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Ainu, Okinawans join first U.N. indigenous peoples' conference

Kyodo

Delegates for indigenous peoples from around the world, including Ainu and Okinawans, gathered this week at the United Nations to discuss measures to ensure their political representation and freedom from discrimination in the first U.N.-backed conference of its kind.

Kazushi Abe, vice president of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, and Shisei Toma, of the Association of the Indigenous Peoples in the Ryukyus, an Okinawa civic association, were among those invited to speak at the two-day World Conference on Indigenous Peoples through Tuesday.

The two-day conference focused on the implementation by the U.N. and national and local governments of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Rights, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007.

The declaration promotes the rights of indigenous peoples to organize their own political systems, live free from discrimination, hold their traditional land, be consulted on development that affects them and other human rights. It is not a legally binding instrument under international law.

According to the U.N., there are at least 370 million people making up 5,000 indigenous groups in 70 countries throughout the world.

Opening the conference on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said its success “is integral to progress for all humanity.”

Abe, 67, said: “It’s outstanding that an indigenous peoples’ conference is staged for two days (when world leaders gather) during the U.N. General Assembly.”

The Ainu group leader had planned a speech to press the Japanese government to implement the U.N. declaration but was unable to due to time constraints.

Abe, who participated as a member of the government delegation, said he was “very impressed that the Japanese government was understanding and took part together.”

“We hope to work together with other indigenous peoples in the world and that our children and grandchildren will be proud of being Ainu in the future,” he added.

Also at the opening session at the General Assembly hall, participants adopted a resolution reaffirming U.N. member states’ commitment to the declaration and asking the secretary-general to create an action plan.