GENEVA - "The poorest among the poor, indigenous peoples continue to be at the margins of power and, in many cases, disregard of their basic human rights escalates into violence against them," said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, in commemoration of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
"However, they have preserved, generation after generation, an extraordinary wealth of knowledge, culture, and spirituality in the common benefit of humankind, contributing significantly to the world's diversity and environmental sustainability," the UN independent expert noted.
"Still, it is painfully apparent that historical patterns of oppression continue to manifest themselves in ongoing barriers to the full enjoyment of human rights by indigenous peoples," Mr. Anaya said. "Indigenous peoples continue to see their traditional lands invaded by powerful actors seeking wealth at their expense, thereby depriving them of life-sustaining resources."
These ongoing threats shed light on the need for a stronger commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples*, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It affirms the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and equality, and to maintain their distinctive cultures within traditional territories. Since its adoption, the very few States that voted against it have changed or are in the process of reassessing their positions. Nevertheless, the human rights expert warned that a great deal remains to be done to see the objectives of the Declaration become a reality in the everyday lives of indigenous peoples.
"Today the Declaration remains more of a reminder of how far there is to go in bringing justice and dignity to the lives of indigenous peoples than a reflection of what has actually been achieved on the ground." The Special Rapporteur expressed his fear that the wide gap between the Declaration and its effective implementation will persist, leading to a certain complacency and acceptance of that condition: "This cannot be allowed to happen; the faithful implementation of the Declaration must be the focus of concerted attention by governments worldwide, the UN system, and other actors."
As part of this action, States should engage in comprehensive reviews of their existing legislation and administrative programs to identify where they may be incompatible with the Declaration. On the basis of such review, necessary legal and programmatic reforms should be developed and implemented, in consultation with indigenous peoples. Similarly, States should be committed to devoting significant human and financial resources to the measure required to implement the Declaration. These resources will typically be required for the demarcation and protection of indigenous lands, the development of culturally appropriate educational programs, support for indigenous self-governance institutions, and the many other measures contemplated by the Declaration.
The Special Rapporteur notes that many important measures have already been taken by States and other actors to implement the Declaration, and expresses his sincere hope is that such initiatives will take root much more broadly than they have to date, and that experiences will be shared to strengthen these initiatives.
"Implementing indigenous peoples' rights under the Declaration will bring historical justice to this too often ignored segment of humanity and help advance principles of equality, self-determination and respect for diversity, which that are basic tenets of the modern human rights system," Mr. Anaya said.
On 26 March 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor S. James Anaya as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, for an initial period of three years. Professor Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (USA).
(*) Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/512/07/PDF/N0651207.pdf?OpenElement