Madrid — Indigenous people will soon be able to put their opinions across to international policymakers thanks to an initiative which is the first to collate their views worldwide, its developers say.
The initiative, known as the Indigenous Navigator, will be officially launched at the UN General Assembly in September.
It is the largest-ever attempt to fill the data gap in development specific to indigenous people, who account for some 370 million worldwide and are overrepresented amongst the poor, illiterate and unemployed, according to the project's coordinator Cæcilie Mikkelsen.
"For the first time, we have global indicators for monitoring the rights of indigenous peoples," says Mikkelsen, coordinator for sustainable human development at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). "It is an awareness raising, a monitoring and an advocacy tool."
By providing a data collection method that is free, open source and available online, the initiative enables authorized contributors to answer user-friendly questionnaires at either a national or community level. Based on the responses, the tool then creates an index to illustrate the status of indigenous peoples' rights in selected countries or communities.
In 2007, countries adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which set out a universal framework of minimum standards for indigenous people's survival, dignity and well-being. Seven years later, UN member states and indigenous leaders took part in the first-ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
But one of the most significant global commitments to addressing indigenous issues was the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The ambitious goals refer to indigenous peoples six times, focusing on the systematic abuse of their rights, discrimination and other drivers that have left indigenous people behind in all measurements of human development.
"The Indigenous Navigator is a great example of how marginalised and excluded groups, who are invisible in official statistics, can collect data themselves," explains Birgitte Feiring, chief adviser of human rights and development at the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR).
"The active assessment of their situation will [not only] strengthen and empower communities but also give them a powerful tool to raise their issues and concerns with governments, U.N. bodies and others," she added.
Because the tool is web-based, however, some indigenous experts are concerned that the sample of indigenous leaders providing data will not be representative of the global community.
"Many indigenous people's advocates - the organisations that represent them, their community leaders - many of them are online," says Amnesty International's indigenous rights advisor Chris Chapman. "There is a big bias among those who are online, particularly towards North America and Australia and New Zealand, so I think they're going to have to somehow account for that."
However, Chapman added that as a tool, the Indigenous Navigator allows people to take ownership of their needs, their liberties, what is said about them and who says it - rights which are recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Indigenous Navigator is a collaborative initiative developed and managed by IWGIA, DIHR, the International Labor Organization, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Philippines-based NGO Tebtebba and the Forest Peoples Programme. The initiative is also backed by the European Union.