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2005 International Conference on Engaging Communities - Workshop on Engaging the Marginalized

2005 International Conference on Engaging Communities

Workshop on Engaging the Marginalized: Partnerships between Indigenous Peoples, Government and Civil Society

15 August 2005

Remarks of Ms. Elissavet Stamatopoulou

Chief, Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Distinguished representatives of Governments and Indigenous Organizations, Commissioner Calma
Distinguished guests and colleagues
Ladies and Gentleman

I would like first of all to follow UN custom and protocol and pay tribute to the Aboriginal Peoples of this land, the original occupants and owners of this territory, and thank them for hosting our meeting today. On behalf of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo, I would also like to extend a warm welcome to all of you and a special thanks to our partner, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (Australia). Today I will give an overview of the international legal and policy frameworks which provide a basis for the UN system, as well as for its member states to engage indigenous peoples in the entire process of policy and program formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. I will also focus specifically on the work of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the highest level body in this field, and particularly on the principle of free prior and informed consent. My presentation draws from a background paper which our Secretariat has prepared for this workshop (copies of this paper are available in the room).

We pursued our participation in this conference precisely because we wanted to share with all those interested that considerable normative and policy work has taken place in the UN system on how to engage indigenous communities in governance. The issue is now of implementation. It will be my task today to present a review of these frameworks. Over the last decade the UN and the rest of the intergovernmental system have developed international legal and policy frameworks that specifically recognize the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples should be at the center of all policies, programs and projects which directly or indirectly affect them. A key priority of UNPFII is the respect and promotion of the principle of free prior and informed consent. At the request of the Forum, earlier this year, an international workshop took place that identified elements of a common understanding of FPIC, a very significant outcome. These elements address: a) the meaning of free prior and informed consent; b) when it should be sought; c) how it should be sought; d) who should be involved and the procedures for this; e) mechanisms for implementing this principle. Free, prior, and informed consent promotes the participation of indigenous peoples meaningfully at all levels of decision-making and policy-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation that concern them and it also advocates for indigenous peoples to determine their own priorities in the process of development and to exercise control over their own social, economic and cultural destinies. I strongly recommend that each of you get a copy of the "Common Understanding of FPIC" available in the room and also see the full report on our website.

Normative Framework

The principle of FPIC is acknowledged in various instruments within the field of international human rights law and beyond, especially the two International Human Rights Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights, the ILO Convention (No. 169) Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which refers to the principle of free and informed consent in the context of establishing mechanisms for free participation at all levels of decision-making in "elective institutions and administrative bodies responsible for policies and programs which concern them". The Convention also refers to consultations through indigenous representative institutions whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may directly affect indigenous peoples.

Another important emerging legal framework that I would like to highlight is the Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (E/CN.4/1995/2), which explicitly recognizes the principle of free, prior and consent when indigenous peoples are affected by policies, programs and development projects. The Draft Declaration, for example, states that "Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation, and where possible, with the option of return." The report of the International Workshop on FPIC includes comprehensive references to the varioius other normative texts on this subject.

Recommendations and advocacy by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The last few years have also seen the development of specific policies on indigenous peoples by the United Nations, aiming at engaging indigenous peoples in programs and projects that directly or indirectly affect them. In particular, participation and consultation underpin the recommendations of each session of the Permanent Forum and over its first four sessions the Forum has issued a number of important recommendations. For example, the Second session of the Permanent Forum emphasized participation within the area of economic and social development. The Forum recommended that international financial institutions rethink the concept of development, with the full participation of indigenous peoples in development processes, and expressed concern over "development practices that did not take into account the particular characteristics of indigenous communities as groups with distinct cultural identities and their own systems of representation, thus significantly undermining meaningful ways of participation in the assessment, preparation, execution and evaluation of development programs of their concern".1

Recommendations of the Forum within the sphere of economic and social development have also emphasized the necessity of ensuring full and effective participation of indigenous people, including indigenous women and youth in Millennium Development Goal processes, and poverty reduction strategy papers. Furthermore the Forum recommended that the rights to indigenous land, forests, marine and other natural resources should be clearly identified in these documents with the "role of and control by indigenous peoples of these assets being specified".

A number of recommendations of the Forum are intended to serve as a basis for designing programs, and in particular programs in specific sectors such as in the education and health. A specific recommendation guiding the design of educational programs states that national governments should have goals of " establishing effective arrangements for the participation of indigenous parents and community members in decisions regarding the planning, delivery and evaluation of educational programs for their children, young people and other community members".

