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Annual Indigenous Forum Kicks Off At UN H'Quarters

Thousands gather as annual indigenous forum kicks off at UN Headquarters

21 April 2008 - The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meets at "a historic crossroads," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session today as more than 2,500 participants from around the world converged on UN Headquarters in New York for the two-week event.

Last year's adoption by world leaders of the landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples means this year's Permanent Forum - founded in 2000 - is taking on a new role, Mr. Ban said in a video message.

"You will work to translate the Declaration into a living document at the national and international levels," he said. "As you do, you will promote the UN development agenda and its vision of development for all. This includes the poorest and most vulnerable, a group to which many indigenous peoples belong."

The Declaration, a non-binding text that was adopted after two decades of debate, outlines the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlaws discrimination against them. It sets out rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Climate change is the special theme of this year's session of the Forum, a choice applauded by the Secretary-General.

"Indigenous peoples live in many of the world's most biologically diverse areas. As custodians of these lands, they have accumulated deep, first-hand knowledge about the impacts of environmental degradation, including climate change. They know the economic and social consequences, and they can and should play a role in the global response."

Mr. Ban also welcomed the focus this session on several other issues and challenges, including the Pacific region and the need to protect and promote indigenous languages.

"Indigenous languages represent an overwhelming majority of all languages spoken today, with most facing the threat of extinction."

The participants at the Forum include senior UN officials and representatives of States, civil society and academia, as well as Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, the first indigenous leader of his country.

ENDS

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