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UN experts urge decade of action to aid survival of language

GENEVA (7 August 2019) – In a statement to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, UN human rights experts* are calling for a decade of action to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages, many of which are endangered:

“Indigenous languages are necessary for the enjoyment of human rights, as well as being a part of the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.

However, indigenous rights experts are concerned that of the 7,000 indigenous languages around the world, many are endangered. Forty per cent of them are in danger of disappearing altogether.

This situation reflects historic State policies and ongoing discrimination against speakers of indigenous languages, and towards the assimilation of minorities and nation building. Over time, such policies can undermine and effectively destroy a culture and even a people.

Indigenous languages allow for the freedom of expression and conscience critical to human dignity, as well as cultural and political self-determination. They are also critical for the survival of our global society. Containing the wisdom of traditional environmental knowledge and cross-cultural communication, indigenous languages hold the keys to combating climate change, and living in peace.

Language is a right not a privilege. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises the right of indigenous peoples to revitalise, use, develop and transmit their languages to future generations. Importantly this includes the right to establish and control institutions responsible for education, media, and governance.

We call on UN member States to recognise, protect and promote indigenous languages through legislation, policies and other strategies, in full cooperation with indigenous peoples, including adequate, sustained support for bilingual and mother tongue education.

We call on States to ensure access to health, employment, judicial and other public services in the languages of indigenous peoples, including through cyberspace and the internet.

We support the States that have encouraged the UN to declare a Decade of Indigenous Languages. Ten years would provide the time and resources necessary to reverse the historic destruction of indigenous languages and reclaim these languages for the future of indigenous peoples and the world community, alike.”

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