The UN Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues
“You have a home at the United Nations”. In this way, Kofi Annan, the then-UN Secretary General, greeted participants at the first session of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, held in New York in May 2002. The opening of this first session of the Permanent Forum was indeed a turning point for the international indigenous movement.
Indigenous peoples had been struggling for the creation of such a body since the 1980s, as they did not feel represented by their respective governments within the UN system. They wished for an alternative “General Assembly” where they as distinct peoples had a voice. By creating the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, the UN had met this demand.
With the establishment of the Permanent Forum, indigenous peoples have gained an important platform within the UN from which they aspire to ensure that indigenous issues are taken into consideration in all activities of the UN-System.
The mandate of the Forum is to provide expert advice and recommendations to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN system in general on issues of importance for indigenous peoples. These recommendations can deal with almost every aspect of indigenous peoples’ lives – namely economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. Furthermore, the Forum shall raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system and last-but-not-least, prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.
The Permanent Forum has 16 members- all independent experts. Eight are appointed by governments while eight are nominated by indigenous organizations in seven geographical regions of the world – namely Africa; Asia; Central and South America and the Caribbean; the Arctic; Central and Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia; North America; and the Pacific. One additional seat rotates among the three first regions listed above, and is taken by Asia during the 2005-7 term.
The Permanent Forum holds its annual session in April/May and has taken up a series of special issues. So far, the Forum has discussed indigenous children and youth, indigenous women, the Millennium Development Goals and climate change. A large number of indigenous representatives attend the two-week sessions of the Forum, which also offer a wide range of side-events, cultural performances and, last but not least, give the participants opportunities to make contacts, share experiences and establish valuable networks across various regions of the world.