Press Release

IACHR Calls upon Member States of the OAS to Guarantee Fully and Effectively the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas

September 22, 2014

Washington, D.C. – On the occasion of the First World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to take all available measures in order to respect and guarantee effectively the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas, free from any form of discrimination.

Indigenous peoples have unique ways of life and their worldview is based on its close relationship with the land. The lands traditionally used and occupied by them are a major factor in their physical, cultural and spiritual vitality. The right to land ownership is directly related to the rights to a dignified life, including, food, water, health, life, dignity, integrity, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association, the rights of the family, freedom of movement and residence, and freedom from all forms of violence.

The jurisprudence of the Inter-American system of human rights emphasizes that the protection of the right to property of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands is a matter of particular importance, because its full exercise involves not only the protection of an economic unit, but the protection of human rights of a group that bases its economic, social and cultural development in the relationship with the land. The territorial rights of indigenous peoples are related to the collective right to survival as organized people, with control of their habitat as a necessary condition for the reproduction of their culture, for their own development and to carry out their life plans. Based on this principle, States have the immediate obligation to consult with indigenous peoples and ensure their participation in all decisions relating to any action that may affect their territories, the activities related to exploration and extraction of natural resources, and the implementation of development projects.

The Commission recalls that the Inter-American System of Human Rights (ISHR) has established that guaranteeing the right to consultation involves a process with different dimensions. This consultation must be free and informed, culturally appropriate, and must be performed in good faith to obtain the consent of the people affected. States in turn should ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples in the design, implementation and evaluation of any development, investment, exploration or extraction that is carried out within their territories, in accordance with their customs and traditions. These obligations are an important link with the duty of all States to put in place legal and institutional mechanisms to effectively protect natural resources and territories historically occupied by indigenous peoples, through recognition, titling, demarcation and delimitation of its land, and specially protect the activity of advocates who are seeking to advance the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The IACHR also reiterates the obligation of states to refrain from discrimination and to pursue the principle of equality in their efforts to respect and guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples. This entails the obligation of States to give considerations to the forms of exclusion and prejudice that have historically affected indigenous peoples and to take the necessary measures to prevent, reduce and eliminate conditions and attitudes that generate or perpetuate discrimination in practice. The Commission observes with great concern the forms of discrimination, violence and exclusion that women have faced in the Americas, especially forms of discrimination due to their ethnicity, race, gender and poverty. In this regard, States should face the any issue of discrimination that is related to the persistent physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual violence against indigenous women in the hemisphere with diligence.

The Commission stresses the need to continue strengthening the protection of human rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Americas. The Commission recalls that the respect of human rights of these people should be under the right to free self-determination, lands, territories and natural resources that they have occupied and used since ancient times as well as the right to health, life and physical, cultural, and psychological integrity of the indigenous peoples and their members. The Commission reiterates the recommendations made in its recently published report, and calls upon States to cooperate in the effective implementation of the measures.

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. 106/14