Statement of Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council, 2011

By | 21 September, 2011

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya

Human Rights Council
Eighteenth session

20 September 2011

Madam President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honor to present today my fourth annual report to the Human Rights Council. I would like to start by thanking the numerous States, indigenous peoples, and others for the cooperation and support they have provided to me over the past year. I am also grateful to the Council for the confidence it has placed in me by extending my appointment to the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples for a second three-year term.

The first part of my report to the Council presents a summary of my activities, which I will briefly describe today. In the second part I provide my preliminary assessment of the issue of natural resource extraction in indigenous lands, which is part of my ongoing study on this important issue.

While cooperating with other international mechanisms and contributing to their initiatives on indigenous issues, I have continued to carry out work in four interrelated areas. These are: promotion of good practices; country reports; communications on specific cases of alleged human rights violations; and thematic studies.

Promotion of good practices

In advancing good practices I have advocated for reforms at the domestic and international levels to give effect to the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other relevant international instruments.

Since my last report to the Council, I welcomed the statements of support for the Declaration by the Governments of Canada and of the United States of America, which followed similar statements of endorsement by other States that had voted against the Declaration or abstained when the General Assembly adopted it in 2007. We can celebrate that opposition to the Declaration by Member States is now a thing of the past. However, the outstanding challenge is still to see the implementation of the Declaration’s provisions reflected in the every day lives of indigenous peoples.

To that end, at various times over the past year, I have responded to requests from Governments for assistance in the development of laws and policies to advance the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, at the request of the Government of Suriname, and of indigenous and tribal peoples in that country, I provided observations and recommendations on a process to develop legislation to secure indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights to lands and resources in the light of binding judgments issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These observations and recommendations were based in part on information I gathered during a visit to Suriname in March 2011, and are included in an addendum to my annual report.

I have also provided comments on various drafts of legislation currently under consideration by the National Assembly of Ecuador to coordinate indigenous customary justice systems with the national justice system. And over the course of several weeks in February 2011, I provided observations on an initiative of the Government of Guatemala to develop a regulation for consultations with indigenous peoples.

Country reports

In addition to such targeted efforts to promote good practices, I have completed several reports surveying the situations of indigenous peoples in specific countries that I have visited for that purpose.

My report on the Sami people examines the situation of this indigenous people in its traditional territory across Norway, Sweden and Finland. This report is based in large part on information presented to me during a conference in Rovaniemi, Finland, in April 2010, which was organized by the Sami parliaments with the cooperation of the Governments of these three Nordic countries. I was pleased to find that, overall, Norway, Sweden, and Finland each pay a relatively high level of attention to indigenous issues, setting some important examples for securing the rights of indigenous peoples elsewhere. However, more remains to be done to ensure that the Sami people can pursue self- determination and develop their common goals as a people living across more than one State. In my report, I pay particular attention to Sami self-determination both within and across State borders, especially as exercised through the Sami parliaments; the rights of Sami to their lands, territories and resources; and efforts to revitalize Sami languages and provide Sami children and youth with culturally appropriate education.

My report on the situation of Maori people in New Zealand is a follow up to the visit and report of the previous Special Rapporteur, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, and focuses on the issue of settlement of indigenous rights claims in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi, among other key issues. I note that, especially in recent years, New Zealand has made notable strides to advance the rights of Maori people. The process for settling claims under the Treaty of Waitangi is an important example of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples. However, this process suffers from evident shortcomings that manifest themselves in numerous instances of frustration by Maori iwi, or tribes. Further, Maori people face extreme disadvantages in social and economic spheres in relation to the rest of New Zealand society. My report includes a number of recommendations to address these and related concerns.

In another report I address the situation of indigenous peoples in the Republic of Congo who face extreme social and economic disadvantages, as well as profound discrimination and marginalization. There are several recent initiatives undertaken to advance the rights of marginalized indigenous peoples in the country, most notably a new Law on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I consider this law to be a good practice on the African continent, and note that it is mostly in line with international standards. However, as I point out in the report, there are various challenges that will need to be overcome for an effective implementation of the new law and other initiatives. These will have to be met in consultation with the concerned indigenous peoples, especially to secure their lands, resources and ways of life in the face of ongoing threats.

Finally, in my report on the situation of the Kanak people in New Caledonia, France I note that the Nouméa Accord, the processes of decolonization it has advanced, and several Government initiatives represent significant steps towards reversing historical trends of oppression against the Kanak and establishing conditions with dignity for them in New Caledonia. Yet it is evident that the Kanak people face ongoing challenges to maintain and develop on their own terms the multiple aspects of their cultural identity, to secure rights over lands and resources in accordance with customary tenure, to fully participate in political processes and government, to improve the economic and social conditions of daily life, and to be free from discrimination. In my report, I provide a series of observations and recommendations to address these concerns, while recognizing important initiatives already underway.

Specific cases of alleged human rights violations

Apart from my reporting on country situations as just described, I have continued to gather, request and receive information and make observations with recommendations on specific cases of alleged human rights violations in various places around the world. Copies of the letters sent to Governments concerning these cases and the replies received are included in the joint report of Special Procedures mandate holders prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the first such joint report on communications.

