Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Panel on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 6th session of the Expert Mechanism

By | 11 July, 2013


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

Panel on  the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

11 July 2013

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate on this panel on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stands as an important impetus and guide for measures to address the concerns of indigenous peoples around the world and to move toward reconciliation. An authoritative instrument with broad support, the Declaration marks a path toward remedying the injustices and inequitable conditions faced by indigenous peoples, calling on determined action to secure their rights, within a model of respect for their self-determination and distinctive cultural identities.

As I have stated in the past, the Declaration is fundamentally a remedial instrument, aimed at overcoming the marginalization and discrimination that indigenous peoples systematically have faced across the world as a result of historical processes of colonization and dispossession. The Declaration is also a reminder that these processes and their legacies shamefully persist and are reproduced today in various forms. It thus calls upon States and the international community as a whole to put an end to these processes, and to take steps to bring about the effective enjoyment by indigenous peoples of the human rights that they have been denied.

We can readily see that promoting respect for and full application of the provisions of the Declaration is a complex process that requires sustained efforts involving a myriad of State and other actors. However, in line with its primarily remedial thrust, and consistent with other international human rights instruments, the Declaration calls upon States to play a central role in operationalizing the Declaration. In almost all of the Declaration’s provisions, States are called upon to adopt specific affirmative measures in relation to the various rights. Thus, for example, article 27 requires States to establish a process for recognizing indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, and article 14 requires States to take “effective measures” to ensure that indigenous peoples have access to a culturally appropriate education in their own languages.

In my work as Special Rapporteur, I have been encouraged to see in many countries the adoption of new constitutions, laws, and regulations and the making of judicial decisions that to one degree or another incorporate the standards of the Declaration. But for the most part there remains a wide gap between the rights affirmed in the Declaration and their enjoyment by indigenous peoples in everyday life. Greater efforts are required by States to implement the standards of the Declaration and to harmonize existing laws policies and programs with those standards. These efforts require raising awareness among State officials about the content and meaning of the Declarations, and the full and adequate consideration of the Declaration’s terms in all aspects of executive, legislative and judicial decision making that are relevant to indigenous peoples.

Numerous other actors, of course, have a role to pay in implementing of the Declaration. The Declaration specifically calls upon the United Nations system to promote respect for and full application of the provisions of the Declaration. We can see today a number of initiatives within the various mechanisms and agencies of the United Nations to advance the rights of indigenous peoples. But I have been alarmed to see that, beyond these initiatives that are specifically aimed at indigenous peoples’ concerns, there remains a significant lack of awareness within the United Nations system about the Declaration and its implications for the various aspects of United Nations programming at the global and country levels. Much remains to be done to mainstream the Declaration and to ensure action that is conducive to implementing its provisions throughout United Nations system.

The private sector also has a role to play in implementing the Declaration, especially business enterprises that develop or seek to develop natural resources around indigenous territories, as explained in my report the Human Rights Council last year, and as will be elaborated upon further in my upcoming report to the Council. As reflected in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that have been endorsed by the Human Rights Council, there is an increasing awareness that transnational corporations and other business enterprises have an independent responsibility to respect human rights. It should be understood that this human rights responsibility includes the responsibility of business enterprises, including extractive companies, to respect the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with the Declaration.

The implementation of the Declaration clearly also requires the active involvement of indigenous peoples, their authorities and organizations, in a spirit of cooperation with States and other relevant actors. The Declaration will simply not work without this involvement.

Moreover, the kind of structural changes required to put into effect indigenous peoples’ rights in accordance with the Declaration will require a broader involvement of a range of civil society actors, including NGOs, the media, and educational institutions. Engagement of these actors is necessary to advance broad public understanding about the issues confronting indigenous peoples, the need for healing and reconciliation, and the role of the Declaration in bringing about that healing and reconciliation. In my view, without such public understanding, implementation of the Declaration will continue to be fraught with obstacles.

I would like to conclude by reaffirming my own commitment as Special Rapporteur to continuing to advocate for the full enjoyment of the human rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with the Declaration. All of my work as Special Rapporteur has been guided by the Declaration, and in all my interactions with Governments, indigenous peoples, and the United Nations system, I have pressed for its implementation.

Again, I am grateful for the opportunity to address the distinguished members of the Expert Mechanism and the representatives of indigenous peoples and States who are present.

Thank you and I look forward to our interactive dialogue.


* * *