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Statement of Mr. Francisco Calí Tzay
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly
Item 69 (a): Rights of indigenous peoples

New York, 12 October 2020

Madam Chair,
Distinguished delegates,
Indigenous peoples’ representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honor to present today my first report to the General Assembly.

I am looking forward to build on the important work accomplished by my predecessors since the inception of the mandate in 2001. In fulfilling my mandate, I will draw on my previous experience, including as a grassroots indigenous leader and lifelong indigenous rights activist and as a former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Madam Chair,

I took office on May 1st this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. I have received extensive information regarding the particular pandemic-related risks and violations experienced by indigenous peoples all over the world, both due to the virus itself and due to measures taken by States and private enterprises during the crisis. The pandemic has created an unprecedented wave of fear, sadness and hardship for many people across the globe, yet indigenous peoples feel particularly forgotten and left behind.

While it is to be hoped that this crisis remains exceptional, we need to acknowledge that the world continues to develop in an unsustainable manner and we need to be prepared to face other similar critical situations in the future. My first annual report to the General Assembly is therefore dedicated to the global impacts of this pandemic on the rights of indigenous peoples. With this report, I wish to emphasise the importance of an inclusive and participatory approach to recovery measures to the pandemic, but also call for greater preparedness for future such crises.

As mentioned in the omnibus resolution calling for a holistic response to COVID-19, adopted in September 2020 by the General Assembly, indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to the disease, and this is mostly due to inadequate access to health care and clean water and due to their prior health conditions. The escalating evictions of indigenous peoples from their lands and the loss of their traditional livelihoods, combined with the hardships of COVID-19 is aggravating extreme poverty and malnutrition in indigenous communities. And yet, indigenous peoples are rarely taken into account in contingency plans, and have in most countries only been included, if at all, late in the State response to COVID-19. As a result, their needs and requirements are not adequately taken into account and addressed by national programmes and policies.

I would like to thank the States, indigenous peoples and organisations, civil society, independent national institutions, academics and experts who have replied to my questionnaire. My mandate received over 150 responses, which helped me analyse the situation. On the basis of this information, my report highlights trends in how indigenous peoples and States have responded in the crucial early period of the crisis. The report also gives an overview of violations of indigenous peoples’ rights caused or exacerbated by the disease itself and by certain measures taken by States to contain the pandemic or protect their national economies.

I believe effective responses to COVID and recovery measures must be a collaborative effort between indigenous institutions and State institutions, combining indigenous knowledge of what is best for their own communities, and States’ services and financial support.

Without immediate action from States, the COVID crisis is pushing indigenous peoples even further behind in the realisation of the sustainable development goals. I fear that many more indigenous peoples’ traditional livelihoods and cultures will become extinct as States prioritise their economic interests over internationally recognized rights of indigenous peoples.

I specifically highlight in my report how indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-determination, including their right to free, prior and informed consent before the approval of any project or measures that may impact on them, are essential to building indigenous resilience to crisis all over the world. Furthermore, I believe that the recognition of indigenous peoples’ land rights is indispensable for the sustainable management of our planet’s limited resources, and thus key to the survival of us all.

Madam Chair,

In terms of thematic priorities during my mandate period, I will continue the focus on human rights concerns relating to land rights, attacks and criminalisation of indigenous peoples, conservation and climate change. Inevitably, I will continue to monitor COVID-19 impacts closely. I also wish to explore issues which I consider require additional attention such as challenges faced by indigenous peoples in urban areas, the impact of forced and bonded labour and analysis of how environmental and social impact assessments are carried out.

Regarding country visits during my mandate period, I look forward to completing the country visit to Denmark and Greenland initiated by my predecessor and I will prioritise requesting official country visits to Asia and Africa.

I now wish to conclude my statement. I thank you all for your kind attention and I look forward to our interactive dialogue.