To draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote them and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels, in 2016 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 71/178 proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (hereafter the IYIL2019). UNESCO was invited to serve as the lead agency for the Year and the coordination role was internally assigned to the Communication and Information Sector. UNESCO requested an evaluation of its action within the IYIL2019 with a view to learning from its experience during 2019 and further strengthening its coordination and implementation role during the upcoming Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).
As the lead agency for the IYIL2019, UNESCO played a key role raising awareness of not only the critical loss of indigenous languages, but also the positive value and meanings that indigenous languages provide to Indigenous Peoples and humanity at large. The evaluation found that UNESCO led the development of an ambitious and relevant Action Plan for the Year. It also succeeded in setting up an 18-member Steering Committee composed of representatives of Member States, Indigenous Peoples and the UN three-party indigenous mechanisms. UNESCO staff implemented more than 80 activities around the world, with three-quarters of these at the global level and the majority of national events in Latin America and the Caribbean region. It also maintained an interactive website, which registered more than 880 events around the world.
Leading and coordinating the IYIL2019 was not without its challenges, particularly as UNESCO was asked to lead this effort within existing resources and relying on a very small core team. Its programme sectors found creative solutions for indigenous language programming, but without a budget for intersectoral activities, collaboration between sectors was limited to information sharing and activities in Africa and the Arab States were few. The evaluation also found that the Action Plan lacked a meaningful results framework and thereby did not facilitate the monitoring of the IYIL2019. Partnerships with UNESCO networks and the wider UN system were underutilized and many opportunities for future collaboration have been highlighted for the upcoming Decade.