Indigenous Peoples in Urban Areas Face Racism, Poverty, Special Rapporteur Tells Third Committee as Delegates Spotlight Efforts to Bolster Inclusion

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Director Cites Obstacles to Crime Prevention, Criminal Justice amid COVID‑19 Pandemic

Indigenous peoples living in urban areas are liable to face racial discrimination, poverty and stigmatization, the United Nations expert responsible for assessing their well-being told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates held a discussion on the issue.

Stressing that a significant number of the world’s indigenous peoples live in urban areas, Francisco Calí Tzai, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said these peoples often migrate to urban areas in search of employment and education ‑ or as a result of forced eviction, militarization, political instability and armed conflict.

“The impact of historical and current colonization and associated intergenerational trauma deeply challenge indigenous peoples’ sense of identity,” he explained.  Any limitations on those rights also have the potential to sever their cultural and spiritual relationship with indigenous lands, he warned.

Extractive activities and development projects ‑ often undertaken without indigenous peoples’ consent ‑ are driving them out of rural areas and into urban ones, he said, the consequence of overzealous policies that ultimately undermine their rights to traditional lands.

To counter these threats, he emphasized the vital role of education, which is “significantly interconnected with all other human rights of indigenous peoples, including land rights”.  However, indigenous children’s ability to pursue education is hampered by the discrimination they encounter in the school registration process.

In the subsequent discussion, delegates suggested ways to empower indigenous communities, with Cameroon’s representative, identifying herself as an indigenous person, noting that poverty and marginalization experienced in her country are the residual aftershocks of colonization.  Sri Lanka’s representative cited the creation of an indigenous medicine centre in his country, which has the twofold objective of being a repository for traditional knowledge and generating income for indigenous communities.  Several others stressed the importance of opening financial opportunities for indigenous peoples, including by promoting small businesses.  In that vein, Mexico’s representative said his country sees the protection of intellectual heritage as essential, lest it be appropriated by others without consent or creating benefits for indigenous communities.  Similarly, Australia’s delegate emphasized that “investing in economic rights can have a catalytic impact and will advance the well-being of indigenous peoples”.  Indigenous entrepreneurs must be given opportunities to participate in international trade.

In the afternoon, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), called 2021 a milestone in the fight against corruption, pointing to a collaborative spirit among State parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption to share information.  He also outlined the Office’s focus on countering threats to the environment and wildlife, as well as its concerns over issues of international security in the Sahel region, Syria and Iraq.

Delegates participating in the subsequent dialogue shone a spotlight on drug trafficking, with Nigeria’s representative noting that his country established a “drug help net” that assists drug users unable to gain access to treatment.  Venezuela’s delegate declared that drug trafficking ‑ alongside scourges such as organized crime, cybercrime and corruption ‑ is an attack not only on the social order but on human rights as well.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 October, to continue its work.

Interactive Dialogues ‑ Rights of Indigenous Peoples

FRANCISCO CALÍ TZAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, presenting his report (document A/76/202/Rev.1), said it explores the causes and consequences of urbanization on indigenous peoples’ rights, and the initiatives undertaken to ensure that these rights are addressed.  Among its recommendations are greater accountability for State and non-State actors in order to remove existing obstacles.  It also emphasizes the importance of adopting legislation, policies and programmes that provide collective protection for indigenous peoples living in urban areas.

Stressing that a significant number of the world’s indigenous peoples live in urban areas, he said urban migration often occurs when indigenous peoples move in search of employment and education, but also as a result of forced eviction, militarization, political instability and armed conflict.  They continue to experience the legacy of colonization and intergenerational trauma.  Regrettably, extractive activities and development projects are driving indigenous peoples to urban areas, as their land rights are undermined by intensified pressure from State policies.  “Such projects have been a catalyst for States to promote mega projects without adequate consultation with indigenous peoples,” he warned.

In addition, he said the adverse effects of climate change, including wildfires, deforestation, drought and rising sea levels are equally exacerbating these trends.  Indigenous peoples who are forced to migrate as a result of climate change often end up in precarious housing in the poorest urban areas.  Urbanization provides opportunities, but may also entail poverty, stigmatization, and discrimination against indigenous peoples.  Those who voluntarily relocate, or are forcibly relocated, to urban areas encounter barriers to accessing health care, safe drinking water and sanitation, culturally appropriate education, employment and adequate housing.

They also face challenges in registering their children for education and major disparities in the completion of primary school.  “The right to education is significantly interconnected with all other human rights of indigenous peoples, including land rights and the rights to culture, language and traditional knowledge”, he emphasized. Further, any health care that is provided is frequently insufficient and not culturally appropriate.  “The impact of historical and current colonization and associated intergenerational trauma deeply challenge indigenous peoples’ sense of identity and maintenance of their cultural and spiritual relationship with land and resources,” he said.  He called on States to change their approach to indigenous peoples’ claims and rights.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, several delegates highlighted the importance of creating business opportunities for indigenous peoples, with the representative of Mexico noting that his country recognizes the importance of protecting cultural identity, including intellectual heritage.  As the report recommends adopting measures to support the development of business initiatives for indigenous peoples living in urban zones, he asked how States can best protect indigenous communities from the undue appropriation of their cultural heritage and property without their free and informed consent, or without creating benefits for them.  The representative of Australia drew attention to opportunities created for indigenous entrepreneurs in international trade, stressing that “investing in economic rights can have a catalytic impact and will advance the well-being of indigenous peoples”.  She asked the Special Rapporteur to expand on the subject of economic rights in a future report.  The representative of the United States said that country’s Department of Labor supports funding for education, training and services that enhance the skills and competitiveness of indigenous job seekers in ways that are consistent with their cultures and beliefs.

