By Davis Akampurira
Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural and economic characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history; their rights have always been violated. Indigenous people today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which takes place every year on August 9, was proclaimed by the General Assembly in December 1994. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
Ten years ago, on September 13, 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a major milestone with respect to the cooperation and solidarity between indigenous peoples and Member States. The Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It embodies global consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples and establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. It elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms, as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.
Over the last decade, the implementation of the Declaration has achieved some major successes in at the national, regional and international levels. Despite the achievements, there continues to be a gap between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground. This year is of particular importance, as it is the Tenth Anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and at the same time the theme of the year. There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world's population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world's estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
We observe the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we work to support national governance systems to be more effective in addressing discrimination and structural inequalities that can affect indigenous peoples. We believe that by giving access to opportunities and support as well as enabling environment where indigenous peoples are empowered, they will be able to develop their full potential to lead dignified lives in harmony with their world vision and traditional values. The government of Uganda always insists on making indigenous youth a priority by having all necessary recommendations flowing from the permanent forum to promote better integration and coordination of their issues, including youth issues, across the globe.
Together, let us identify and celebrate the priceless and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.
Happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous People!
The writer is the Team Leader Africa Leadership Awards/Youth Activist.