Statement to the Human Rights Council, 30th Session 2015

By | 22 September, 2015


Statement of
Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of indigenous peoples

Human Rights Council 30th Session

Geneva, 22 September 2014

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honor to present today my second annual report to the Human Rights Council. I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to the numerous States, indigenous peoples, and others, and in particular to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the support they have provided as I have carried out my mandate over the past year, my first as the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. President

This year marks the continuation of a historic year for indigenous peoples. It is the year in which negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda and a new agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will be finalized. Today we celebrate the first anniversary of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Outcome Document adopted by consensus by Member-States of the UN General Assembly. The report I present before you is my contribution in elaborating further what needs to be done to better implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is the main goal of the WCIP Outcome Document. This document asked for a study on the root causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, which is why I made an initial study on this and I will be presenting on shortly.

Closing the gap between the increasing recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights at the international and national levels and the actual implementation on the ground remains my main pre-occupation. In my written report to the Council this year I only briefly described some of the activities I have engaged in since I was appointed. I will therefore elaborate a bit more on the activities in which I was engaged during my first year in the mandate and the methods of work I used to carry out my mandate in a more effective manner.
Examining ways to address obstacles and promotion of best practices

Mr. President,

The last General Assembly Resolution, A/HRC/RES/24/9 which defined and extended my mandate for another 3 years, requests me to examine ways and means of overcoming obstacles to the full and effective protection of rights of indigenous peoples and to identify, exchange and promote best practices and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other relevant instruments.

In this connection, I gave high priority to meeting face to face with relevant government authorities and agencies at the country level but also at regional and global levels to share reports which I have received in relation to indigenous peoples and to hear the governments’ views and actions taken to address specific issues. In the limited number of countries which I visited in my official capacity, I took any opportunity to reach out to the government in that country. While I tried my best to inform the missions in Geneva whenever I visited and that I was not there for an official visit, there were a few instances where I was not able to do this and for this I apologize.

Some of these meetings have also been with the Permanent Representatives in Geneva. I have met with the Permanent Representatives and Deputy PRs of Paraguay, Bolivia, Philippines, Peru, Ecuador, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, among others. At country levels, I have met with the Peruvian Vice Minister of Culture when I attended the Climate Change Conference of Parties in December 2014. I was also invited by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in February 2015 and while I was in Costa Rica I met with the Minister of the Presidency and Ombudsman, as well as with indigenous representatives.

I also had meetings with the Minister of State of Norway and the representative of the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March 2015. In 5 October 2015, I was invited to speak on indigenous peoples’ rights at the meeting of the Human Rights Committee of the German Parliament. In the Philippines, where I live, I met several times with various government officials including several members of the Congress and Senate to discuss the issues of indigenous peoples. This list is not complete but I am mentioning to you some of them to give you an indication. There are many more countries where I had meetings with government officials but I do not have the time to mention all of them.

I see these face to face meetings as an effective way of raising with governments some of my observations in relation to protection of indigenous peoples’ rights at the country level. These also allow me to personally follow up on the recommendations of my predecessors, Professor James Anaya and Rodolfo Stavenhagen. I am very encouraged by the favourable responses I get when I request meetings and for the invitations from the Permanent Representatives when I come go Geneva.

In some of these meetings we talk about how to advance legal, administrative, and programmatic reforms at the domestic level to implement the standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples other relevant international instruments in response to specific requests made to me for technical and advisory assistance. I hope to be able to provide more guidance in these areas in the coming years.

Cooperative dialogue and coordination with other UN Bodies and Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

In accordance with my mandate to develop a regular cooperative dialogue with all relevant actors, I have continued to coordinate closely with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I fully embrace the Council’s directive that I am to work in cooperation with the Expert Mechanism and the Permanent Forum in order to maximize the effectiveness of my mandate and avoid duplication.

