Remarks: Rebeca Grynspan, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Apr 19, 2010

Opening remarks by Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator, for the discussion on the special theme for the year of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues : “Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity: articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”

19 April 2010, New York


Distinguished members of the Permanent Forum and representatives of indigenous peoples:

It is with great honour that I address this Forum again this year on behalf of UNDP.
I am pleased, in particular, to have the opportunity to contribute to this discussion on development with culture and identity.

As articulated in the 2004 Human Development Report, “Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World”, people all over the world must be able to choose their identity—and express who they are —without losing the respect of others or being excluded from choices and opportunities that are important for leading a full life.

This is inherent in the concept of human development. If we define development as expanding the capabilities of people to live a life that they value, then development must help societies recognize and accommodate diverse ethnicities, religions, languages, and values.

The Human Development Report referred to this as ‘cultural liberty’ and persuasively argues that it is a central aspect of human development, which requires us to look beyond social, political, and economic indicators.

Cultural exclusion results in denying certain groups’ lifestyle, for example, forcing them to drop their cultural practices, religion or language as well as the denial of social, political and economic opportunities.

This type of exclusion exists on an extensive scale, across every continent. We know that indigenous peoples are too often an excluded group and as a result, are frequently poorer and less politically represented than the non-indigenous. But cultural exclusion goes beyond poverty or lack of opportunities it also makes invisible the contributions of the excluded groups to society at large – preventing the transference of ideas, knowledge and values.

Cultural liberty is not automatic. It will not necessarily come about due to a change in the law or economic progress. Fostering cultural liberty requires explicit policies and the full attention of governments.

States need to recognize cultural differences in their laws and institutions as well as formulating policies to ensure that the interests of particular groups—are not ignored or overridden.

And they need to do so in ways that do not contradict other goals and strategies of human development, such as human rights, building a capable state, and ensuring equal opportunities to all citizens.

This is not easy, but there are innovative and successful examples of expanding cultural liberty around the world, including through meaningful social dialogue, inclusive and transparent decision making, recognizing the value of traditional knowledge and explicitly redressing wrongs through policies such as affirmative action.

To take a specific example, we know that extractive industries have adversely affected the quality of life, life choices, and livelihoods of indigenous peoples around the world – through displacement, pollution, and inadequate compensation. Through experience, we have learned that meaningful consultation and the participation of indigenous peoples are an important part of the solution, as is strengthening the capacity of local and national institutions to ensure that benefits are shared transparently.

States, indigenous peoples, and international institutions need to collaborate to find and apply such methods to ensure that indigenous people are consulted, engaged, and have a genuine stake in the flows of investments, ideas, and knowledge.

Expanding cultural freedoms is an important goal in human development—one that needs urgent attention. All people want to be free to be who they are. All people want to be free to express their identity as members of a group with shared commitments and values.

Equally important, is ensuring that the gains of economic and social development, such as opportunities for better health care and education, reach all groups.

This year, the international community is making an important effort to review and accelerate progress toward the Millennium Development Goals that it committed to in 2000. In September, there will be an MDG Summit to take stock of progress and agree on an action plan that can help to accelerate progress in the five years remaining before the due date of 2015.

The world has seen remarkable progress towards the MDGs.

Deaths among children under-five were reduced from over 12 million in 1990 to 9 million in 2008. Progress has been uneven, however, between and within countries. And in too many countries, the progress of indigenous peoples has lagged behind national indicators. For example, in virtually all countries with data, infant mortality among indigenous peoples is considerably higher than among the non-indigenous population.

It is critical to recognize that indicators based on averages can hide the reality that marginalized and vulnerable groups are too often left behind.

UNDP is working to overcome what is sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of averages” by helping to develop the statistical capacities of a wide range of national stakeholders.

Stronger capacities to produce and analyse disaggregated data will help reveal inequalities in progress among specific population groups, including indigenous peoples, and can help inform policies and programmes intended to close MDG gaps. We would be happy to invite indigenous peoples’ organizations to participate in the regional training workshops. The first will be in Africa in mid-May.

UNDP is also helping to build the evidence the world will need to come to agreement on a concrete action plan at the MDG Summit. We are drafting an international assessment that identifies reoccurring bottlenecks and constraints to MDG progress as well as the interventions that have proven to reduce hunger, poverty, HIV prevalence, and maternal and child morality.  

The assessment will be informed by national MDG reports which are now being written in around 30 countries around the world. We have emphasized to countries writing these reports the importance of using disaggregated data to demonstrate how MDG progress has differed across population groups. We have explicitly called on governments to engage civil society organizations “especially those representing groups normally absent from policy dialogue, including indigenous peoples”  

In addition, UNDP has developed an MDG Acceleration Framework to support governments and development partners to identify and address bottlenecks to MDG achievement.

We have made an effort to mainstream human rights into the Acceleration Framework in order to help development partners examine issues of participation, discrimination, and cultural exclusion. The framework includes questions on reducing language barriers and respecting indigenous people’s practices in public services such as health and education.

We note the Experts Group recommendation that “in the run-up to the MDG Summit in September, indigenous peoples take part in national consultation processes, ensuring that their concerns are fed into the review process, as well as in the meeting itself.” We encourage and welcome you to do so as the world will not be able to achieve the MDGs in the five short years we have left without the concerted and focused efforts of all groups. Your concerted effort and involvement is invaluable.

UNDP will continue to work with you at all levels – global, regional, national and community – to advance your cause. For example, we are pleased to be:
•    Working together on projects and programmes in countries all over the world – for example in Bangladesh where we have helped to set up over four hundred groups of indigenous women, enabling them to develop their own community projects and network;

•    Promoting sustainable development that respects the rights of indigenous peoples through the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme. We are pleased that 15% of the small grants go to projects carried out by indigenous people.
•    Raising the profile of local and indigenous efforts to reduce poverty through the sustainable use of biodiversity through the biannual Equator Prize. Over 50% of which have received by indigenous groups. This year, a “special recognition” prize will be awarded for Applied Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge.    

•    Helping to support the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, through the UN-REDD Programme’s Operational Guidance on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples and Other Forest Dependent Communities. The guidelines were drafted in full consultation with Indigenous Peoples and highlight, in particular, adherence to the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. They are currently being put into practice as a pilot in Vietnam.

The human right to live free from discrimination is an intrinsic part of development - and development is a means to realizing this right.

Vigorous commitment to and progress on the MDGs should drive nations towards non-discrimination within regions, among indigenous communities, and between men, women, girls, and boys. 

I wish you all fruitful discussions and negotiations during the forum and invite you to participate in the sessions and side events organized by UNDP and its partners during the two weeks.

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