NEWS RELEASE: New social contract is needed to protect indigenous peoples’ rights, say the UN Human Rights Offices for Asia and the Pacific
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – 9 August 2021
BANGKOK/SUVA (9 August 2021) – Governments across the Asia-Pacific region should implement a new social contract to guarantee equality for indigenous peoples, the Human Rights Offices for Asia and the Pacific said Monday on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Addressing inequality through social justice, labour rights and gender equality has been a driving force for communities across the globe throughout history. Adequate access to housing, healthcare, food, water and sanitation, education, decent work and social security are not just commodities available to those who can afford them, but basic human rights to which all are entitled.
“The true achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will only be found in how societies have addressed deep-rooted discrimination and structural inequalities for the most vulnerable. Today is a timely reminder that the fate of indigenous peoples is inextricably linked and profoundly connected to all people across the globe,” said Heike Alefsen, Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office for the Pacific. “Transitioning to a ‘human rights economy’ consistent with the principles of ecological limits and social equity, will help create a more just and resilient post-pandemic and climate future.”
The theme for Indigenous Peoples Day this year is “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.” However, discrimination, abuse and lack of access to decision-making and justice are widespread around the world, particularly for indigenous people and minorities of all kinds.
“Full recognition and fulfillment of indigenous peoples’ human rights is long overdue,” said Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia.
“‘Leaving no-one behind’ as a core component of the Sustainable Development agenda means that governments must urgently and meaningfully tackle complex issues related to corruption, exclusionary laws and policies, wealth and resource inequality and environmental degradation that are at the core of what endangers the lives and culture of indigenous peoples,” Veliko said. “It can only happen through a new social contract that allows for the realization of human rights for all.”
Faced with dangerous levels of pollution, industrial resource exploitation, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl contributing to habitat loss, water, soil and food insecurity, dying oceans and climate crisis impacts, indigenous peoples’ unique relationship with their lands, territories and resources are imminently at risk. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only further exposed these inequalities in access to healthcare and broader social protection.
In Asia and the Pacific, commitments are being strengthened to establish National Action Plans, National Human Rights Institutions, and other mechanisms that will engage in monitoring and reporting on human rights situations, including those of indigenous environmental and human rights defenders and their communities. Efforts are emerging for new multi-stakeholder spaces, such as at the UN Food System Summit, to be truly inclusive of indigenous voices.
Indigenous individuals and communities are advocating for full participation in the design and implementation of health, social, justice and other services, and for the inclusion of indigenous language, culture and historical perspectives in educational curriculums.
“It is critical that governments and businesses in the Asia-Pacific region comply with the principle of free, prior and informed consent with respect to proposed conservation and development projects impacting the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples,” Alefsen and Veliko said. “Too often, there is little or no meaningful engagement with affected communities. This must change.”
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