The 51st Session of the Human Rights Council

12 September - 7 October

Agenda Item 3 & 5 – Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development / Human rights bodies and mechanisms

Summary of the Report of the Special Rapporteur

Annual Panel on the Rights of Indigenous People,

Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous People

28 September 2022


By Rute Belachew, Aimara Pujadas Clavel, and Isabelle Despicht / GICJ 

Executive Summary

Indigenous People are still facing discrimination and land invasion. On the 28th of September 2022, the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council held three subsequent meetings on the rights of Indigenous People: a panel discussion, an interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous People, and an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigneous People.

The Council held the annual panel on Rights of Indigenous People, during which the impact of COVID-19 on social and economic recovery measures affecting indigenous peoples was examined, with a particular focus on food security. After the panel discussion, the representative of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People presented his report and elaborated upon his study of treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements which had been previously conducted.

The subsequent interactive dialogue considered the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Cali Tzay, with a detailed interactive dialogue from member States and international non-governmental organisations. Mr. Cali Tzay commenced the interactive discussion by presenting the conclusions of his most recent report. The report focused on the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities and their battle for survival as governments implement recovery plans that directly harm them.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) reiterates that the lack of protection for Indigenous People and exploitation of their land leads to deforestation, violence, killings, lack of resources, extraction, food insecurity, pollution, and other worrying issues. The pandemic has had a differentiated and mostly disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples and their rights. GICJ urgently calls states to empower Indigneous women and girls, counting among the most vulnerable groups, as well as Indigneous leaders and activists, and ensure that their rights are protected and any incumbent issues addressed. Mechanisms to ensure and protect the ability for Indigenous women to develop, maintain, and transmit knowledge must be protected and respected in the scientific field.


Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Cali Tzay, is a Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala who has worked toward upholding the rights of the Indigenous. He was appointed for the position in March 2020 and began in May 2020. He served as the President of the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and is  the founder and  member of several Indigenous organisations in Guatemala.

The disproportionate effects posed by the COVID-19 heath crisis highlighted the pre-existing disparities plaguing Indigenous peoples worldwide. According to multiple publications, including the annual report of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/HRC/46/72), this is causing them to fall behind in national responses to the virus while also frequently facing food shortages. Similar findings were identified in reports of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the General Assembly (A/75/185) and the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/48/54) as well as statements and reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) report on COVID-19 and its effects on Indigenous communities.

Indigenous peoples' lives, particularly their rights to self-determination, food, and health, were impacted by the ways in which States responded to and recovered from the COVID-19 epidemic, notably through the implementation of measures, policies, and recovery plans. Indigenous and other traditional populations, according to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), depend on the natural resources of their territories for survival. The Expert Mechanism also reported a rise in food insecurity related to job loss, a lack of land access, and the loss of natural resources.

Summary of the Report of the Special Rapporteur

In its resolution 18/8 on the 29th of September 2011, the Human Rights Council resolved to organise an annual half-day panel debate on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Council’s decision 48/11 on the 8th of October 2021, established the topic for this year's discussion on the rights of Indigenous People in the context of COVID-19 recovery plans as it related to food security.

In accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 42/20, Mr. Cali Tzay’s report focuses on the role of Indigenous women as scientists and knowledge keepers and the diversity of issues they encounter as a result of their identity using international human rights legislation as a guide. The report continues by highlighting the methods used by Indigenous Peoples to disseminate their knowledge.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted Indigenous women’s in-depth understanding of botany and animal species which can contribute to climate science and mitigate against the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The report also detailed the integral and active role played by Indigenous women in farming, food production, preparation and preservation and seed conservation. It also noted their roles in sexual, reproductive, and maternal health and how transmitting their knowledge and traditional practices intercommunally and intergenerationally contribute to the general physical and mental well-being of their communities.

The foregoing proves that women’s knowledge is integrated across disciplines, interconnecting all domains of life, and conveyed through stories, songs, proverbs, dance, art, community rules and rituals.

The report also referred to the current threats to Indigenous women’s knowledge. Their main challenges are stated as being the loss of lands, territories, and resources. However, it goes further into gender and structural racial discrimination, the violence against Indigenous women and girls and the lack of disaggregated data which renders Indigenous women virtually invisible in official statistics, constraining efforts to advance gender and ethnic equality in public policies.

