Press Release

The IACHR celebrates the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

June 22, 2016

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Washington, D.C.— The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) celebrates the approval of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during the 46th Ordinary Period of Sessions of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), on June 15, 2016, after 17 years of negotiations. The IACHR urges Member States of the OAS to implement measures at the national and regional levels to guarantee the full and appropriate fulfillment of the commitments contained in the Declaration.

With the approval of this Inter-American instrument, the OAS is taking a historic step towards the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights of over 50 million indigenous women, men, adolescentes and children in the hemisphere. Although the process was not easy, the adoption of the Declaration is an example of the interest and commitment of the OAS Member States and of the indigenous peoples of the hemisphere to come to a consensual agreement to promote the respect and guarantee of this set of fundamental rights. The Commission wishes to emphasize the valuable participation and continued contribution of the representatives of indigenous peoples from each of the regions of the hemisphere, as well as the openness of Members States during this process.

The Declaration is an important contribution to the development of international standards adopted with the objective of protecting and guaranteeing indigenous people's rights, and must be read in conjunction with other international instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the International Labor Organization's Convention No. 169 on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the American Convention of Human Rights, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and other specialized treaties and instruments in the Inter-American and Universal Human Rights systems.

The text of the Declaration recognizes the fundamental right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, to their ancestral territories, as well as to consultation and free, prior and informed consent. It also highlights their right to not be subjected to any form of genocide, and the right not to be subject to assimilation, racial discrimination, racism, intolerance and violence. The text, which bases itself on the recognition of the right to self-identification, fosters the respect, development and strengthening of indigenous cultures, traditions, ways of life and languages; emphasizing the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions, providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning, as well as the right to promote, develop and access all means of communication, broadcasting and information on equal terms as others. In addition, the Declaration protects the right to indigenous peoples to health, to a healthy environment, as well as to gender equality for indigenous women, among other fundamental rights.

The Declaration also reflects the specific realities of the Americas, being the first one to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact to remain in that condition and to live freely, in accordance with their cultures and cosmovision. The Declaration also goes beyond what has been established in the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples to a family and to peace and security, for instance.

In addition, the Declaration affirms the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of the Human Rights recognized by international law, these principles having been recognized as critical elements for the full respect and guarantee of human rights in the Americas by the different organs of the Inter-American Human Rights system.

With its approval, the Declaration converts itself in a source of important principles that must guide all of the actions of the States in the Americas destined to the respect and guarantee of the rights of indigenous peoples. It is also a crucial guideline for the interpretation of the content of other Inter-American instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

The Commission underlines that it is both pressing and a priority that the commitment contained in this Declaration be turned into reality in the Americas, so as to fully guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples in the hemisphere. States must accompany the adoption of the Declaration with the implementation of measures at the national level, to guarantee to indigenous peoples under their jurisdiction the effective exercise of their rights. The Commission also underlines that States must organize the structure of the State in such a way as to properly respond to human rights violations, including conduct by their own institutions, branches of government, programs and services, and the creation of the necessary conditions to enable the full exercise of human rights. The adoption of this Declaration must be matched by the political resolve of the States to earmark the human and financial resources necessary to ensure proper implementation of their obligations contained in its text.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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. 082/16