Special Rapporteur on the Rights of indigenous peoples
Human Rights Council 27th Session
Geneva, 17 September 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have the honor to present today my first report to the Human Rights Council since I formally assumed on June 2nd of this year the mandate conferred to me by this Council and the first time I address the Human Rights Council.
I would like to start by thanking the Human Rights Council for entrusting me with the important task of fulfilling that mandate and I am committed to do so in an impartial and constructive manner and in accordance with the requirements set forth by the Council. I would also like to express my gratitude to the numerous indigenous peoples’ organizations and networks that have already engaged with my mandate.
I take on the responsibility of the mandate with a great sense of humility and a firm commitment to build on the important work of my predecessors, former Special Rapporteur Professor James Anaya and former Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen. I would like to gratefully acknowledge Professor Anaya’s experienced guidance during the first months since I assumed the Council’s mandate, as well as to thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for its continuous support.
This is a very historic year for indigenous peoples. It is the year in which negotiations will start for the post-2015 development agenda and for a new agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. I will spend some of my time in ensuring that the respect for the human rights and priorities of indigenous peoples on development and climate change mitigation and adaptation will be integrated into these agreements.
I stand here before you one week before the first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high level meeting of the General Assembly, which will be held on 22 and 23 September 2014. Before I was appointed as a Special Rapporteur, I took active part in the preparatory meetings held by indigenous representatives globally, in Asia and in the Philippines. I co-chaired the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Preparatory Conference for the WCIP held last year in Alta, Norway. The Alta Conference came up with the Alta Outcome Document which is duly noted in the latest Draft of the WCIP outcome document. After my appointment, I continued engaging in my capacity as Special Rapporteur by participating in the interactive dialogues between States and presenting my views on the various versions of the draft outcome document of the World Conference. Having seen the last iteration of the document, I think the commitments contained, so far, reflect many of what indigenous peoples are asking governments to do to meet their obligations for the protection, respect and fulfilment of indigenous peoples’ human rights. I was also pleased to see the reference in the draft outcome document which highlighted the need to address the rights of indigenous peoples in the process of elaborating the post-2015 development agenda. As I noted in my upcoming report to the General Assembly, the global post-2015 development agenda should call for efforts to establish inclusive governance mechanisms which ensure adequate consultations and participation of indigenous peoples in local and national development planning processes. The right of indigenous peoples to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development is clearly stated in Article 3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope that the post 2015 development agenda will not repeat the mistakes of the past, as recently seen in Open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, where lots of efforts had to be spent by indigenous representatives and some states to ensure that the term used in the SDG text was “indigenous peoples” instead of indigenous and local communities. If the commitments contained in the latest WCIP Draft will be finally agreed upon and adopted next week, indigenous peoples will have a lot to look forward to.
Ladies and gentlemen
As you know, a core aspect of my mandate is to examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. My first report before you outlines 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, i.e. the promotion of good practices, country assessments, communications concerning alleged human rights violations and thematic studies, in order to maximize the impact of my investigations, I will focus my efforts particularly on issues surrounding the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of indigenous peoples.
Although there is, at both the international and domestic levels, a strong legal and policy foundation upon which to move forward with the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights, there are still numerous obstacles preventing indigenous peoples from fully enjoying their human rights. The first barrier to the implementation of the international human rights standards is the application of the concept of “indigenous peoples”. It calls for the need to employ a flexible approach, taking into account the core attributes and historical and present circumstances that distinguish indigenous peoples from minority groups or other local communities. To fulfil my mandate, I will assess whether the international human rights framework proves useful in addressing the issues and concerns faced by the group in question and monitoring whether duty-bearers adhere to these standards in dealing with indigenous peoples, the rights-holders. The second barrier involves difficulties of States in the operationalization of indigenous peoples’ rights, often related to a lack of awareness about the rights and standards, difficulties in identifying practical steps for implementation and conflicting interpretations of the content of rights. The notion that indigenous peoples are obstacles to development and the non-recognition of their identities and rights provide justification for some nation-states not to consult with them, nor undertake steps to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before any development project is brought to their communities.