The Special Rapporteur's visit to Costa Rica in 2021 also revealed that Indigenous women and youth have been subjected to increased violence, threats, and intimidation. This has affected their ability to transmit Indigenous scientific knowledge, their ability to grow their businesses, and their ability to maintain food sovereignty. It was also noted that the State's response to violence against indigenous women has been sluggish and insufficient.

Summary of the Report on Treaties, Agreements, and Other Constructive Arrangements Between States and Indigenous People 

In an effort to promote continuous involvement of Indigenous populations in treaties, agreements, and other key decision-making processes, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples prepared a ‘’study on treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements between Indigenous Peoples and States’.” The Expert Mechanism also included peace accords and initiatives for reconciliation, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 33/25, during its fourteenth session in 2021.

In the report, the Expert Mechanism presented its Advice No. 15 on treaties, and other constructive arrangements, including peace accords, reconciliation initiatives, and their constitutional recognition. The recommendations are for states to recognize Indigenous Peoples as being fully entitled to self-determination, for states to incorporate an implementation framework into domestic law, and for states to take concrete steps to include Indigenous People in meaningful dialogues in agreement-making processes.

Annual panel on Rights of indigenous People

In its resolution 18/8, the Council decided to hold  an annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. As agreed in its resolution 48/11, the Human Rights Council examined the impact of COVID-19 and its social and economic recovery measures on Indigenous Peoples at its 51st session on September 28th, with a special focus on food security.

The four panellists underlined that the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated the entrenched problems suffered by Indigenous Peoples and posed grave challenges to their health and food security.

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, the keynote speaker in the panel, acknowledged that since the outbreak of COVID-19, numerous reports attested that the achievements of many Indigenous Peoples around the globe had been reversed.  Indigenous Peoples were crucial partners in the process of achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and their meaningful participation, notably   of Indigenous women, needs to be an overarching principle.

José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and first panellist, emphasised the need to assess and promote the rights of Iindigenous Peoples in the context of COVID-19 recovery plans as it related to food security.  He stated that the protection of Indigenous territories is vital to recovery, as it promotes sustainable livelihoods, increasing resilience in the face of future pandemics. He also highlighted the commitment made at the UN Climate Change Conference COP 26 in Glasgow last year by several countries and private donors, to pledge 1.7 billion dollars to support Indigenous People and local conservation and climate advocacy efforts.

Myrna Cunningham, Vice-President of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that Indigenous communities are vital because they possess the key to a transformative recovery based on their knowledge and collective awareness. Thus far, the regional Indigenous network has recorded hundreds of Indigenous Peoples' actions in resistance to COVID-19. She emphasised that the economic, social, and political model which currently prevails worldwide not only cannot guarantee the rights of people and the rights of groups, particularly Indigenous Peoples, but also worsens the social and economic gaps. As stated by the Vice-President, the international community needs to find a feasible alternative to the current status quo. Currently, throughout the region and around the world, voices are uniting to demand a change in the productive model and meaningful action to combat climate change and global warming.

Binota Moy Dhamai, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, referred to the numerous reports attesting to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples that exposed the pre-existing structural inequalities globally. He reiterated  that Indigenous Peoples had been significantly impacted by its socio-economic consequences and inadequate access to health care and other key services.

Yon Fernández De Larrinoa, Head of the Indigenous Peoples Unit in the Partnerships and United Nations Collaboration Division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, highlighted the need of the food and knowledge systems of indigenous peoples to be protected in order to safeguard the remaining biodiversity, especially by Indigenous women.  He underscored that Indigenous Peoples have faced invisibility, inequality, marginalisation, discrimination, displacement, and violence for many years. In some instances they were also falsely accused of generating the pandemic in yet another episode of discrimination.

For Indigenous Peoples, COVID-19 was a crisis within a crisis. Furthermore, the systematic denial of rights put Indigenous populations at a higher risk of suffering the pandemic's health and social consequences. States ought to make additional efforts to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are not neglected or forgotten once again. Therefore, he launched the call to adopt and implement free, prior, and informed consent in all our work with Indigenous communities.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers recognised the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Indigenous Peoples, stating that the involvement of Indigenous Peoples in the recovery plans was paramount.

The delegate of Mexico, on behalf of Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, recognised the disproportionate impact that the COVID pandemic has had on Indigenous Peoples and acknowledged that their participation in the planning, design and implementation of recovery efforts and plans is paramount. She noted that the recovery plans should not only deal with the consequences of the crisis but also include preventive measures which are culturally appropriate, and which include gender equality and human rights perspectives. They should also take into account the structural inequalities that affect Indigenous Peoples and communities. Moreover, States must guarantee the necessary conditions for Indigenous Peoples to develop their own recovery plans in view of their right to freely pursue their development in accordance with Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She also highlighted that Indigenous women have a vital role in community health and food security because of their traditional knowledge, which is passed down to generations.