An especially important part of this coordination is the practice of holding parallel meetings with indigenous peoples and organizations during the regular sessions of those bodies. At the recent sessions of the Permanent Forum and Expert Mechanism in 2015, I held individual meetings with some forty indigenous groups, who presented information on specific cases of concern. During the EMRIP session in July 2015, I also had individual meetings with more than 30 indigenous representatives and indigenous members of Parliaments. Face-to-face meetings afford an opportunity to discuss issues directly with affected groups, bearing in mind the many cases involving threats to the rights of indigenous peoples around the world and the limited time and resources available to travel to all places of interest.

On 26 and 27 February 2015, I was invited to the Expert Seminar on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with Respect to their Cultural Heritage in Rovaniemi, Finland to provide inputs to the study to be developed by the EMRIP on this issue. During the two day seminar, I provided comments on the concept of “cultural heritage” as it pertains to indigenous peoples, including both tangible and intangible forms and an analysis of the links between lands, territories and the environment and cultural heritage.

Other activities engaged in during first year in the mandate

Ladies and gentlemen,

In March 6, 2015, I participated as a panel member in the High Level Panel on human rights and climate change organized by the Human Rights Council. The contributions of indigenous peoples of their traditional knowledge and practices to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are crucial. Respecting their rights to their lands, territories and resources and reinforcing their harmonious relationships with their ecosystems allows for better management of their territories which in turn provides the environmental services the world badly needed. Ensuring the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in climate-related decisions and the application of the Human-rights based approach are critical to achieve solutions for this pressing global problem.

At the 20th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC, held in Peru, I was part of the High Level Expert Panel of Climate Change and Human Rights which was organized by the UN-SG’s Climate Change Envoy, Mary Robinson. The past, present and future Presidents of the COPs were present with other Ministers of Climate Change and Environment. Together with the other Special Mandate Holders, John Knox and Hilal Ever, we tried our best to bring into the decisions measures undertaken by governments and the need to include the respect of human rights in all climate decisions..

On 6 July 2015, I delivered the keynote speech at the first session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group in Charge of Elaborating a Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights. As most cases in the area of civil litigation against companies involve issues of economic, social and cultural rights and environmental damage, this Instrument should take into account the principles of indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights marked a significant step forward. The new international legal instrument should therefore not be contradictory but rather complementary to the Guiding Principles.
Just before I came to report before you, I participated in a “Regional Workshop on the Development of ASEAN Legal Human Rights Instruments” of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) from 16-17 September 2015. On September 2, I took part at a national workshop on the same topic in the Philippines. I was invited to these two events to present my views as a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I advocated strongly for the inclusion of indigenous peoples’ rights in future instruments which will be developed.
On 3 February 2015, I also had the opportunity to present an Expert Testimony at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica on the case of the Kaliña and Lokono peoples vs. the Government of Surinam.

I was invited to speak before the members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) to speak on indigenous peoples rights and held several meetings with the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

I also took part in the training held for the UN Country Team in the Philippines organized by the Human Rights Adviser and the Indigenous Peoples and Minority Section of the OHCHR. I find raising awareness of the members of the UN Country Teams on indigenous peoples’ rights very important I hope that I will be invited to more activities of this kind in the future.
Finally, I was invited to participate together with indigenous representatives and provided comments in meetings organized by the World Bank on the first quarter of 2015 on the review of their social and environmental safeguards. Before the meetings, I also spoke with the World Bank President and the Executive Directors and also on a separate meeting with the Senior Management of the Bank.

Areas of work

Mr. President,

While seeking to cooperate as appropriate with relevant international mechanisms and institutions, I have engaged in a range of activities within the terms of my mandate to monitor the human rights conditions of indigenous peoples worldwide and promote steps to improve those conditions. The various activities I have carried out can be described as falling within four, interrelated areas of work. These are promoting good practices; thematic studies; country reports; and responding to cases of alleged human rights violations.

Thematic studies

Mr. President,

To be able to carry out my mandate to examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, my first report outlined some of those obstacles which are found to some extent in all countries in which indigenous peoples are living. While I intend to carry out my work within the areas targeted by special procedures mandate holders, in order to maximize the impact of my investigations, I have tried to focus my efforts particularly on issues surrounding the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of indigenous peoples.

