UN seeks protection to indigenous peoples, cultures

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United Nations, Aug 10 (UNI) The suffering of indigenous peoples around the world "includes some of the darkest episodes in human history," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said marking the annual International Day of the World's Indigenous People.

In a message to mark the Day, the first observed since the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted last year, Mr Ban yesterday said the Declaration "provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated." He called on UN Member States and the estimated 350 million indigenous people around the globe to "make use of the Declaration as the living document it is so that it has a real and positive effect throughout the world." Noting that 2008 is also the International Year of Languages, Mr Ban called for immediate steps to protect and promote endangered languages, and to ensure their preservation for future generations.

He stressed that there was a silent crisis confronting many of the world's languages, in particular those spoken by indigenous peoples.

"The loss of these languages would not only weaken the world's cultural diversity, but also our collective knowledge as a human race," he said.

Mr Ban said the Day was proclaimed in 1994 to illustrate the UN desire to help promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and "to put an end to their marginalization, their extreme poverty, the expropriation of their traditional lands and the other grave human rights abuses they have faced and continue to encounter." In a separate statement, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Kemal Dervis warned that indigenous peoples were disproportionately likely to be at risk of being among the populations that do not achieve the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

"Indigenous peoples are often among the most marginalized populations in society, deprived of access to health care, education and participation in processes that affect their future," he said.

Mr Dervis stressed that UNDP was working with national governments worldwide to boost the rights and economic development of indigenous groups.

UN Children's Fund Executive Director Ann M Veneman said that for the Declaration to become a reality, it "must be accompanied by a strong political will and public policies and budget allocations." UNI XC NC GC1102

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