A third barrier includes the absence of steps towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples and redress for past violation of their human rights. Linked with reconciliation yet to be completed, is the ongoing negative perception of indigenous peoples among the broader societies in which they live, including within governments. Finally, the nearly universal disadvantageous social and economic conditions of indigenous peoples as compared to the economic and social conditions of the majority societies in which they live present a barrier to the full exercise of their human rights.
While I fully acknowledge the difficulties in confronting and overcoming the obstacles outlined above, I hope to be able to make headway in tackling some of them during the course of my mandate. While the previous mandate holders have integrated a focus on women and children in their work, women and children have never been the focus of a thematic report. This I consider is something that it is time to remedy. I will also endeavor to carry out country visits within each of the regions during the first year of my mandate. The previous Special Rapporteurs have carried out numerous visits to the Latin American region, due in large part to the openness of countries in that region. I am encouraged by invitations be some African and Asian countries to my predecessors and I hope that more invitations will come from countries in those regions during the course of my mandate.
Past and future activities
Ladies and gentlemen
My report also includes a summary of the activities carried out during the period under review, along with a description of future activities, which include a forthcoming official mission to Paraguay pursuant to an invitation I just received from the Government of that country, for which I am grateful. I am presenting as addenda to my annual report four reports produced by my predecessor, Professor James Anaya. Three of these relate to his final three missions to countries, that is, his visits to Panama, Canada and Peru. Each of these was carried out in 2013. In the fourth addendum, I present a summary of communications sent by Professor Anaya and replies received by relevant Governments, as well as observations to those communications made by my predecessor.
Mission to Panama
Ladies and gentlemen
With respect to the report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Panama, Professor Anaya notes that Panama has an advanced legal framework in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples. In his report, he notes that the comarca land tenure system offers an especially important protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The national laws and programmes provide an important foundation upon which to continue building and strengthening indigenous peoples rights. Nevertheless, my predecessor observed that this foundation is in many ways fragile and precarious. As the report details, there are a series of problems in Panama related to the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples, in particular with respect to lands and resources, large-scaled development projects, autonomy and participation, an economic and social rights, including economic development, health and education.
Mission to Canada
Ladies and gentlemen,
With respect to his visit to Canada, Professor Anaya highlights that Canada’s relationship with the indigenous peoples within its borders is governed by a well-developed legal framework and a number of policy initiatives that in many respects are protective of indigenous peoples’ rights. But despite these positive elements, daunting challenges remain. The numerous initiatives that have been taken at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to address the problems faced by indigenous peoples have been insufficient. The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.
As he stresses in his report, concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to establishing long-term solutions.
Mission to Peru
Ladies and gentlemen,
Professor Anaya’s report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Peru follows a visit carried out to that country to look into the situation of indigenous peoples affected by extractive industries, and processes of consultation and participation in this context. Many indigenous peoples in Peru have suffered negative environmental and social impacts of extractive industry activities in Peru over the years. As a result, there is a high level of distrust and discontent between indigenous peoples, and the State and extractive sector, which has resulted in protests and violent conflict. Peru is taking important steps to respond to the concerns of indigenous peoples with respect to extractive industries. However, it is necessary to take further steps to ensure that these activities can take place in a way that is consistent with the rights of indigenous peoples, and in coordination and cooperation with indigenous peoples, in order to respond to their concerns and promote social peace.
Mr. President, I urge Panama, Canada and Peru to take into account and act promptly to implement the recommendations directed at them respectively in these reports in relation to the issues raised. I intend to follow up with the Governments of each of these countries on the progress made in addressing the human rights concerns identified in the reports.
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 would like to reaffirm here my strong commitment to this role, to contribute to solutions to the human rights problems brought to my attention and to be proactive in efforts to prevent such problems from arising or escalating.
Let me conclude, Mr. President, by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to serve in this way. I thank you all for your kind attention.
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