Statement of Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council, 2013

By | 18 September, 2013


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

Human Rights Council

24th Session

18 September 2013


Mister President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my distinct pleasure and honor to once again address the Human Rights Council. I am presenting my final report to the Council, as my mandate will be coming to an end on April 30 of next year. In my statement today I would like to report on my activities over the past year and highlight some of the conclusions and recommendations that I have arrived at in the course of those activities. I would also like to provide some reflections about my experiences as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples since I was first appointed to the mandate in 2008.

My appointment as Special Rapporteur came just at few months after the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples in September of 2007. The adoption of the Declaration marked an historical moment of recognition of the existence of indigenous peoples who are characterized by distinct cultural identities, and who have suffered and in many ways continue to suffer, widespread and systematic deprivation of their human rights. At the same time the Declaration paints a vision that is an alternative to this widespread deprivation of human rights, a vision of a world in which indigenous peoples’ individual collective rights are affirmed and respected. Throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur, I have witnessed indigenous peoples striving to make this alternative vision a reality, amid daunting challenges, and I have also seen some progress to that end as States and multiple international institutions have moved to develop policies and programs to advance respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.

An important part of my mandate from the Human Rights Council is to promote good practices, and in doing so I have endeavoured to assist with the development of policies and programs of these kind at both the domestic and international levels. Over past year, I have provided technical assistance for the enactment and implementation of procedures to consult with indigenous peoples in Chile and Peru, and for the development of a protocol to incorporate international standards into judicial decision-making concerning indigenous peoples in Mexico. Additionally, I have provided advice for various international initiatives that relate to indigenous peoples, including those of the World Bank Group, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and numerous other institutions and specialized agencies within the United Nations system. My work to promote good practices has also involved collaborating with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, and the Commonwealth Secretariat with regard to their initiatives concerning indigenous peoples.

Mr. President,

While it is apparent that important initiatives to advance indigenous peoples’ rights have been taken in many countries and at the international level, I can only conclude that these initiatives are far from overcoming the obstacles and systemic barriers that indigenous peoples’ face worldwide to the full and effective enjoyment of their rights as affirmed in the Declaration.

Central to fulfilling my mandate from the Council to examine ways and means of overcoming these obstacles is the communications procedure that is common to most of the Council’s special procedures mandates. Since becoming Special Rapporteur in 2008, I have sent around 185 letters or follow-up communications to address cases of alleged violations of the rights of indigenous peoples in countries across the globe, 39 of these over the past year. These cases involve threats to the traditional lands and resources of indigenous peoples, especially as a result of extractive industries. A related concern is the lack of participation of indigenous peoples in decisions concerning them, including in connection with laws and policies developed at the national level. Also common are cases of threats to the physical wellbeing of indigenous individuals, which in extreme situations have resulted in violent conflicts.

My objective with the communications procedure has been to focus attention by Governments, and sometimes other actors, on specific human rights issues and to engage in constructive dialogue conducive to resolving those issues. The effectiveness of the communications procedure in any given case depends in significant part on the cooperation of the government concerned. While in most cases Governments have responded to my communications, I regret that in many cases my letters transmitting information or recommendations about human rights problems have simply gone ignored. This lack of cooperation only underscores the lack of adequate attention given to indigenous peoples’ human rights concerns that persists in many places.

My country visits over the term of my mandate have further highlighted both the steps being taken to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and the ongoing systemic human rights problems indigenous peoples face. Since assuming my mandate I have conducted visits to 16countries to report generally on the conditions of indigenous peoples in those countries and have made an additional 6 country visits to examine particular situations. Since my last report to the Council I conducted visits to and completed reports on El Salvador and Namibia. I also visited Panama, and I am currently completing my report on the situation of indigenous peoples in that country. Before the end of my mandate next year I will be visiting Canada and Peru, and I hope to also conduct a visit to Nicaragua.
In regard to El Salvador, I note in my report that the historical oppression of indigenous peoples in that country y has led to the loss of important aspects of indigenous identity and culture. The Government of El Salvador has recently taken significant steps to recognize the indigenous peoples and advance respect for their rights as such. Despite these efforts, indigneous peoples in El Salvador continue to suffer various threats to their human rights, including in relation to lands, participation, poverty, and health and education, as detailed in the report.

