He spoke in Geneva at the annual meeting on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, referring to the deep conversations he had in recent months with Indigenous representatives during missions in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Kenya. .
He described the “unscrupulous and destructive impact of extractive industries on the environment and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Their ownership comes from inherited land, and the militarization of their territories.”
He said they described the negative impact of the climate crisis on their communities and “the extent of systemic discrimination and exclusion.”
“It is clear that these violations must stop”, he told the meeting.
Imbalance of poverty
The UN rights chief noted that Indigenous Peoples make up only six percent of the world’s population but account for nearly a fifth of the world’s poor, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
He insisted that their voices should be heard “in every relevant national, regional and global conversation” and stressed the need to protect indigenous human rights defenders from violence and reprisals.
Mr. Türk recalled the “very moving” story of the survival of four Huitoto children whose mother died when they all crashed in a plane in the Colombian rainforest last month. They were found alive after 40 days, including a one-year-old child.
“The older children were able to remember the lessons of their mother and grandmother. They know that it is possible to understand the rainforest and live with its animals and plants, despite the dangers.
He said that Indigenous people are the most likely to carry the cultural chain forward: “We see this very clearly in the context of climate change”, with its unequal impact, often leaving the closest to the ground, to experience the worst effects.
This is especially true for Indigenous women, he reminded, who have been hit by “climate damage and the unscrupulous development of megaprojects.”
Meeting with 45 Indigenous leaders from 30 countries last week, the rights chief said climate change was a constant focus. “As the ice melts, our culture and way of life will die”, a participant from Greenland told him.
He said he hopes there will be more opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to participate in the UN, including the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
“Because you have the right to make your voices heard. Because you have the right to participate in decision-making on matters that affect you, through the representatives you choose according to your methods. And because your voices are invaluable in every aspect of our work to advance human rights.