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Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

UNPFII18: Joint Statement to the 18th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Under Agenda Item 5: Discussion on the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

By Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

Mahai Reoreo (Greetings) Madam Chair,

We, the indigenous peoples’ organizations in Asia, welcome the efforts made so far for the commemoration of International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019 with UNESCO as the lead UN entity. We also appreciate the partnerships forged among States, indigenous peoples, the UN system and other stakeholders for the International Year, particularly at the international level.

Two-thirds of the world’s indigenous population lives in Asia, accounting for about 411 million people. We speak many different languages, some of which are on the verge of extinction or critically endangered or face other threats. The commemoration of the International Year to bring attention to the urgent need to preserve and promote indigenous languages and to emphasize the right to language as a human right for all peoples is therefore of crucial importance.

To be able to communicate in one’s language is fundamental to human dignity and freedom of expression. Indigenous peoples’ languages are crucial to indigenous knowledge, histories and philosophies, spiritual traditions, governance, well-being and identity.

There are some good efforts in Asian countries to promote indigenous languages such as mother-tongue based education or teaching indigenous languages in schools and use of indigenous languages in media. However, these efforts are not commensurate to the level of threats indigenous languages face. Thus, much more efforts are needed at the country and local levels, building on the partnerships with indigenous peoples, particularly those forged for the coordination of the International Year at the international level.

We, indigenous peoples, are taking our own initiatives to maintain and develop our indigenous languages, and consequently our knowledge systems and identity. We have been running Community Learning Centers in Malaysia, customary schools in Indonesia, cultural revival and alternative education in Thailand, mother-tongue based education and revitalization of scripts in Nepal. We need those initiatives to be supported from States and non-State actors.

The historical and current discrimination perpetrated against indigenous peoples and their languages in the modern State system, displacement of indigenous communities from their ancestral lands, lack of promotion of indigenous languages and cultures in mainstream education systems and out-migration of indigenous youth for various socio-economic and political reasons pose daunting challenges for the full realization of our rights to indigenous languages.

Thus, we urge the Permanent Forum to call on States to:

  1. Undertake national and local censuses and surveys in conjunction with the concerned indigenous peoples to understand the situation of indigenous languages and ways to promote and preserve them
  2. Make necessary legal and administrative reforms to ensure equality and promote indigenous languages in public usage, including through higher resource allocation for mother-tongue based education and teaching of indigenous languages, curricular reforms in mainstream education and recognition of indigenous languages in official use.
  3. Recognize and provide support to communities for their initiatives to preserve indigenous languages and to expand those initiatives, including through provision of resources and collaborative partnerships
  4. Take urgent steps to resolve the challenges of displacement and forced migration of indigenous communities from their ancestral territories through guarantee of their land and resource rights

We also call on the UNESCO country offices to facilitate more actions at the national and local levels to meet the objectives of the International Year.

Thank you

Delivered by: Thingreiphi Lungharwo

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