Regarding Namibia, in my report I emphasize that since the independence of the country in 1990, the Government has made many significant achievements in rolling back some of the destructive legacies left by colonialism and apartheid. However, certain indigenous peoples remain disadvantaged, to varying degrees, relative to other groups in the country. These peoples have expressed strong desire for greater inclusion in decision-making at all levels, to be able to genuinely set their own priorities for development, and to regain or strengthen rights over lands and natural resources, particularly lands to which they retain a cultural attachment.

In addition to my country visits, in March this year I held a consultation on issues concerning indigenous peoples in Asia, which took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The consultation was divided into three sessions organized around the themes of lands, territories and resources, with a focus on extractive industries; militarization and the impact of national security measures of Governments; and self-determination, including identity, religious discrimination, customary justice, and political participation. My report on the consultation provides an overview of the main issues raised within each of the thematic areas. It also contains a series of overarching conclusions and recommendations.

Mr. President,

In Asia and elsewhere around the globe one of the main concerns raised by indigenous peoples is about the effects of extractive industries that operate within or near their territories. Through the course of the second term of my mandate, I have devoted special attention to this issue, collecting information through questionnaires and an on-line database, engaging in consultations, and conducting a number of visits to sites where extractive industries are operating or proposed to begin. As detailed in my 2011 report to the Council, I have found that indigenous peoples around the world have suffered negative, even devastating consequences from extractive industries. I have also found that, despite such negative experiences, looking towards the future it must not be assumed that the interests of extractive industries and indigenous peoples are entirely or always at odds with each other. In my work I have found that in many cases indigenous peoples are open to discussions about extraction of natural resources from their territories in ways beneficial to them and respectful of their rights.

For the most part, however, there is a need for greater understanding by States and industry actors about the content and implications of indigenous peoples rights in this context, and for the development of new business models for resource extraction that are respectful of indigenous peoples rights and conducive to development opportunities that are genuinely beneficial to them. At this session I am respectfully presenting to the Council my final report on indigenous peoples and extractive industries. In this report I seek to deepen understanding about the relevant international standards, including with regard to indigenous peoples rights to lands and resources and principles of consultation and free, prior and informed consent. Further, I identify in broad strokes the minimum conditions that need to be in place if extractive industries are to take place within indigenous territories in a manner that is sustainable and beneficial to indigenous peoples. This afternoon, from 2 to 3 pm, I will be holding a side event in room XXII in which I will discuss in detail the observations and recommendations made in this report.

Mr. President,

Although I am encouraged by positive developments in many places, I remain concerned about the reality of ongoing struggles and of violations of indigenous peoples’ rights throughout the world. Through the remainder of my term as Special Rapporteur, which will come to an end in a few months, I will continue to do my utmost to contribute to practical solutions to these pressing problems with full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. I will continue to stress the need for resolve and decided action to make reality the vision of human rights and fundamental freedoms represented by the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And in doing so I will continue to share in the optimism that has motivated indigenous peoples as they have made strides toward recognition of their rights at the international level and in domestic settings, an optimism inspired by the call for respect for human rights that is at the foundation of the United Nations system and the work of this body.

I would like to conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to the Council for the honour it has bestowed upon me and confidence it has placed in me by appointing me to two consecutive terms as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Carrying out the mandate has been a constant process of learning as well as a source of deep personal enrichment for me. I would also like to thank the many Governments, United Nations bodies and agencies, non-governmental organizations, and others that have cooperated with me over the past years. I would especially like to thank the many indigenous peoples and communities that welcomed me onto their lands, shared their stories with me and provided me wonderful hospitality. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and my home institution, the University of Arizona College of Law, for the support they have provided since the beginning of my tenure as Special Rapporteur.