Around the world, Indigenous peoples continue to be the victims of human rights violations that threaten their lives, survival, cultures and ways of life. Not only their lands are endangered by the policies and legislations that do not take their rights into account, but their language and tradition - the mere essence of their culture – are also in danger of extinction.
As the Estonian semiotician Yuri Lotman stressed, there are no small languages and small cultures in the world. Every culture has an enormous potential for development. When a culture perishes, when a language is not spoken any longer, it is not merely a local tragedy of a single people, but a disaster of global proportions. If we do not make every effort to prevent this, we too will be responsible.
Despite the important advances of the first Decade of the World’s Indigenous People in many countries they continue to be among the poorest and the most marginalized. Therefore it is of outmost importance that all stakeholders make optimal use of the Program of Action for the Second International Decade, which is a guideline for action for the Decade launched by Under-Secretary General Jose Antonio Ocampo at the UN Permanent Forum on indigenous issues’ 5th session in Mai 2006. To achieve the goal of the Second International Decade and the MDG-s by 2015, we must ensure that “policy commitments translate into programs and projects that directly benefit indigenous peoples with their direct participation”.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples Mr. Rudolfo Stavenhagen identified in his report serious violations of the rights of indigenous women and girls; extreme economic exploitation; discrimination in the justice system; and exclusion from public social services, especially in the area of health and education. The particularly sensitive situation of indigenous girls is of paramount importance as they are often the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization. Therefore all national development strategies for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, should integrate the perspectives, knowledge and contributions of indigenous women. It is vital that indigenous women participate fully and effectively in all stages of the design, implementation and evaluation of development strategies and have active access to decision-making processes.
The adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the 61st General Assembly is of a great importance for the indigenous peoples worldwide. Therefore, it is crucial that the Declaration will be adopted at the General Assembly this year. It would be unfortunate if the United Nations moved back from its own positive decision at the Human Rights Council. Its implementation through national policies and legislation could be a major step towards eliminating the widespread human rights violations suffered by many indigenous peoples. We place high priority on the promotion of indigenous issues in the UN system in order to let the indigenous peoples´ voice be heard and their active participation secured on the international level. We moreover wish to encourage the development of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the Indigenous peoples and the Human Rights Council.
Estonia considers the issue of indigenous peoples to be among its priorities. Since the Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group we are obviously paying special attention to the fate of our kindred nations and doing outmost in supporting them.
Over the last decade the number of the Finno-Ugric indigenous population has declined substantially. However, the use of native languages is the most alarming. Especially among the young and educated people who are losing motivation to speak their mother tongue.
Several international organizations, eg Council of Europe, have drawn attention to the situation of Finno-Ugric peoples.
Estonia is supporting the Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples through cooperation in the field of education, science and culture. In August 2004, the Estonian government adopted an aid program entitled “Kindred Peoples Program II”. The goal of the programme is to support the languages and cultures of the Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples as well as to preserve their cultural heritage, their traditional skills and authentic folk culture.
The EU membership of the three Finno-Ugric states Finland, Hungary and Estonia opens up a new dimension for the aid schemes directed primarily at the Finno-Ugric peoples living on the territory of the Russian Federation. The Ministers of Culture and Education of the three countries discussed in November 2005 the possibilities to develop a strategy within the European Union to help Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples. In cooperation with Finland, Hungary and the Russian Federation, Estonia hopes to support the development of endangered Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples.
Estonia has supported indigenous populations through the UN Voluntary Funds already since 1996. I am pleased to inform you that we have decided to continue supporting financially the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, the UN Voluntary Fund for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.