Indigenous rights in a world context

Agenda item – “Analysis of the world context of the recognition of Indigenous rights”

December 2008

(Photo: Longest Walk northern route at vigil for Leonard Peltier and Native prisoners in Lewisburg, Penn.)

Indigenous peoples face a wide range of urgent human rights issues in all regions of the world, including in the Americas. They continue to suffer serious violations, if not atrocities, that sorely need to be addressed.
We, in the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, hear of some of the issues both at the Organization of American States (OAS) and at the United Nations. However, the violations that are described to us in Caucus meetings reflect only a minute fraction of the suffering that is occurring in different parts of the globe. Most Indigenous voices are never heard.
Global support for UN Declaration
In light of this urgent situation, it is important to consider the world context of the recognition of Indigenous rights. A resounding achievement has been the historic adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a result, there is a strong feeling of hope among Indigenous peoples from the various regions of the globe. In the Indigenous context, the Declaration is the most comprehensive, universal human rights instrument in the world. It establishes a principled framework for addressing a wide range of human rights issues internationally and within States.
On 13 September 2007, the UN Declaration was overwhelmingly adopted by the General Assembly. Only four States voted against it – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. No Latin American State, including those in the Caribbean, opposed the adoption of the Declaration.
Two weeks later, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. This mandate now includes the promotion of the Declaration in carrying out the Special Rapporteur’s work.
Throughout the world, there is widespread support for the Declaration. The UN Secretary-General has urged that the Declaration must be a “living instrument”. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly expressed her support for this “universal” instrument. The African Group of States has indicated its support for implementation of the Declaration. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has highlighted that the Declaration will “strengthen the international human rights system … and will support the vital work that the … Commission … is undertaking for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples rights” in Africa. Similarly, the European Union has emphasized its support.
It is important to note here the role of the Latin American States in realizing the adoption of the Declaration. In particular, the role of Mexico, Peru and Guatemala is acknowledged and deeply appreciated. They took the lead in reaching agreement with the African Group of States and others.
There are 31 UN specialized agencies in the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues that have expressed their favourable response to the Declaration. They are in the process of examining how each of them might implement the Declaration within their respective mandates. These specialized agencies represent a very diverse group that includes, among others: the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO, World Bank, UN Development Programme, World Intellectual Property Organization and UN Environment Programme.
In particular, UNICEF is supporting the translation of the Declaration into 15 indigenous languages. It is also involved in the preparation of “child-friendly” translated versions. This is consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 29), which calls for the education of children to be “directed to the development of respect for human rights”.
In its May 2008 report, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues decided that it would use the Declaration as a “legal framework” for all its work – and the Permanent Forum covers a wide range of subject areas. In October 2008, at its inaugural meeting in Geneva, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicated that it “has an important role in promoting the rights affirmed in the Declaration, and in mainstreaming them into the Human Rights Council's overall efforts to promote and protect all human rights”.
Human rights education and other initiatives
In regard to human rights education, Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations have arranged the publishing of 100,000 pocket-sized copies of the English version of the Declaration. Similarly, 10,000 copies of the French version have been made available. These copies are being distributed in different regions of the world. Mexico and Bolivia have prepared Spanish versions of this human rights instrument.
The United Nations has also published small booklets of the Declaration in all of the UN official languages. Further, symposiums and workshops are being organized in Canada and other parts of the world to further the implementation of the UN Declaration.
This positive momentum globally is highly relevant to the regional context in the Americas. At the previous OAS Special Session for Reflection in November 2007, it was determined that the UN Declaration would be used as “the baseline for negotiations and … a minimum standard” for the draft American Declaration. As both the Chair of this current Special Session and the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus have emphasized, the draft American Declaration – as a regional instrument – must complement the universal UN Declaration and not undermine it.
Despite all of these positive initiatives to implement the UN Declaration, we must bring to your attention recent regressive actions – especially since two of the States concerned are also OAS member States. Yesterday, at the world meeting on climate change in Poland, the States of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States refused to include any references either to the term “rights” in referring to Indigenous peoples[5] or to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [6] Indigenous peoples suffer some of the worst impacts as a result of climate change and yet these States continue to act in this substandard manner. Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing humanity and merits a principled response.
In regard to the UN Declaration, it is worth noting that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is already making reference to this human rights instrument. The same is true in a recent judgment in Belize by the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court. To date, Bolivia is the only State that has implemented the whole text of the Declaration through its incorporation in domestic legislation.
It is important to remember that, without the collaborative actions of supportive States, we would not have realized the adoption of the UN Declaration. As repeatedly reflected in our Caucus meetings, Indigenous representatives are determined to work closely with OAS States in order to achieve a strong and effective American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[1] Adaptado de la presentación oral.

[2] Posterior a la presentación oral en la Sesión Especial de la OEA, se obtuvo información que estos mismos cuatro Estados utilizaron la frase “pueblo indígena” en vez de “pueblos indígenas” con la “s” el cual es un lenguaje aceptado internacionalmente. Ver Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Directora Ejecutiva de TEBTEBBA y Presidenta del Foro Permanente sobre las Cuestiones Indígenas), Boletín de Prensa “Día Internacional sobre los Derechos Humanos 2008: Un Día Triste para los Pueblos Indígenas”. Polonia, 10 de Diciembre del 2008.

[3] Ver Documento (FCCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23), el cual es la versión final del Borrador de Conlusiones del Item. 5 de la Agenda “reducción de emisiones por deforestación y degradación de los bosques (REDD). Acciones para estimular la acción, de la 29va Sesión del SBSTA (Órgano Subsidiario para Asesoría Científica y Tecnológica).
[4] Adapted from oral presentation.
[5] Subsequent to this presentation at the OAS Special Session, it was learned that these same four States used the phrase “indigenous people” instead of “indigenous peoples” with an “s” which is the internationally accepted language. See Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Executive Director, TEBTEBBA and Chair, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), “International Human Rights Day 2008: A Sad Day for Indigenous Peoples”, Press Statement, Poland, 10 December 2008.
[6] See Document (FCCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23), which is the final version of the Draft Conclusions on Agenda Item 5: Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action, of the 29th Session of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).


Popular posts from this blog


Actor Jason Momoa joins efforts in water crisis, as Navajo coronavirus cases intensify

PINE RIDGE: Oglala Lakota enforce border checkpoints after threat from South Dakota State Governor