TODAY -

Leaving no one behind- Indigenous peoples and call for a new social contract

Ranjan K Baruah *



Traditional knowledge is always important in spite of our progress in the field of science and technology. There are people who are still practicing and preserving many such traditional knowledge. Whenever we talk about people living sustainably with nature then the answer is directly indigenous peoples who are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment.

In today’s globalised world these people have retained social as well as cultural identities that are distinct from those of the prevailing societies in which they live.

The irony is that these people are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. There are over 476 million indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, accounting for 6.2 per cent of the global population.

They make up less than 5 percent 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.

More than 86% of indigenous peoples globally work in the informal economy, compared to 66% for their non-indigenous counterparts. They are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-indigenous counterparts and globally, 47% of all indigenous peoples in employment have no education, compared to 17% of their non-indigenous counterparts. The crucial challenge is that this gap is even wider for women.

The recent pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities, disproportionately affecting populations all over the world that were already suffering from poverty, illness, discrimination, institutional instability or financial insecurity. From the perspective of indigenous peoples, the contrast is even starker. In many of our societies, the social contract, at the very least, needs some revision.

In order to raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, every 9th August commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, chosen in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held in Geneva in 1982. On 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided, in its resolution 49/214, that the International Day of the World's Indigenous People shall be observed on 9th August every year.

We should demand indigenous peoples’ inclusion, participation and approval in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all. That is why the 2021 theme is “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.”

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is a high- level advisory body to the Economic and Social Council. The Forum was established on 28 July 2000 by resolution 2000/22, with the mandate to deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

A social contract is an unwritten agreement that societies make to cooperate for social and economic benefits. In many countries, where indigenous peoples were driven from their lands, their cultures and languages denigrated and their people marginalized from political and economic activities, they were never included in the social contract to begin with. The social contract was made among the dominant populations. The new social contract must be based on genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all.

In terms of special events related to indigenous peoples, in 1990, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1993 the International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/45/164 A/RES/47/75). Later, the General Assembly established two International Decades of the World's Indigenous Peoples: the first 1995 - 2004 (resolution 48/163), and the second 2005 - 2014 (resolution 59/174), with the goal of strengthening international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, the environment, development, education, health, economic and social development.

Next year will be the beginning of a new decade for the indigenous community: the celebration of the Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022 – 2032, a door that was opened previously in 2019 with the celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in his message said that "throughout modern history, indigenous peoples have been robbed of their lands and territories, of their political and economic autonomy, and even of their own children.

Their cultures and languages have been denigrated and extinguished.” “We need a new social contract – one that restores and honours the rights, dignity and freedoms of those who have been deprived of so much for so long. Central to this must be genuine dialogue, interaction and willingness to listen. We already have the tools we need to this, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” , he added .

The 2030 Agenda, with its promise to “leave no one behind,” is of crucial importance to indigenous peoples. There is no doubt that the 2030 Agenda, also involves serious risks for indigenous peoples, such as clean energy projects that encroach on their lands and territories.

We are aware that indigenous peoples across the world play a unique and valuable role in sustainably managing a significant share of the world’s lands and ecosystems. Their territories are home to 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity – and indeed, safeguarding nature is a fundamental part of their cultures.

We must ensure that the rights of all indigenous people are protected. They have been contributing positively in mitigating and combating climate change. Their expertise is essential for the progress of humanity.


(With direct inputs from UN publication )


* Ranjan K Baruah wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at bkranjan(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 03 2021.



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