My own, separate communications report includes observations I have made, as well as descriptions of other follow-up measures I have taken, in a number of cases. The cases for which I provide detailed observations include those concerning the situation of the Gibe III hydroelectric project in Ethiopia; the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev desert in Israel; native customary rights in Sarawak, Malaysia; the alleged issuing of mining concessions in a region that is sacred to the Wixárika, or Huichol, people in Mexico; and the situation of the Native Americans in relation to artificial snowmaking from recycled wastewater in the San Francisco Peaks, in the United States.

En ciertas ocasiones, el examen de casos particulares ha llevado a la realización de visitas al terreno para examinar con mayor profundidad los asuntos expuestos en las comunicaciones transmitidas a los Gobiernos. Este año, con la cooperación del Gobierno y de los pueblos indígenas directamente interesados, realicé un viaje a Costa Rica para evaluar la situación de las comunidades afectadas por la posible construcción del proyecto hidroeléctrico El Diquis. En mi informe sobre esta situación, propuse una serie de recomendaciones para facilitar un proceso adecuado de consulta en relación con el proyecto propuesto. Entre mis recomendaciones, estaba la formación de un grupo de expertos independientes, respaldados por el sistema de las Naciones Unidas, para facilitar el proceso de consulta. Me complace informar que he recibido respuestas generalmente positivas a mis recomendaciones tanto por parte del Gobierno como de los pueblos indígenas interesados.

Asimismo, en el curso del último año, preparé un informe sobre los proyectos extractivos de recursos naturales y otros tipos de proyectos que afectan a los pueblos indígenas en Guatemala, así como un informe sobre el caso específico de la mina Marlin, en las municipalidades de de San Miguel Ixtahuacán y Sipakapa. En relación con la situación específica de la mina Marlin, puse de relieve la urgente necesidad de llevar a cabo una evaluación independiente de los impactos sociales, ambientales y de salud de la mina, así como el inicio de un proceso de consulta con las comunidades afectadas sobre la actividad minera y sus efectos. Quisiera agradecer las respuestas detalladas que proporcionó el Gobierno a mi informe, al tiempo que su voluntad de mantener un diálogo constructivo conmigo respecto a estos temas tan complejos.

Estudios temáticos

Como complemento a todo lo anterior, se encuentran mis estudios temáticos, los cuales abordan cuestiones de interés común para los pueblos indígenas a nivel mundial. Sobre la base de mis estudios temáticos anteriormente presentados al Consejo de Derechos Humanos sobre el deber de consultar con los pueblos indígenas y la responsabilidad de las empresas de respetar los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, estoy actualmente examinando asuntos relacionados con proyectos de gran escala para la extracción o el desarrollo de los recursos naturales en tierras indígenas o en sus alrededores. La segunda mitad del informe de este año al Consejo de Derechos Humanos incluye un análisis y evaluación inicial de las respuestas recibidas al cuestionario que a tal efecto fue elaborado y distribuido entre los Gobiernos las organizaciones y pueblos indígenas y las empresas del sector extractivo.

Como se detalla en mi informe, las respuestas al cuestionario ponen de manifiesto la necesidad de un cambio en el actual estado de cosas, si es que queremos que las normas internacional sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas tengan tener un efecto significativo sobre las políticas y acciones de los Estados y de las empresas en relación con estos indígenas. Un primer paso hacia ese cambio es el establecimiento de un terreno común de entendimiento entre los pueblos indígenas, entidades estatales, empresas y otros actores relevantes. Sin este nivel mínimo de comprensión mutua, la aplicación de las normas de derechos indígenas seguirá siendo controvertida, los pueblos indígenas continuarán siendo vulnerables ante los abusos graves de sus derechos humanos individuales y colectivos, y las actividades extractivas que afectan a los pueblos indígenas seguirán enfrentándose a graves problemas sociales y económicos.

Para el segundo período de mi mandato, estoy comprometido a trabajar de forma coordinada con otros mecanismos, en particular con el Mecanismo de Expertos sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas del Consejo de Derechos Humanos, en la formulación de recomendaciones concretas y prácticas, sobre la base de las implicaciones que derivan de las normas existentes en materia de derechos humanos, con el fin de asistir a los Estados, las empresas y los pueblos indígenas en las dificultades de que surgen cuando las industrias extractivas afectan a los territorios indígenas.


Quisiera concluir reiterando mi fuerte compromiso con el mandato que tengo, reconociendo con humildad la responsabilidad que conlleva, y agradeciendo a todos los que me han apoyado y siguen apoyándome en este papel. Aunque me siento alentado por los avances positivos que se han dado en muchos lugares, sigo preocupado por la realidad de las continuas luchas y violaciones de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas en todo el mundo. Durante el segundo período de mi mandato, continuaré haciendo todo lo posible para contribuir a encontrar soluciones prácticas a estos problemas urgentes con pleno respeto a los derechos de los pueblos indígenas.