Statement of Indigenous Peoples
by Joji Carino
International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
of the Tropical Forests
UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS)
23-27 June 1997
I speak to you today from the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests - an intercontinental network bringing together the Batwa of Rwanda, the hill tribes of Thailand, the peoples of the Amazon, the adivasis of India, and many more indigenous and tribal peoples from over 30 tropical forest countries. I am an Ibaloi-Igorot from the Cordillera region of the Philippines.

Our goal is to secure respect for indigenous rights, territories, institutions and processes, and to promote our indigenous models of development and conservation in tropical forest regions that are more just and more sustainable.

This Alliance represents our global response to the destruction of our forests to feed the unsustainable consumption and production patterns of the rest of the world. We are part of a powerfully resurgent worldwide movement of indigenous peoples. Our greatest strength is in the local activities of indigenous peoples who love and care for our territories and environment, but also in our enrichment of national life and challenges to international affairs.

As I speak today, our movement is active in the following campaigns which portray the local-national-global crises and the worsening situation in the lives of indigenous peoples five years after Rio.

In East Asia, much of the region's economic growth is paid for by Indigenous Peoples:

The problems are not confined to the tropical forest countries: These problems should be given higher priority by the world's leaders in the coming years.

Indigenous Peoples are contemporary peoples with a unique contribution to make in the healing of the Earth.

Oftentimes, the campaigns of indigenous communities are misjudged as the ignorance of primitives unschooled in modern economic realities. But make no mistake. We are not peoples of the past, but are your contemporaries and, in some ways, maybe your guides towards more sustainable futures in the 21st century. Our heritage which reaches back prior to the creation of states is a deeper memory of experience from which to draw upon for the future.

The more than 300 million indigenous people in the world today, made up of 4,000 distinct societies, represent 95% of human cultural diversity, and I dare say 95% of humanity's breadth of knwledge for living sustainability on this Earth.

The world has woken up to the loss of biodiversity, but not to the disappearance of our cultural wealth. Modern societies are implementing protected areas for wildlife and biodiversity. We must look now to demarcating and recognizing indigenous lands and territories as guaranteed spaces for sustainable use, rather than treating our lands as expansion areas for failed and unsustainable practices.

Our struggles are very often straightforward conflicts of interest between securing our local livelihoods and our cultures against the further enrichment of more powerful interests. This imbalance in human social relations feeds the imbalance in our relationship with the Earth, our Mother.

Globalisation has come to mean the incorporation of diverse local economies and societies into the global capitalist system. But indigenous societies suffer only the fall-outs of this inequitable process. Our experience has shown that our incorporation often results in an impoverishment - materially, culturally and spiritually - and even in our death as distinct peoples. The transformation of local sustainable uses of land, forests, mountains, rivers and ice into economic growth and development means more logging, mining, agricultural plantations and toxic dumping in our lands. Globalisation and trade liberalization are seriously affecting the ability of indigenous peoples to contribute to global sustainability.

We have had 500 years of incorporation. We need to usher in the next 500 years of respect and cooperation. A more sustainable globalisation should be a celebration of the many diverse livelihoods, cultures and peoples around the world. Human diversity, together with earth's biodiversity, are the real riches in this world, and should be enshrined in a revitalized Agenda 21

A Positive and Creative International and National Response.

I have highlighted some problems, but in the few arenas where indigenous peoples have been granted respect, difficult but impressive progress can be made. We can see this, even within the United Nations.

Since Rio, there has been increasing policy attention given to indigenous peoples in the implementation of the Rio Agreements.

However, the policy deliberations on this issue have not been entirely enlightened. Many governments come to these negotiations with the objective of limiting the recognition and participation of indigenous peoples. The sum contribution made by some governments is to demand the deletion of S in indigenous peopleS, an act of callous bullying which is demeaning to the spirit of openness and cooperation needed for progress in the implementation of Agenda 21.

At the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), it was painful to witness indigenous peoples' efforts to put in place constructive arrangements for the recognition of our rights and participation at all levels of the forest policy debate stalled by a few hostile governments, harking back to unreformed national laws.

All governments need to adopt the inclusion of indigenous peoples in national plans for sustainable development and work towards making the United Nations a forum where best practice informs the combined efforts of governments, international organizations and indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations
Indigenous peoples are convinced that in the next five years, international standard- setting activities at the United Nationsa will be extremely critical in advancing the welfare of indigenous peoples.

In July this year, indigenous peoples will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of our entry into the Geneva offices of the United Nations and substantive dialogue with the UN Commission on Human Rights. The establishment of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations with the mandate to develop international standards for the rights of indigenous peoples, and to review development affecting our rights, has provided the space for indigenous peoples to discuss with governments, UN agencies, NGOs and all interested parties, and has proved to be extremely productive.

This dialogue ushered in the UN inauguration of 1993 - the Year of Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and 1995-2004 as the UN Decade of turning the partnership into action. Important goals of the UN Decade include:

1. The adoption of a UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples currently being discussed by the Commission on Human Rights, and

2. The establishment of a UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, to cover issues such as environment, development, culture and human rights.

This will remedy the striking absence of any mechanisms within the United Nations for coordination and regular exchange of information among governments, the UN system and Indigenous Peoples. Next week an International Workshop on the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples will take place in Santiago, Chile to advance concrete proposals for its establishment.

This General Assembly Special Session should recommend speedy action by the United Nations bodies on these important political goals to advance the welfare of Indigenous Peoples.

These activities within the United Nations need to inform the post-Rio Agreements in keeping with the principle of the indivisibility of economic development, peace and environmental protection. This strengthens the affirmation of the welfare of peoples at the heart of sustainable development.

A declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples can provide some urgently needed standards for the actions of governments, business, development agencies and financial institutions in the difficult times ahead of us. These are needed to moderate the actions of mining and oil exploration corporations, logging interests, large infrastructure projects, pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies operating without regard for indigenous rights, and who are among the worst transgressors of sustainable development.

At the national level, where the more difficult negotiations are taking place between governments and indigenous peoples, such standards can encourage the just and equitable settlements that will strengthen the inclusion and participation of the presently marginalized members of society in any national plans.

At a local level, it will give heart to heroic but highly imbalanced struggles of indigenous peoples to win the respect of dominant societies, live with the integrity of our cultures and continuing relationship with our lands.

In the next five years, one concrete criterion for measuring progress in the realization of Agenda 21 and the other Rio Agreements can be the concrete actions undertaken to respect and work with indigenous peoples for sustainable development.

I look forward to future Agenda 21 reports on the progress being made in the following measures:

1. Securing the demarcation and recognition of indigenous peoples' territories and the control and management of their ancestral lands;

2. The enrichment of Agenda 21, the Forest Principles and the Convention on Biological Diversity to give greater attention to promoting cultural diversity and the protection of the heritage of indigenous peoples; including mechanisms to protect and promote indigenous cultural and intellectual rights;

3. Permanent mechanisms under the Commission on Sustainable Development for the participation of Indigenous Peoples and shared decision-making with other major groups;

4. Recognition of the Leticia Declaration and Proposals for Action as guidelines for the inclusion of indigenous peoples in local and national sustainable development plans; and the full and equal participation of indigenous peoples in the future forest policy process;

5. UNGASS to give its full support for the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the establishment of a UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples as important prerequisites for the implementation of the Rio Agreements and the goals of UN Decade for Indigenous Peoples.

In the past five years, I have sensed a growing acknowledgment of indigenous peoples by all other sectors of society involved in the quest for sustainable development. This can only herald better times for all our children.

I give my thanks to the UN General Assembly for hearing us on this occasion.

I thank you all.