UN says four in 10 indigenous languages are at risk of extinction

16 June 2019, Saxony, Dresden: Elad Cohen, scribe of the new Tora role for Dresden, writes the last letters of the unpunctuated Hebrew text before the ceremonial inauguration of the role in the city hall. Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)
A volunteer professor (R) teaches math as part of the project “Aula na Praca” (Classroom at the Square), at the Mauro Duarte Composer square in Botafogo neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 11, 2019. – Brazilian engineer Silverio Moron founded the project, which has helped nearly 300 people of all ages in subjects including maths, physics, English and Brazil’s official language Portuguese since its launch last year. (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Day of the of World’s Indigenous Peoples will be marked on Friday (9 August) with the United Nations warning that out of the 7,000 indigenous languages spoken today, four in 10 are in danger of disappearing.

Human rights experts want the world’s countries to support a decade long programme to reverse what they termed as the “historic destruction” of age-old dialects.

“Ten years would provide the time and resources necessary to reverse the historic destruction of indigenous languages and reclaim these languages for the future of indigenous peoples and the world community, alike,” they said.

The group says  “nation-building” is largely responsible for “ongoing discrimination” against native speakers.

“Over time, such policies can undermine and effectively destroy a culture and even a people”, the experts cautioned, before insisting that indigenous languages allowed freedom of expression and conscience that are critical to people’s dignity, culture and political representation.

The experts – who include panels that report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), along with a UN-appointed investigator known as a Special Rapporteur, hailed States that support a Decade of Indigenous Languages.

In line with a special UN Declaration, indigenous peoples everywhere are recognized as having the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit their languages to future generations. This includes the right to establish and control education, media, and the institutions that govern them, the UN-appointed independent experts noted.

The experts called on the UN member States to recognize, protect and promote indigenous languages through legislation, policies and other strategies in full cooperation with indigenous peoples.

They further said that there is a need for “sustained support for bilingual and mother tongue education, access to health, employment, judicial and other public services in the languages of indigenous peoples, including through cyberspace and the internet”.