The delegate of Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic States, referred to the obligation of States to protect human rights defenders and to hold perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses to account to achieve successful COVID-19 responses and recovery measures. Consequently, it is crucial that Indigenous Peoples are included and can participate in the development of those measures in a meaningful way.

The delegate of the European Union expressed deep concern about the current food crisis impacting Indigenous Peoples, particularly women and girls. As stated by the delegation, due to their close relationship with the land and natural resources, Indigenous Peoples are often at the forefront of facing the impacts of global food insecurity. However, they themselvespossess valuable solutions for tackling global food and security. Their closerelationship with the land and natural resources can also teach the rest ofthe international community how to tackle climate change, environmentaldegradation, and extreme weather conditions. Given this link to food security, ensuring individuals have prior and informed consent applied in recovery plans for Indigenous Peoples is critical in combating the global food crisis. Finally, the delegate stated that the EU is committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure thatIndigenous Peoples, particularly women and girls, are actively participating in COVID-19 and food crisisresponse plans and that their concerns are reflected.

The delegate of Australia indicated that the country is also working on genuine partnerships with Indigenouscommunities and leaders to develop a national strategy for food security in remote communities. This is in linewith their broader commitment to put Indigenous voices at the heart of policymaking as Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Rona Peoples are among the world's oldest continuous cultures, rich in diversity, language, andcultural practice.

The delegate of Brazil highlighted that the collection of disaggregated data isessential to design public policies. With the updated statistics, the governmentcan better allocate goods and personnel to attend to the specific needs of the Indigenous population in areas such as education, healthcare, food security, andterritory protection.

The delegate of Peru declared that the country, as a multicultural, multi-ethnic State, is devoted topromoting the knowledge of indigenous peoples. Peru has also been coordinating with sectors, strategic interventions, and health interventions for Indigenous Peoples to drive forward sustainable recovery with social justice and equality in line with the 2030 Development Agenda and the SDGs.

The Iranian delegate stated that in countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Indigenous Peoples are among the most affected groups of various challenges, including the pandemic. Their situation has been disproportionately aggravated by pre-existing challenges including food security, poverty, racism, violence, culture, genocide, and exclusion from their society. In this sense, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicates that states should adopt measures to combat prejudice and discrimination and promote good relations between Indigenous Peoples and other sectors of society. They posed the question to the Human Rights Council: ‘'Which measures does the Council recommend to realise the redress which is enumerated in Articles 8 and 28 of the declarations regarding violations of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples?

The delegate of the United States expressed regret over how deeply poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, and discrimination of all forms disproportionately affect Native Americans. She referred to the U.S. government agency policies and programs such as the November 2021 White House Fact Sheet on “Building a New Era of Nation-To-Nation Engagement” that will address these issues. She further explained how the country had partnered during Covid with tribal leaders and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations to address the pandemic holistically. The CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act all dedicate funding to tribes, tribal organisations, and their health service providers; those funds are used for medical expenses and supplies, communications, and providing economic support, including grants for small businesses and unemployment insurance.

In conclusion, the delegation  agreed on the valuable solutions possessed by Indigenous Peoples for tackling global food insecurity through their close relationship with the land and natural resources, traditional knowledge, and way of life.

Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples

After the panel discussion, the Vice-President opened the interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People (EMRIP).

Opening Statements

Binota Moy Dhamai, the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the RIghts of Indigenous Peoples, presented the work of the Expert Mechanism. He began his statement by congratulating all indigenous representatives present for the 15-year anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous People.  

The Chair acknowledged that Indigenous communities have increasingly been recognised as critical agents of change and solution-holders in matters ranging from climate change to agricultural challenges. He also noted the critical role of these communities acting as ‘’champions of sustainability’’ and underlined the importance of their knowledge in safeguarding ecosystems and the environment.

Mr. Moy Dhamai also addressed the previous study conducted on treaties agreements and other constructive arrangements. He reiterated that the study allowed the investigation of the current gaps and challenges that Indigenous People face in the realisation of their rights, particularly pertaining to their rights to conclude treaties, agreements and constructive arrangements with states.

