consent is articulated in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but various speakers at the plenary suggested that the UN agencies and funds have not always upheld it. The speakers called upon the international community to engage in meaningful collaboration with indigenous peoples at every stage of the development process. Only an inclusive approach, they asserted, can ensure sustainable initiatives that respect indigenous peoples’ rights and are informed by their traditional knowledge about managing natural resources.

A model of partnership
Several participants in the dialogue credited IFAD for its efforts in this regard. They cited the activities of IFAD’s Indigenous Peoples’ Forum and its Indigenous Peoples’ Assistance Facility (IPAF) as good examples of participatory engagement. Noting that the community-driven development projects financed by IPAF are small in scale, however, they said additional financial resources were needed to support indigenous peoples and their organizations.

“We encourage IFAD to continue with this funding and even increase funds,” said Myrna Cunningham, a Nicaraguan activist and member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

IFAD's seat at plenary session of the UN Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues.  ©IFAD
Another speaker who addressed IFAD’s record was Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education. Tauli-Corpuz has been instrumental in building trust and partnership between IFAD and indigenous peoples. She played an active role in the extensive consultations that led up to the first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD in February.

“This process,” she said, “allowed indigenous peoples to formulate a global plan of action in relation to IFAD, which was presented to the senior management, Executive Board and the Governing Council.”

Tauli-Corpuz told the plenary that IFAD had provided a “model of partnership of an intergovernmental body with indigenous peoples” by facilitating such direct exchanges with decision-makers. She recommended that the Permanent Forum “call on the UN agencies, bodies and funds to emulate the ways IFAD is operationalizing a partnership with indigenous peoples.”

In a further recommendation, Tauli-Corpuz urged IFAD itself to help reframe the agenda of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global partnership engaged in research for a food-secure future. The CGIAR agenda, she said, should place a greater emphasis on developing inclusive research partnerships with indigenous communities.

Full and effective participation
Antonella Cordone, IFAD’s Coordinator for Indigenous and Tribal Issues, also spoke at the plenary. She re-affirmed IFAD’s commitment to supporting projects that build on the skills and knowledge of indigenous and tribal peoples, and ethnic minorities, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Participants in the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD, held
in Rome in February 2013. ©IFAD
Indigenous peoples are “valued partners” whose development “continues to be high on our agenda for poverty reduction in rural areas of developing countries,” Cordone said. As evidence, she cited IFAD’s Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples. That policy, she noted, calls for the establishment of an Indigenous Peoples’ Forum “as a concrete way to institutionalize consultation and dialogue with indigenous peoples, with the aim of improving IFAD’s accountability to its target groups and its development effectiveness.”

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD was a milestone for the organization, Cordone said. She reported that participants in the event “underscored their commitment to partnering with IFAD in working towards the ambitious goal of reducing rural poverty, pointing out that there can be no sustainable rural development without indigenous peoples.”

By helping to strengthen traditional institutions, open new livelihood opportunities and empower women – among other successful practices – IFAD-supported projects have been building a “true and effective partnership built on mutual trust” with indigenous peoples for years, Cordone observed. “We are convinced that only by working together we can make a difference,” she said. “That is why we look forward to our strengthened cooperation with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and like-minded agencies and indigenous peoples’ organizations.”