Within the health sector recommendations have focused on training and employing qualified indigenous people in designing, administering and managing their own health care programs, setting up monitoring mechanisms to report neglect in health care systems, including traditional and indigenous health practitioners within state health-care systems, augmenting HIV/AIDS programs by providing educational materials in indigenous languages, and using specially trained indigenous HIV/AIDS health workers to conduct outreach, as well as voluntary testing and counseling.2

Human Rights Based Approach to Development

The recommendations of the Permanent Forum are premised on the human-rights based approach to development, which is now policy in the United Nations system and which changes the relationship of the addressees of development programs, including indigenous peoples, from passive recipients to rights holders and active participants. The human rights based approach (HRBA) is premised on the understanding that human rights principles and norms guide all programming in all phases of the programming process, including assessment and analysis, program planning and design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. These principles, in particular, include: 1) the universality and inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence and inter-relatedness of all human rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural); 2) non-discrimination and equality; 3) participation and inclusion; 4) accountability and the rule of law. A human-rights approach to development thus has the human being at its center and focuses on how development outcomes are brought about, and not simply on achieving outcomes themselves. Its focus on accountability of the duty-holders (mainly national or local government, but also others such as the private sector), and participation of the rights-bearers, such as indigenous peoples, shapes a different process, which will certainly lead to a different set of development outcomes.

UNDP's Policy [Chandra Roy will present on this]

Another example of increased institutional engagement on indigenous issues within the UN is the United Nations Development Program and its policy of engagement with indigenous peoples. The policy states that the rationale for engaging indigenous peoples is based on UNDP's "mandated areas of work; processes and agreements of development cooperation; and the aspirations of indigenous peoples" and it is underpinned by the human rights framework. My colleague and fellow panelist Ms. Chandra Roy will further elaborate on UNDP's policy of engagement and its work with indigenous peoples.

International Fund for Agricultural Development

Among the international financial institutions, the International Fund for Agricultural Development is working closely with UNPFII in a process of documenting IFAD-financed projects on participatory development in four indigenous communities in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and India.

The UN's Common Country Assessment and Development Assistance Framework

As part of the UN Reform, the United Nations has adopted the CCA and UNDAF as strategic planning tools for coordinated UN programming at the country level. The CCA is a first step in analyzing the national development situation and identifying key development issues for a country. The CCA then informs the UNDAF process.

The good news is that in the 2004 Guidelines for the preparation of CCAs and UNDAFs by UN Country Teams (UNCTs) we were able to include specific references to indigenous peoples. Most importantly, the Guidelines state that the CCA and UNDAF process should seek the participation of civil society organizations and indigenous peoples along with UN agencies, relevant ministries, regional and sub-regional institutions. The Guidelines also emphasize the necessity of reaching indigenous peoples in this consultative process through participatory methodologies, particularly where they cannot be engaged easily due to geographic isolation or limits of capacity. The less good news is that there is still a long way for the implementation of CCA/UNDAF Guidelines in the UN system and for this reason we are now launched in an effort of education and capacity building for UN staff.

Bilateral donor policies

Apart from the UN CCA/UNDAF Guidelines, some bilateral donors have also developed their own guidelines and mechanisms for engaging indigenous peoples in the design and implementation of their programs. The Danish International Development Agency (Danida) recently released a toolkit for including indigenous peoples in sector program support.


These international legal and policy frameworks are providing platforms for indigenous peoples around the world to engage at the international, regional and national level to protect their rights to land and culture, and to advocate towards their national governments to positively engage in dialogue with them. This workshop is designed to provide us with a greater understanding of these frameworks in practice so that we may develop tools to share with policy makers, indigenous peoples, civil society and the private sector so as to increase mutual engagement between these two groups.

The first toolbox should contain examples of effective national and local government-community partnerships, that as policy makers and indigenous civil societies, we can draw from as we promote engagement between indigenous groups and governments. The second toolbox should be a check-list of indigenous perspectives on the issue of engaging indigenous communities that indigenous peoples, government officials and others can use in capacity building on indigenous issues. And a third check-list can be an assessment of the challenges to engaging indigenous communities in governance, so as to be able to address these issues clearly.

As the UN Secretary General has mentioned in his recent report titled In Larger Freedom: Towards Development Security and Human Rights for All, freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity must be realized for all people. These are important aspirations of indigenous peoples. Yet to reach these ends, indigenous peoples must first be heard and understood otherwise, what is the meaning of democracy? By being inspired by the UDHR, by working together in a way that fosters free and informed consent for indigenous peoples will the state, local governments and civil society be able to develop programs that are appropriate, sensitive, effective and ultimately sustainable and just - responding to indigenous peoples human dignity. I believe it is now time to be concrete.


  1. Recommendation 28, Report on the Second Session May 2003.
  2. Recommendation 89 of the Third Session

Last updated 24 January 2006.