He elaborated that the study attempted to identify the best conditions for the recognition of their people as well as their rights. He noted that Indigenous People's recognition might not be valid if not accompanied by reforms and their constitutional recognition.

In his remarks, he also emphasised the significance of explicit consent as a crucial component of creating agreements. In that regard, he also mentioned the importance of support to the negotiation processes.

He remarked that the work of Treaty Bodies increasingly included Indigenous People in decision-making processes. However, he also noted that EMRIP was the victim of acts that could be perceived as intimidation. Given the aforementioned, he called for a constructive, safe, and respectful atmosphere to foster an adequate work environment for the Expert Mechanism.

Diel Mochire Mwenge, a Member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, followed by addressing the Council with an update of the continued activities of its Voluntary Fund. He explained that over the past 37 years, the Fund was able to assist and support more than 3,000 representatives participating in related activities. He underlined that without the support of the Voluntary Fund, most of these representatives coming from various subgroups would not have been able to participate in United Nations activities. He noted that since its establishment, the Fund has contributed to significant progress in the rights of Indigenous People.

Indigenous Peoples have made significant contributions to the work of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other bodies, providing knowledge of Indigenous issues and concerns affecting Indigenous Peoples globally. They have been able to utilise the international system in order to defend their rights and to bring attention to the human rights violations that they were confronted with locally.

On another note, he commented that funding for Indigenous People is essential to ensure Indigenous Peoples participation in United Nations activities. Also he highlighted the Fund’s efforts to support Indigenous People along with previously held training sessions and seminars. He affirmed that the involvement of Indigenous People in such processes has a strong positive impact on United Nations bodies and more generally, on human rights.

The representative of Finland addressed the particularly vulnerable position of Indigenous human rights defenders, who should be supported and guaranteed a safe working environment, including freedom from threats or intimidation. The representative strongly condemned the increase in coercion and threats faced by Indigenous representatives, especially women leaders attending UN meetings.

The representative of the European Union thanked EMRIP for its annual report as well as for its continued work for the rights of Indigenous People, as well as for its study. The delegate underlined, once again, that Indigenous People’s participation in treaties agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and Indigenous People are a matter of international concern.

The delegate of New Zealand, on behalf of her country, Canada, and Australia, emphasised support for the work of EMRIP and commended it for its great contributions to the said cause. She reiterated New Zealand, Canada’s, and Australia’s support and condemned the recent acts of intimidation. The representative further called on states to adopt appropriate measures to protect Indigenous people from harassment.

The representative of Guatemala, then presented a statement on behalf of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Guatemala. The delegate reiterated the importance of the work of the EMRIP and thanked the Expert Mechanism for their study on Treaties and Agreements.  She noted that the promotion of the rights of Indigenous People should integrate a human rights based approach. She acknowledged that it was now up to all, to redouble efforts and to ensure the principle of self-determination.

The delegate of Brazil thanked EMRIP for the invitation to take part in the country's visit last July and elaborated on the ensuing progress Brazil was able to achieve. Amongst other initiatives, 800 new health professionals were hired to support Indigenous People, which also helped with the provision of first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. He further underlined the importance of Indigenous communities for Brazil’s large Amazon forest. Lastly, he addressed EMRIP with a question: ‘’How can we better protect Indigenous People in our countries?’’ 

The representative of South Africa then took the floor. He addressed the plight of Indigenous women, which is often overlooked, and emphasised their central role in decision-making processes.

Position of GICJ

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) remains deeply concerned about the lack of Indigenous land protection, as well as the deforestation, violence, deaths, lack of resources, exploitation, food shortages, and pollution that have impacted the Indigenous community worldwide. Unfortunately, in many states we have witnessed that the enforcement of COVID-19 recovery plans is being used to reinforced inequalities and discrimination already existing in states. Due to this, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples and their rights and freedoms. Therefore, States should work towards the empowerment of those committed to ensuring respect for Indigenous rights and their value to society.

Further, we urge states to provide spaces for Indigenous women and men in the scientific field and to respect the knowledge that has been passed down to communities through generations. Mechanisms to ensure and protect the ability for Indigenous women to develop, maintain and transmit knowledge must be protected and respected in the scientific field. 

In addition, we condemn all forms of discrimination, including the utilization of terminology that devalues the ideas of Indigenous Peoples. We also condemn any form of the increasing violence that is perpetuated against Indigenous women and youth affecting their rights to self determination.

Indigenous Peoples, Interactive Dialogue, Costa Rica, HR51, United Nations, Human Rights, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Geneva4Justice, Justice

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