Your Excellency, Jorge Briz Abularach, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala;
Mrs. Manuela Cotí, Representative of the Indigenous Peoples;
Your Excellency, Juan López-Doriga, Ambassador of Spain;
Your Excellency, Ambassador Francisco Villagrán de León, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the Organization of American States;
Your Excellency, Ambassador Juan León Alvarado, Chair of the Working Group to prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Alternate Representative of Guatemala to the OAS;
Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representatives and Government Experts of member states;
Permanent Observers to the OAS;
Representatives of the Indigenous Organizations and Peoples of the Americas;
Colleagues from the OAS;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I count myself fortunate to have this opportunity to be here with you today representing the Organization of American States, the Secretary General, and to speak on a subject which I believe to be very important to our efforts in this Hemisphere to promote and protect the human rights of all citizens of the Americas.
Before proceeding on this matter, it is important for me, on behalf of the Organization of American States to reiterate our deepest condolences to and solidarity with the government and people of Guatemala, and especially to the families and communities of the victims of Hurricane Stan. And I want to take this opportunity to extend in solidarity the same sympathies to the affected governments and peoples of South Asia, where an earthquake killed thousands. Our region is annually threatened by natural disasters and I believe it is time for the political leaders in the Hemisphere to give long-term political attention to efforts to mitigate their impact in a sustainable manner. The commitment of the current OAS leadership on the issue of natural disaster is steadfast. We will continue to address it with the utmost urgency and to give it the deserved political profile within the Inter-American system. The prevalence and devastating consequences of natural disasters in our Hemisphere magnifies the vulnerability of many communities and peoples throughout the Americas. Its impact is felt in the short term, but also in the long term! This phenomenon demands common integrated strategies to mitigate against and reduce the effects of natural disasters especially among the most vulnerable in our societies, which in many cases are indigenous people.
Therefore, I am especially pleased to draw attention to the tremendous efforts of this working group as a model of the creativity and resolve of the member states of the OAS. You have established an outstanding mechanism for ensuring the participation of indigenous peoples' representatives and organizations. I commend the establishment of a specific fund which continues to receive contributions from member states, and often, generous contributions from permanent observers. This has facilitated participation in negotiations of at least one indigenous representative from each member state and, in a great part, covered the expenses of the caucus of the indigenous peoples held before and during the negotiating meetings. The OAS is grateful to the donors for their support and we look forward to strengthening this relationship.
The Organization of American States continues to stress the vital importance of ensuring the participation of indigenous people's representatives at the national political and community levels. Previous discussions and results indicate clearly how through concerted action and effort, member states delegates can succeed in developing the capacity to turn competing agendas and different ideas into a common legal concept that reflects not only the concerns and aspirations of indigenous peoples, but also the capacity of member states to address them.
As you carry on with your important work, it is important not to lose sight of the mandates of the heads of state and government at the Summits of the Americas, particularly those held in Quebec in 2001 and Monterrey in 2003. As you recall, the Quebec Plan of Action tasked us with arriving at the "earliest possible conclusion and adoption" and the Monterrey Declaration stressed the "successful conclusion of the negotiations and prompt approval" of the American Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Understandably, we each look forward to the outcomes of the indigenous peoples summit to be held in Buenos Aires on October 27 through 29, and the important focus and guidelines that will follow from the plan of action of the Summit of the Americas to be held in Mar del Plata on November 4 and 5. Nevertheless, that should not detract from our determination to reinforce the foundation of our past efforts and from allowing us to add value by institutionalizing the protection of the fundamentals human rights and dignity of all indigenous peoples in the Americas.
The work you began in November 2003 and the resolve in working towards the final stage of negotiations have brought us to this sixth meeting commencing today in Antigua, Guatemala. I understand that there continues to be some challenges and I appreciate fully that there is still work to do; but the fact that you have extensively negotiated the text of several articles suggests to me that you have the keys for reaching the needed agreements. This week you have the goal of reviewing 12 articles contained in two sections, plus the preamble of the declaration. I am sure you can make a lot of progress not only on this very meeting but also from here to the XXXVI OAS General Assembly in the Dominican Republic next year. I want to thank Ambassador Juan Leon, who has ably chaired this process for two years, for his hard work and commitment to this process, as well as all delegates for their constructive engagement.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that the wealth that arises from diversity is unique and priceless and also that it should be considered a strength and not a weakness, and at the same time we have to be able to achieve unity in the diversity. Once I read a quote that compared this to a Mayan huipil, this beautiful multicolored garment worn by indigenous women here in Guatemala. Every huipil begins as hundreds of threads of different colors laid in a basket. Then, as you can imagine, there is chaos. But little by little we watch how each of those individual threads is woven into the other, how each one has a purpose, how they unite to form a beautiful huipil that perfectly represents the unity in the diversity. This is what we have to cherish as a diverse community.
As we work toward the final draft declaration, I encourage member states and indigenous peoples' representatives and organizations to think about strengthening efforts in the area of education, a critical issue being addressed by the declaration. I also like to emphasize the special concern and significance of protecting children, adolescents and women. As you are aware, concern for these vulnerable groups has become part of many human rights instruments and must become paramount in our discussions.
I encourage more member states to follow the example of Guatemala which has distinguished itself by becoming the first country to hold a negotiating meeting on indigenous peoples outside the OAS headquarters. I salute the government and people of Guatemala—a multicultural, pluri-ethnic, and multilingual society--for this milestone. Their initiative reminds of the need to "transport" the work of this working group around the hemisphere, as a vehicle for building awareness, encouraging, participation, securing policies of inclusion and for fostering exchanges of information and best practices among the peoples of the Americas.
In addition, I praise those member states that have worked to improve the policy frameworks to address issues affecting indigenous peoples. This shift reflects not only governments recognition of the need for policy changes, but also the success of the work being done by indigenous peoples' representatives themselves to publicize and raise the profiles of the fundamental issues affecting their lives. Modern and good governance demands a multifaceted and inclusive approach, recognizing the contributions and responsibilities of all sectors in society.
In conclusion, I believe that member states and the citizens of the Americas need to become more engaged in addressing issues of inequity and social injustice. We must remain steadfast in our efforts to eliminate the many vestiges of discrimination and prejudice. I am eager to live in an Americas where the rights of indigenous people is no longer an issue of negotiation but a tangible expression and recognition that we each have an inalienable right to human dignity and to live without fear of discrimination or marginalization on the basis of the communities in which we are born and our ethnicity. I urge you to recognize that good governance and the promotion of credible democracies demand that governments focus resources and policies on providing the basic needs of all its people, without exceptions or exclusions.
Let me in closing wish you fruitful and constructive discussions in a spirit of friendship and solidarity, but above all respect for each other.
I thank you.