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Opening Statement of the Indigenous Caucus, 11th Meeting of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus, Organization of American States
April 14th, 2008
Respectful Greetings Mr. Chairman, and delegates of Indigenous Peoples and states.
I am making this statement on behalf of the Indigenous peoples’ caucus participating in this 11th session of Negotiations for the development of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in which Indigenous Peoples of North, Central, South America and the Caribbean are represented. We express our appreciation to the Secretariat of the Summit of the Americas as well as the donors for all the support they provided to ensure the participation of Indigenous Peoples in this Session.We come to this session with renewed enthusiasm based on the significant developments in the International arena to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We reaffirm that the Report of the Chair on the Session of Reflection on the meetings of negotiations for the search of the consensus (OEA/Ser.K/XVI GT/DADIN/doc.321/08) states that “The majority of States and all of the indigenous representatives supported the use of the UN Declaration as the baseline for negotiations and indicated that this represented a minimum standard for the OAS Declaration.”
When we met in November 2007, we agreed to complete a comparative analysis between the texts of the Draft American Declaration which have been drafted to date and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13th, 2007. This agreement was based on broad recognition that the UN Declaration is now the internationally-recognized standard on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We reaffirm that work on the Draft American Declaration should proceed under the following principles:
1) Nothing in the American Declaration can fall below the standards set out in the UN Declaration – in other words the UN Declaration constitutes the minimum standard and, in accordance with international legal principles, a regional instrument cannot fall below the standards recognized in this universal document.
2) The American Declaration can build upon the standards set by the UN Declaration and include a more detailed articulation of the specific rights of Indigenous Peoples; and
3) That the two Declarations should be congruent with one another.
Our work on the American Declaration must be undertaken with the intention to reiterate and reinforce key areas and aspects of the UN Declaration. These include, among others, the right to self-determination, free prior informed consent and rights to traditionally owned and used lands, resources and territories.
Distinguished Indigenous Peoples’ and states’ delegates, in this OAS process we have a unique opportunity to affirm and build upon the provisions and rights in the UN Declaration, and to expand upon them in response to the particular needs and concerns of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Indigenous Peoples have a great deal to gain from working together in a spirit of cooperation, good faith and full partnership with states to develop a strong American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to achieve its adoption as soon as possible.
We cannot agree to be part of a process that seeks to undermine what we have already achieved in the international arena.
We congratulate states such as Bolivia, and courts such as the Supreme Court of Belize which have already used the UN Declaration to advance the implementation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples within those countries. We call upon other states in the Americas to take similar steps without delay.
We recognize that of the 34 OAS member states, only the United States and Canada voted against the UN Declaration, and Columbia abstained. As a result, these states take the position that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not apply to them and should therefore not be used as the minimum standard in these negotiations. However, we call the attention of this Working Group to two important developments which demonstrate that this position is not valid.
On March 7th 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released its recommendations in response to the United States’ Periodic Report submitted to the Committee last year. The CERD recommended that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be used by the US as a “guide to interpret the State Party’s obligations under the Convention relating to Indigenous Peoples”. This recommendation supports the position of Indigenous Peoples and a number of international legal experts, and ties the implementation of the UN Declaration to the legally binding obligations of all state parties to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, even states such as the US which voted against the Declaration’s adoption.
In addition, on April 8th, 2008, the House of Commons in Canada passed a motion calling on the Canadian Government to “endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September, 2007 and that Parliament and Government of Canada fully implement the standards contained therein”.
We call on the Government of Canada to fully implement this democratically-adopted motion by its own Parliament, and to reverse its continuing opposition to the UN Declaration in international fora, including this Working Group.
The UN Declaration provides a new framework for improved relations between the governments and the Indigenous peoples of the world, based on mutual respect. The American Declaration can also become such a historic new framework for States and Indigenous Peoples in the Americas whereby the rights of Indigenous Peoples can be further affirmed, respected and upheld. The urgent and critical need for this new framework is clear, as the rights and survival of Indigenous Peoples in all 34 member states of the OAS continue to be threatened and violated. Imposed development including mining and deforestation, environmental contamination, destruction of biodiversity and traditional means of subsistence, violation of Treaties, expropriation of lands and resources, denials of cultural rights and destruction of sacred sites, militarization of Indigenous lands, policies which attempt to extinguish Indigenous Peoples’ rights and undermine their self-determination, forced removals and a variety of other adverse impacts are increasingly undermining Indigenous peoples’ dignity, security and well being and in many cases, their survival as distinct Peoples.
A strong and principled American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples developed in partnership between the Indigenous Peoples and states of the Americas will be another very important step towards protecting Indigenous peoples who are facing grave threats as a result of actions by states and non-indigenous parties.
In this light, it is important to emphasize that the consensus referred to in document GT/DADIN/doc2461/06/rev.7 prepared for this session addressing the procedure for the prompt conclusion of these negotiations must include Indigenous Peoples and not just states as currently proposed. This is the only way to ensure that the process will be legitimate and its outcome a success.
The need is urgent and the time is now to move forward in our efforts, based on the principles and concerns presented in this statement. The Working Group sessions must be focused in actual negotiations on the Draft American Declaration text in order to move towards to its prompt approval. Other issues such as a Plan of Action, thematic seminars and a Permanent Office for Indigenous Peoples can be discussed in other OAS forums held apart from the Working Group’s negotiation sessions.
We are here with a good spirit, to build upon what we have achieved and to advance our partnerships with states, under the principle of free prior informed consent as was called for in the Plan of Action of the 2nd International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples.
For all our relations.
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