While I remain fully cognizant of the difficulties in confronting and overcoming the barriers to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, I hope I have been able to make some headway in tackling some of them during the course of the first year of my mandate. While the previous mandate holders had integrated a focus on women and children in their work, women and children had never been the focus of a thematic report. This I considered was something that it was time to remedy and before you is my report devoted to human rights violations to indigenous women and girls. I hope it will guide Member States and the United Nations organizations and mechanisms in their quests to provide them with greater protection.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Indigenous women and girls experience a complex, multidimensional, and mutually reinforcing human rights violations which are alarming on their own but constitute a form of structural violence against indigenous women whereby they are victimized by the realities of the circumstances of their everyday life and routinely excluded from enjoying the rights and resources otherwise guaranteed to citizens.

Some of the challenges include gaps and weaknesses in the monitoring and implementation of the human rights of indigenous peoples which contribute to a culture of impunity and render the violations of rights invisible to international and national policy makers and legislators; a lack of disaggregated data, a lack of inclusive birth registration systems which exacerbates the lack of monitoring and disaggregated data, issues of jurisdiction and community dynamics and stigma.

Despite the significant constraints facing them, there are many instances where indigenous women have successfully mobilized to fight for their rights. One such example includes the creation since the early 1990s of networks of indigenous women in Australia, the Arctic, Latin America, North America, Africa and Asia. These groups have impacted policy debates through the sharing of experiences and joint advocacy on issues of concern.

To protect the rights of indigenous women, both a paradigm shift and the development of a multidimensional approach is needed. States must find a way to strike a delicate balance between protection of indigenous women and respect for their right to self-determination and autonomy as indigenous peoples. The United Nations system must support Member States in striking that balance as well as contribute to the paradigm shift needed through increasing attention to the needs of indigenous women and reconceptualizing rights issues to include the nexus between individual and collective rights as well as the intersectionality between different forms of inequality and discrimination.

Country reports

Ladies and gentlemen

While I endeavor to carry out country visits within each of the regions during the first term of my mandate, I have carried out visits to the Latin American region and the Nordic region. I am grateful to both the Latin American region and Nordic countries (including Norway, Finland and Sweden) for their openness to visits by the Special Rapporteur to look into issues related to indigenous peoples. I hope that countries in other regions, including in Asia and Africa will soon demonstrate a similar openness. I am presenting as addenda to my report the report from my official country visit to Paraguay which was carried out in November 2014. I will also present some preliminary observations on the official mission to Sapmi region which took place in August 2015, pursuant to an invitation from the Sami Parliamentary Council whose chairmanship is currently held by the Government of Finland.

Mission to Paraguay

Ladies and gentlemen

In November 2014, I carried out a country visit to Paraguay for the purpose of developing a report to assess the human rights situation of the indigenous peoples in the country. I would like to thank the Government of Paraguay for their cooperation during my visit, during which I was able to meet a considerable number of high level governmental representatives. I would like to particularly thank the Instituto Paraguayo del Indígena (INDI) and its President, Mr Jorge Servín, for the support provided to the mandate both in the preparation of the visit and during my stay in the country, and for its commitment to the advancement of the rights of indigenous peoples in Paraguay. I sincerely thank the indigenous peoples and organizations who shared with me their concerns, but also their views and proposals to achieve the objectives set up in the international human rights instruments pertaining to the rights of indigenous peoples. I was encouraged to witness the increasing strength and capacity of the Indigenous peoples’ own organizations. I would also like to express my appreciation to the OHCHR human rights advisor and her team in Paraguay for their support in the preparation and development of my visit and to the NGOs and other actors who met with me during my stay in the country.

