High Level Plenary of the United Nations General Assembly
(World Conference on Indigenous Peoples)
United Nations Headquarters, New York
September 23, 2014
Round Table Discussion on Lands, Territories Resources
Statement by the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus
Co-Chairpersons, Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
The rights of Indigenous Peoples to lands, territories and resources thereon, are an integral part of our livelihoods, material, spiritual and social well-being, identity, culture, development and worldviews.
In the broader sense, land includes the seas, tundra, deserts, prairies and wetlands, as elaborated in relevant international instruments.
On account of its territorial aspect and life-supporting elements, many of us regard land as Mother Earth, to which we belong, inter-generationally. It is the land that owns us, and not the other way around, despite what concocted legal fictions tell us.
We humans and other life forms merely use land, for the limited time of our individual life spans. Individual exchange-oriented legal regimes and unbridled over-exploitation of natural resources, have caused much havoc, including Climate Change, loss of biological diversity, war, conflict and instability.
How we use the lands within this planet determines the welfare of current and future generations of humanity. And it is Indigenous Peoples, who demonstrably use lands sustainably. That is what our spiritual traditions, laws and customs have taught us. Our practices, usages, adaptations and innovations have followed suit. The acknowledgement of our customary land laws also constitute an acknowledgment of the continuing relevance of the indigenous ways of dealing with ownership and use of lands.
We are encouraged that the Outcome Document acknowledges several of the problems referred to, and provides solutions to many of them.
In particular, the draft Outcome Document acknowledges the following: (a) the right to free, prior and informed consent on legal and administrative measures and the acknowledgment, advancement and adjudication of our land rights (articles 3, 16ter and 17); (b) our knowledge, innovations, technologies and practices on sustainable livelihoods and occupations, eco system management and biodiversity (articles 17bis, 19, 19bis, 28bis, 30 and 31); (c) our justice systems (article 14); and (d) inclusion of our rights, priorities and strategies in the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda process (article 32).
This is an advancement but, these gains are yet modest, considering that the standards constitute the floor, and not the ceiling, of achievable targets in this regard.
At the international level, several other corresponding measures are needed, including (a) an effective UN monitoring mechanism to review the progress of the Outcome Document; (b) implementation of UN system resolutions and policies, including of the indigenous peoples-mandated mechanisms; and (c) monitoring of multilateral and bilateral treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.
Equally importantly, states need to review their constitutional, treaty-based, legal, policy and implementation mechanisms and processes, in a respectful and effective partnership with Indigenous Peoples.
Best practices on effective adjudication and recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights exist in several countries. The challenge remains, collectively, to improve upon them, and to promote and contextually replicate them, in other parts of the world.