Press Release

IACHR calls on Member States to guarantee respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact.

August 9, 2013

Washington – On occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges Member States to guarantee full respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Americas because they are in a situation of high vulnerability. The lack of protection of their human rights entails a grave risk to their life and physical, cultural and spiritual integrity.

Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Americas inhabit regions of the Amazonian jungle and the Gran Chaco in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. Their territories are often zones in which legal and illegal extractive activities take place in search of natural resources, primarily wood, hydrocarbons and minerals, as well as commercial agriculture and cattle raising in some countries. These activities in general constitute a threat to the life and integrity of these peoples, since they can lead to contact and all the consequence it entails for their health and physical and cultural survival. Since peoples in voluntary isolation do not have immunological defenses against common illnesses, contact can cause not only the loss of their worldview and cultural identity, but also epidemics that may lead to the disappearance of entire peoples.

Peoples in voluntary isolation exercise their right to free self-determination by remaining isolated from majoritarian societies. Respect for this right and the principle of no contact is essential to ensure the enjoyment of their fundamental rights, including the rights to life and integrity, to their lands, territories and natural resources, to culture and to health, among others. As the IACHR indicated in its Report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Rights over their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources, States must take special care in adopting measures to guarantee territories of sufficient extent and quality to peoples in voluntary isolation, and have the duty to adopt preventive and culturally appropriate public health measures to preserve the life and integrity of indigenous peoples, particularly those in voluntary isolation or initial contact.

Some States in the region have adopted specific legislation and policies to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact, and some have created reserved or intangible territorial areas for their protection. Despite these efforts, the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in practice is concerning, since existing legislation is not effectively complied with and in some cases is insufficient, as evidenced by the incidents of contact and death reported in recent years. The IACHR undertakes monitoring and follow-up of the situation through its various mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights, among them precautionary measures, requests of information to States, and thematic hearings. The IACHR recognizes the efforts undertaken by the States that have adopted specific measures and urges them to effectively enforce existing protections. In addition, the IACHR calls on Member States that have not yet adopted specific measures to adopt and enforce, in consultation with indigenous peoples in initial contact, the necessary measures to ensure respect for the human rights of peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 59/13