New York - As the United Nations today marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the annual commemoration should serve as an opportunity to reflect on the critical challenges confronting these populations.

“Much remains to be done to alleviate the poverty faced by indigenous people; to protect them against massive violations of human rights; and to safeguard against the discrimination that, for example, forces many indigenous girls to drop out of school,” said Mr. Annan in a message.

There are estimated to be more than 370 million indigenous peoples in 70 countries. Many of them struggle with a lack of basic healthcare, limited access to education, loss of control over land, and economic and social marginalization.

Among the observances planned to mark the Day was including a daylong programme of panel discussions, art exhibits, cultural performances and a film screening at UN Headquarters.

Speakers will include Q’orianka Kilcher, lead actress in the 2005 Hollywood film “The New World.” The young actress is a descendant of the Huachipaeri and Quechua people of Peru and will speak about her recent trip to the country.

Discussions this year will draw upon the theme of “Partnership for Action and Dignity, ” the central focus of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, which runs from 2005 to 2015.

The observance comes two months after the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the new Human Rights Council at its inaugural session in Geneva. The General Assembly is expected to adopt the Declaration by the end of the year, and advocates believe it will serve as a crucial tool for protecting indigenous rights.

The Secretary-General called the Declaration “an instrument of historic significance for the advancement of the rights and dignity of the world’s indigenous peoples.” He added that “the perspectives, concerns, experiences and world views of indigenous peoples have a crucial role to play in addressing global challenges.”

“Indigenous people around the world continue to live in hardship and danger,” said Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva at a ceremony last week. “Many outstanding issues remain between indigenous peoples’ interests and national or private development, between the livelihoods of the peoples concerned and public policies and projects.”

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said his agency was particularly concerned about the “thousands of indigenous women who are victims of gender-based violence in need of legal protection and health services, the high maternal mortality rates of indigenous women, and the lack of information on sexual and reproductive health and development opportunities for indigenous adolescents and youth.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Colombia renewed its call on armed groups there to avoid targeting the indigenous population. The agency has repeatedly warned that indigenous groups there are increasingly at risk of disappearing, as violence associated with four decades of civil conflict and the cocaine trade has forced thousands to flee their ancestral lands into neighbouring countries.

“Indigenous culture is closely linked to the land and often based on belief that the spirits of ancestors and magical beings live in the earth and water of their reservations,” said UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. “Forced displacement leads to the loss of tradition, culture and language – and often to the disintegration of the group’s identity.”

2006-08-09 00:00:00.000

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