Press Release

IACHR Commemorates International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

August 9, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated on August 9 in commemoration of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which was held in Geneva in 1982. To mark the occasion, the IACHR wishes to pay tribute to all the indigenous peoples in the Americas and publicly acknowledges their longstanding, ongoing fight to effectively exercise their rights. In recent decades, this process has led to significant advances in international human rights law for indigenous peoples, especially within the IASHR, which has consolidated the fundamental standards that must be respected and guaranteed throughout the Americas.

In response to article III of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the IASHR, and the IACHR in particular, have expressly recognized indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, which means the ability to freely determine their political condition and freely pursue economic, social, and cultural development. The right to self-determination also includes nondiscrimination, cultural identity, territorial integrity, consultation and free, prior, and informed consent, and the right to define their own development priorities.

Since precolonial times, indigenous peoples have formed unique relationships with the land and natural resources. The land is the basis for the material reproduction of their way of life and subsistence and for their cultural and spiritual expression. For these reasons, the IASHR has determined that states must recognize and respect the cultural identity of indigenous peoples in all their public policies to provide effective protection that contemplates specific aspects of their identities, their economic and social characteristics, their customary law, values, habits, and customs, and the specific situation of vulnerability that they find themselves in.

Given the ancestral bond between indigenous peoples and their territory, it is fundamental for states to guarantee the right to consultation and free, prior, and informed consent in good faith, in a way that is in keeping with indigenous people’s customs and traditions, as part of a culturally appropriate process. Indigenous peoples also have the right to benefit from the exploitation, industrialization, and commercialization of the resources that exist within their territories, including their traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices. They also have the right to fair compensation for any damage caused by such processes.

The IACHR reiterates its concern regarding the fact that development is being promoted in a way that does not take the rights and development priorities of indigenous peoples into account. In its report on the extractive industries, the IACHR acknowledged that there is a problem of continual structural discrimination in the Americas regarding the way that concessions, authorizations, and permits are granted. In this regard, the IACHR recognizes how important development projects are to regional prosperity and recalls that extractive activities should not be carried out at the expense of states’ fundamental obligation to respect and guarantee human rights, particularly those of indigenous peoples.

The IACHR warns that indigenous people are currently facing serious challenges when it comes to implementing their rights. One source of concern for the IACHR are ongoing legislative setbacks or obstacles to implementing public policies that were agreed upon decades ago. The IACHR also notes that indigenous peoples’ activities to defend their rights have been restricted and, on occasion, repressed using violence. Furthermore, cases of murder, aggression, threats, harassment, and the criminalization of indigenous authorities and leaders continue to be reported, which increases the sense of defensiveness and impunity in other indigenous communities throughout the Americas.

In response to this, and to mark this commemorative occasion, the rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Antonia Urrejola, paid tribute to all the indigenous peoples of the Americas and added that “the IACHR recognizes and values the work that indigenous people and their leaders engage in every day. On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we also call on states to adopt and implement better public policies to recognize, strengthen, protect, and guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples.”

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 and to defend 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. 198/19