Opening Remarks at the Commemoration of the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2013

Aug 9, 2013


Michelle Gyles-McDonnough
United Nations Resident Coordinator,
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Representative for

Kampung Orang Asli Pian, Temerloh, Pahang

  • Batin Mohamad Kuang, Kampung Orang Asli Pian
  • Tok Batin-Tok Batin yang dihormati
  • Thomas Jalong, President of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)
  • Yusri Ahon, Vice President of JOAS
  • Mary Giun, Secretary-General of JOAS
  • Jannie Lasimbang, JOAS Secretariat Director
  • Nousi Giun, Chairman of the Youth Division of JOAS
  • The organizing committee of the 2013 World Indigenous Day Celebrations
  • Distinguished guests, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen

A very good morning to all of you. Selamat Natre [“Good morning” in the indigenous language of the Jah Hut tribe, who are the main residents of the village]. Selamat pagi para hadirin yang saya hormati.

It is my great pleasure to be here with you on the occasion of the 2013 World Indigenous Day Celebrations. This is a particularly special occasion for me as I have only been in Malaysia for 5 weeks as the recently appointed United Nations Resident Coordinator, and this is my first trip outside of Kuala Lumpur. I am indeed very honored to be here in the heart of Malaysia with all of you today and I thank you for welcoming me to your community.

Today, the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, is commemorated on August 9 each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. It is also an important day during which your diverse heritage is celebrated, and recognition is given to all your efforts in advancing the rights recognised and enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The General Assembly first proclaimed this day to be celebrated every year in December 1994 during the first International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995 – 2004). In 2004, the Assembly proclaimed a Second International Decade, from 2005 – 2014, with the theme of "A Decade for Action and Dignity." The decade outlined five key objectives:

  • “Promoting non-discrimination and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the design, implementation and evaluation of international, regional and national processes regarding laws, policies, resources, programmes and projects;
  • Promoting full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in decisions that directly or indirectly affect their lifestyles, traditional lands and territories, their cultural integrity as indigenous peoples with collective
    rights or any other aspect of their lives, considering the principle of free, prior and informed consent;
  • Redefining those development policies that depart from a vision of equity and ensure that they are culturally appropriate, including respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity of indigenous peoples;
  • Adopting targeted policies, programmes, projects and budgets for the development of indigenous peoples, including concrete benchmarks, placing particular emphasis on indigenous women, children and youth; and
  • Developing strong monitoring mechanisms and enhancing accountability at the international, regional and particularly the national level, regarding the implementation of legal, policy and operational frameworks for the protection of indigenous peoples and the improvement of their lives.”

The focus of this year's International Day is "Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements." This year’s theme aims to highlight the importance of honouring arrangements between States and their citizens - indigenous and non-indigenous alike - that were designed to recognize indigenous peoples' rights to their lands and establish a framework for living in proximity and entering into economic relationships. This year’s theme also recognizes that both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples
have a central role in making treaties “living documents” in their own communities, by establishing new ways to live together, respecting each other, and cooperating in the pursuit of common goals. This contributes to building societies that guarantee the security of their communities, while preserving the environment in recognition of the unique spiritual, cultural and historic relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands and natural resources.

Around the world, many countries and indigenous communities are celebrating in their own different way. At the UN Headquarters in New York, a special event will be held later today, featuring the UN Secretary-General, the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a delegate of Panama, a representative of
the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, and an indigenous representative. Moreover, hundreds of indigenous and non-indigenous rowers are scheduled to arrive in Manhattan, after having collectively travelled thousands of miles on rivers and horseback to honour the first treaty -– the Two Row Wampum – concluded between Dutch immigrants and the Haudenosaunee (a confederacy of six nations, with capital in the Onondaga nation, in NY State) 400 years ago, in 1613.

Ladies and gentleman,

The high level and high visibility of the celebrations I just briefly mentioned mark the United Nations’ unwavering commitment and support to a future where all indigenous peoples enjoy peace, human rights and well-being, according to their aspirations. Apart from its efforts at the level of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which has been mandated to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, different development agencies in the United Nations system
also work to ensure that the issues of indigenous peoples are a priority and in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN is also ensuring that the issues of indigenous peoples are included in the Post-2015 global development framework that will succeed the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) once this set of eight global development targets come to an end in 2015. This is in recognition that many indigenous peoples, through their organizations, have expressed that there is an urgent need to redefine the Millennium
Development Goals and approaches so as to include the perspectives, concerns, experiences and world views of indigenous peoples.

