Statement by James Anaya,
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
6th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
8 July 2013
World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Expert Mechanism and the representatives of indigenous peoples and States present at this discussion on the High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
As many of those present are aware, the three United Nations mechanisms with a mandate on the rights of indigenous peoples have participated in several preparatory events related to the World Conference. In January 2012, members of the other two UN mechanisms and I participated in a brainstorming session on the World Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss initial expectations for the event. Also, in December last year I participated in a meeting in Guatemala together with members of the Permanent Forum and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, during which we focused our discussions on how the three mechanisms can contribute to the preparatory process for the World Conference and in the event itself.
Finally, representatives of the three mechanisms also participated in the recent Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference in Alta, Norway held in June, during which the Draft Alta Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was adopted.
As I have stated in the past, I see the World Conference as providing four major important opportunities. First, it can contribute to the development of new measures for the direct participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations meetings; second, it can help to advance greater and more concerted efforts within the United Nations system to promote the rights of indigenous peoples; third, it can assist in promoting action at the national and local levels to secure the realization of indigenous peoples’ rights; and finally, it can be a opportunity for celebrating indigenous peoples and their contributions worldwide.
The Alta outcome document adds significantly to the preparations of World Conference. As will be discussed more during this panel, the Alta document includes concrete recommendations under four major themes: indigenous peoples lands, territories, resources, oceans and waters; the UN system’s action for the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples; implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples, including indigenous women and youth; and indigenous peoples’ priorities for development with free, prior and informed consent.
I would like to emphasize that, whatever the specific result of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples next September 2014, the Alta document is an important normative instrument and plan of action in its own right.
First, the Alta outcome document has a high level of legitimacy, being the result of significant efforts by the Global Coordination Committee during the course of over a year to gather the views of indigenous peoples regarding their expectations and aspirations for the World Conference. As noted in the document’s introduction, indigenous peoples and nations from the seven geo-political regions, as well as members of the women’s and youth caucuses, participated in the development of the document’s recommendations.
Second, the recommendations contained in the outcome document provide an important overview of the issues that are of central concern to indigenous peoples. While reflecting much of the language of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the outcome document also adds to our understanding of indigenous peoples’ priorities both in terms of the content of their rights and in terms of how those rights might be protected. In addition to highlighting substantive issues of central importance to indigenous peoples, we can also see indigenous peoples demanding more robust processes within the United Nations system for the protection of recognized rights.
With this in mind, in my own work as Special Rapporteur I will refer the recommendations contained in the document to guide my approach to issues I examine within the scope of my mandate. I expect that the Expert Mechanism and the Permanent Forum, as well as the future Special Rapporteur, will do the same. I would also encourage other actors, including those in the United Nations system, indigenous peoples themselves, civil society, and the private sector to also make use of the Alta outcome document.
A number of the recommendations address issues that I have focused on in my work as Special Rapporteur, such as the recommendation to ensure the implementation of the standard of free, prior and informed consent in relation to extractive industries and other development activities. This is an issue to which I devote significant attention in my upcoming and final report to the Human Rights Council. In my reports on specific country situations, I have also devoted significant attention to cases involving sacred sites, treaties and other constructive arrangements, violence against indigenous women and girls, militarization of indigenous lands, and other concerns featured in the Alta outcome document. In addition, the Expert Mechanism is currently circulating a conference room paper that describes how their studies and advice reflect recommendations contained in the document.
I would like to conclude by expressing appreciation for the hard work of those who have been committed to the preparatory process for the World Conference. I do not doubt that these efforts will contribute significantly to the pursuit of securing the full enjoyment of the human rights of indigenous peoples. This pursuit is one of daunting challenges, but I am encouraged by the many challenges that already have been overcome, by the persistence of indigenous peoples to see their aspirations realized, and by the tireless work for further progress into a better future for indigenous peoples.
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