Delegates also took the opportunity to highlight challenges that arise for indigenous peoples living in urban areas, with the representative of the Russian Federation noting that while urbanization creates opportunities, it can also lead to poverty and racism.  He pointed to the Russian Federation’s focus on developing rural areas as a way to support indigenous ways of life.  The representative of Brazil asked the Special Rapporteur about actions that Governments can take to create an inclusive education system for indigenous students, while the representative of Cameroon, who noted that in her country she is considered an indigenous person, asked how traditional housing and indigenous architecture can be incorporated into urban areas.  The representative of Liechtenstein asked how those living in urban areas can access indigenous systems of justice.  The representative of Sri Lanka, noting that an indigenous medicine centre was created in his country in 2011 to preserve the culture of and generate income for indigenous communities, asked how best to preserve indigenous cultures in the context of urbanization.  An observer for the European Union asked for the Special Rapporteur’s comments on the difference in the enjoyment of human rights by indigenous women and girls in urban areas, as compared to rural ones.

Mr. TZAY replied that his main objective in writing the report was to show that many indigenous peoples lived in urban areas well before urbanization took place.  Their culture and values are now being lost as a result.  Those who have survived are suffering racial discrimination and being marginalized as cities modernize.

For example, he said that while some countries prioritized indigenous peoples’ access to the COVID-19 vaccine, when these peoples arrived at urban health centres for their shots, they were told to return to their communities to receive the vaccine ‑ despite that they were already in their communities, he said, underscoring that many people believe indigenous peoples only live in rural areas.

On the question of how to promote the small businesses of indigenous peoples, he said States must support initiatives led by indigenous peoples themselves, citing Mexico ‑ and especially Mexico City ‑ as models.  On how States can ensure traditional housing in urban areas, he said the participation of indigenous peoples in urban planning must be allowed.  Finally, he said the best way to create jobs for indigenous people is to support initiatives led by them, noting that there are many examples in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere.

Also speaking were representatives of Ethiopia, New Zealand, Denmark, Malaysia, Chile, Ukraine, Colombia, Canada, Venezuela, China, Costa Rica and India.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

JEAN-LUC LEMAHIEU, Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), stressed that the COVID‑19 pandemic greatly impacted the work of the UNODC.  Describing the work carried out over the past year, he referred first to the new strategy covering the 2021‑2025 period, which aims to address emerging threats affecting the environment and wildlife.  A Strategic Vision for Africa 2030 was also devised that will be complemented by a vision for the Latin American and Caribbean region.  He also cited the recent adoption of the Kyoto Declaration at the fourteenth Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

He said 2021 is a milestone for the fight against corruption, drawing attention to a willingness to collaborate and exchange information among State parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  Also pointing to the youth forum on corruption, he emphasized that the empowerment of young people is a cross-cutting component of UNODC’s new strategy.  Gender and trans-national crime are also at the centre of this strategy.  Underscoring the need to strengthen maritime security, he said the recent high-level debate on the issue heard 30 States requesting strategic development support from UNODC.  Women continue to be the primary target of human trafficking.  On the issue of international security, he called on the international community to support the Sahel region, as well as efforts to create stability in Syria and Iraq.  He concluded by encouraging collaboration on cyberthreats within the open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee on cybercrime, established by General Assembly resolution 74/247.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Venezuela said organized crime, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrime and corruption constitute an attack against the social order, development and human rights.  She called for dialogue and cooperation in fighting these problems.  Along similar lines, the representative of Nigeria warned that COVID‑19 lockdowns have exacerbated drug trafficking and related crimes globally, noting that his country established a drug help net, providing assistance to drug users who are unable to seek treatment.  He cited the proliferation of online drug sales during the pandemic as another challenge to tackle.

An observer for the European Union, meanwhile, asked Mr. LEMAHIEU about ways UNODC can facilitate negotiations between New York and Vienna, and about how it can facilitate the involvement of Government officials in this process.  The representative of Belarus drew attention to new organized crime involving the use of new financial instruments.  Every country has sovereignty and jurisdiction over its territory, he affirmed, adding that cybercrime undermines democratic institutions and values.  The representative of the United States reiterated her country’s commitment to negotiating a transparent process for combating cybercrime that is open to experts, including those from civil society.

Also taking part in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Syria, Mexico, Singapore (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), China, Qatar, Colombia and Algeria.

Mr. LEMAHIEU, in his response, indicated that inclusiveness is an essential component of the negotiations on the cybersecurity convention, referring to Security Council resolution 75/282 (2021). Non-intergovernmental representatives will also have the opportunity to share their expertise by registering with the Secretariat.  He went on to answer questions on the locations of meetings, pinpointing sessions to be held in Vienna and New York.

On cybercrime, he said capacity-building tools have been made available to Member States to address this threat.  He praised a public‑private partnership approach that involves civil society in addressing these issues, considering it necessary in order to maximize the impact of global initiatives.  He went on to stress that UNODC contributes to peace and security, pointing to its positive collaboration with Columbia in fostering transitions for farmers.

He added that implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners ‑ known as the Nelson Mandela Rules ‑ would create a positive environment for addressing women’s incarceration.


Source: United Nations

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