Despite Paraguay’s solid legal framework with the recognition of the pre-existence of indigenous peoples in the country and their fundamental rights, including their rights to their lands and resources, persisting and serious problems remain. Challenges include but are not limited to the lack of adequate implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources; obstacles to indigenous peoples ‘ access to justice and remedy, the Government’s failure to comply with its duty to consult; and indigenous peoples ‘ general situation of poverty, dispossession and insufficient access to adequate social services. I would however like to congratulate the Government of Paraguay for its recent adoption of Law 5469 on indigenous health which includes the protection of their traditional health practices, the elimination of discriminatory practices and the implementation of an adequate intercultural approach in all health services.
Access to justice to protect indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and resources remains limited. Land security is a fundamental issue for indigenous peoples and without the full recognition of their rights to lands, territories and resources, their subsistence is jeopardized. Without it, programs to address certain isolated problems will not achieve the much needed structural and lasting results. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights has ruled in its three landmark decisions concerning indigenous peoples in Paraguay on the need for Paraguay to adopt decisive measures to address the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands. Although I appreciate Paraguay’s steps toward the implementation of these decisions, much remains to be done to fully comply with the sentences.

Finally, since my visit where I assessed particular cases of concern, I have received additional information on the situation of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode which indicates continued logging and fencing activities in their territory with an increased risk of conflict in the area and exposure to isolated indigenous families.
Mr. President, I urge Paraguay to take into account and act promptly to implement the recommendations in my report in relation to the issues raised. I intend to follow up with Paraguay on the progress made in addressing the human rights concerns identified in the report and will monitor, in particular, the adequate protection of the rights of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people.

Mission to Sapmi

Ladies and gentlemen,

In August 2015, I participated at a conference in Hemavan, Sweden at the request of the Sami Parliamentary Council, with representatives from the Sami parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland respectively, the Governments of of all three countries and civil society organizations, including the Sami Council, an umbrella NGO which represents the interests of Sami people in the region. Like my predecessor in 2010, I held meetings with all stakeholders and will present a report to the Human Rights Council on key recommendations next year.

As the process to negotiate the Nordic Sami Convention is now in its final stages, I encourage all parties involved to follow through on their commitment to adopt this Convention by March 2016. Cross-border efforts taken by the Sami Parliaments and the Governments of Norway, Sweden and Finland to develop a Nordic Sami Convention could be enshrined as a global best practice to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

In the context of mineral extraction and large scale renewable energy projects, such as windmills, particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the traditional livelihoods of the Sami, including reindeer herding and salmon fishing, are effectively safeguarded to ensure that their mineral laws and policies are in line with international standards related to the rights of indigenous peoples, including those requiring adequate consultations with the affected indigenous communities and their free, prior and informed consent, mitigation measures, compensation and benefit sharing.

I am in the initial stages of planning a future visit to Honduras (although the dates have yet to be confirmed), and I am grateful to the Governments of those countries for their positive responses to my requests to undertake those visits. I hope that my outstanding requests for visits to other countries such as Brazil and Bolivia as well as those in Asia and Africa, including to Indonesia, Cameroun and Democratic Republic of Congo will also be considered favourably.

Mr. President

As Special Rapporteur I am called upon to contribute to ensuring that indigenous peoples voices are effectively heard, and to facilitate a dialogue between indigenous peoples, Governments, and other relevant actors involved in specific situations across the world in which indigenous peoples’ rights are not being respected. I am still overwhelmed by the numerous complaints I receive everyday in relation to violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in many parts of the world. The dire situation of most indigenous peoples in many countries is still a reality and the contribution of the UN in addressing this cannot be overemphasized. I took part in the meetings on how to follow up on the Outcome Document of the WCIP which calls for strengthening the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. I fully support the efforts to do this. I believe that for me to carry out more effectively my mandate as a Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights I have to enhance even further my engagement with the Member-States of the Human Rights Council to address obstacles and develop more best practices. I also hope to facilitate more dialogues between indigenous peoples and governments. I certainly hope that more human and financial resources be made available not only for my mandate but for the whole Special Procedures Work. I would like to thank all of you, Member-States, indigenous peoples’ representatives, the OHCHR and other UN Treaty Bodies, agencies, funds and programmes and the NGOs who are contributing in the effective implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention No. 169. I also thank you all for inviting me to speak directly with you and to jointly explore what else should be done to protect indigenous peoples rights. I would like to reaffirm here my strong commitment to this role, and with this commitment to contribute to solutions to the human rights challenges brought to my attention and to be proactive in efforts to prevent those from arising or escalating.

I thank you all for your kind attention.


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