UN seeks urgent action to save indigenous languages

UN seeks urgent action to save indigenous languages

Friday, August 9, 2019 9:52 pm

Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations,

The United Nations on Friday warned that indigenous languages were disappearing, calling on member states to take urgent steps to reverse the trend.

Top officials of the UN, including Secretary-General António Guterres, sounded the warning at an event to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in New York.

In his message, Guterres stated that almost half of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages, which were mostly indigenous, risked extinction.

According to him, the world loses a wealth of traditional knowledge with every language that disappears.

He, therefore, called for urgent action to preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous languages.

“Languages are how we communicate, and they are inextricably linked to our cultures, histories and identity,” he said.

The UN Chief noted that a significant proportion of the estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world lacked basic rights.

He said that systematic discrimination and exclusion continued to threaten ways of life, cultures and identities.

These, he pointed out, negated the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Sustainable Development Goals, with its promise to leave no one behind.

Guterres said the UN remained supportive of efforts to realise the rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples.

“I count on Member States to engage and support indigenous peoples in determining their own development through policies that are inclusive, equitable and accessible,” he said.

In her message, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed said education for indigenous people was pivotal to enable them to enjoy and preserve their culture and identity.

Mohammed said, “Intercultural and multi-lingual education is necessary to prevent irreparable loss.

“Failure to provide multilingual and inter-cultural education puts indigenous peoples at a disadvantage, threatening their very survival.

“More must be done to enable indigenous languages to flourish so we may retain the wealth of knowledge and cultures that are part of the world’s rich diversity.

“On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to work together to realize the rights of indigenous peoples,” he said.

In a video message, President of the General Assembly, Ms María Espinosa, described indigenous people as “the bearers of millenary knowledge systems where ancient and distinct languages are central.”

Espinosa, who sent her message from Bolivia where she was on an official visit, said that indigenous languages provided unique ways to see and understand the world beyond being a means of communication.

“They are symbols of identity and belonging; they are vehicles of values to transmit culture and connecting the indigenous peoples with nature.

“These languages are all vulnerable, many seriously endangered or on the brink of extinction.

“Others, unfortunately, have already been lost forever, taking the wisdom of their peoples with them,” she lamented

She described indigenous languages as a priceless heritage and a vehicle of ancestral knowledge on culture, medicine and astronomy, which was vital to reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Espinosa, therefore, emphasised the need for member states to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and respect their way of life as it was closely linked to the survival of their languages.

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