Accordingly, a process of open, inclusive consultations on the post-2015 agenda is taking place among member states, civil society organizations from all over the world as well as academia and other research institutions, including think tanks. The set of eleven global thematic consultations and national consultations in over 60 countries is being facilitated by the United Nations Development Group and involves partnership with multiple stakeholders. In June 2013, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released a report entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development,” which made sure to include the voices of indigenous peoples. One of the key issues raised in the report was that
mechanisms to recognize and protect the collective right of indigenous peoples to land, territories, resources and other rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be ensured.

In Malaysia, the UN recognizes that building on its successes, Government is continuing its efforts towards inclusive growth that will spread more equitably the benefits of development and urge, in doing so, specific attention to Malaysians indigenous communities. We recognize that indigenous families in remote areas still lack access to sustainable livelihoods and basic services such as health care, quality education and access to justice; especially where land rights are concerned. We are also aware how children risk not being registered at birth and as a
consequence are denied identity documents. Given the many remaining needs of the indigenous communities, the UN as it works with government and other national stakeholders to make growth more inclusive and the benefits of
development more equitably shared, the UN is ensuring that indigenous peoples are on the agenda, particularly in the areas of economic and social development, education, health, access to natural resources, the right to self-determination as well as human rights; and that indigenous peoples are included in the country’s universal periodic review of the human rights situation in the country. The UN also continues to engage in active dialogue with the Government on advancing the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Moreover, the UN continues to advocate for better statistical data on indigenous peoples in Malaysia so there is better targeting of assistance, and a better mechanism for monitoring and evaluating government programmes that affect indigenous peoples.

This is a good moment to highlight the UN Secretary General’s message on this International day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples where he stresses the importance of honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements between States, their citizens and indigenous peoples, as “such consensual arrangements enable better understanding of their views and values and are essential for protecting and promoting rights and establishing the political vision and necessary frameworks for different cultures to coexist in harmony”.

As the United Nations Secretary-General noted, “indigenous peoples represent remarkable diversity – more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries. They make up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people”. “We must ensure the participation of indigenous peoples – women and men – in decision-making at all levels.” “Indigenous peoples have made clear that they want development that takes into account culture and identity and the right to define their own priorities.

Ladies and Gentleman,

I note that the theme for this year’s national celebration of the World Indigenous Day is “Continuing the Indigenous Heritage”; which celebrates the achievements of the indigenous people in Malaysia for the endless efforts taken by communities, their leaders and their organizations to assert their rights and for their voices to be heard. I am truly happy to be here to celebrate this with you, and I offer my heartiest congratulations and support for all your efforts in ensuring that your rights are met in accordance to the aspirations in the UN Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indeed, this year’s theme is important as you are all custodians of a valuable cultural heritage. I can see today, your creativity and innovations in the arts, literature and the sciences; but also know that you continue to face many challenges in maintaining your identity, traditions and customs, and your cultural contributions are at times exploited and commercialized, with little or no recognition. As such, we must all work harder to recognize and strengthen your right to protect, develop and be compensated fairly for the cultural heritage and traditional knowledge that is ultimately of benefit to us all.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Despite all efforts at the international and national front, much still needs to be done to secure the fundamental rights and greater opportunities for indigenous peoples. Much also needs to be done to recognize that indigenous peoples want development - but development that takes into account your culture and identity and the right to influence your own future. Given this, The United Nations is committed to continuing to provide its support and an avenue for indigenous peoples to have a meaningful dialogue with the government, the United Nations system, civil society and, of course, with each other. I would like to conclude by commending all of you for your strong and steady commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples. As the UN Secretary General also said in his message, let us
work together to strengthen indigenous peoples’ rights and support their aspirations. Let us create a world that values the wealth of human diversity and nurtures the potential it offers.

Thank you.


UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Malaysia 
Go to UNDP Global