CIDHHeaderEn.GIF (11752 bytes)



During this period, the Commission devoted particular attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, further contributing to the impetus achieved on this topic through the preparation of the "Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," which it had approved and presented to the General Assembly in March 1997. In addition to the tasks involved in following up on the final adoption process, the Commission also processed individual petitions on this topic and a case it had referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as the reporting on the general status of indigenous peoples in the general country reports.

Both the Rapporteur for the topic, Commission member Carlos Ayala Corao, and attorney Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, Principal Specialist, participated as speakers at various meetings, among which were: "Traditional Knowledge in the Americas: Biodiversity and Indigenous Rights," organized by the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL), Ottawa, Canada, held on March 16, 1998; the conference "Indigenous Peoples in the Americas: Human Rights and Biodiversity," George Washington University’s Departments of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, held on March 31, 1998; "Indigenous Peoples’ Rights" organized by the Native American Law Student Association of the American University’s Washington College of Law, held on October 25, 1998; "Indigenous Territorial Boundaries in Latin America," George Washington University’s Departments of Anthropology and Geography, held on November 4, 1998; and "Indigenous Artisans and Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean" (Second OAS - World Bank Working Meeting on Cultural Heritage Partnership), held on February 16, 1999.

There has been considerable progress in the process of examination and adoption by the states of the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Commission presented to the General Assembly in 1997. The Commission has an ongoing advisory role with respect to the Proposed Declaration, providing the delegations with information and material, and facilitating its dissemination. During this period, the Commission responded to various technical consultations of government delegations to the OAS and of indigenous organizations on the process and content of the Declaration.

The Meeting of Government Experts convened by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council was held in the Bolívar Room, March 10 to 12, pursuant to the pertinent General Assembly resolutions. This meeting was historic for several reasons: the substantive examination by the states of a common position on rights and commitments; the delegations’ demonstrated flexibility regarding and openness to hearing and taking account of the positions of the indigenous organizations; and perhaps most importantly, because for the first time a formal dialogue was established between representatives of the 34 OAS member states and the largest indigenous organizations throughout the Hemisphere. In all these areas, the Commission played a legitimate and active part.

The Commission’s delegation to the Meeting of Government Experts was presided over by Commission member Ayala. That delegation also included Dr. Jorge Taiana, Executive Secretary; Dr. David Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, Principal Specialist for the topic; and as special advisor to Dr. Wilton Littlechild, the indigenous jurist Hobbema of Canada, who had collaborated with the Commission in this process productively in the past.

At the Meeting of Government Experts, Commission member Ayala and Dr. Kreimer presented the process and content of the proposed declaration. The Rapporteur presented the IACHR position at the preparatory meeting held in Washington, D.C., in January 1999, by the Indigenous Committee of the Americas, an organization recently created by representatives of the principal indigenous peoples in North, Central, and South America to follow up on this process within the OAS. The Human Rights Commission was given an eagle feather by the Indigenous Committee as a symbol of friendship and in recognition of the Commission’s leadership in recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Rapporteur also argued in favor of friendly settlement procedures in cases involving this right, one regarding the Exne of Paraguay, which was settled amicably with the transfer by the state of ancestral lands and support for the development of this people; and another friendly settlement procedure that has begun formally between the Toledo Maya of Belize and their government. Should the latter procedure succeed, its effect would go beyond the case itself and result in a general reconciliation of relations and norms between the Government of Belize and the Mayan inhabitants of that country.

The Rapporteur collaborated in preparing the Commission’s report and in the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights involving the Awas Tingi indigenous community of Nicaragua. This case involved the exploitation of natural resources within Awas Tingi territory, in violation of their legal process and rights recognized under domestic law and in the American Convention on Human Rights. It is the first case on the rights of indigenous peoples that has been referred by the Commission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Rapporteur was responsible for preparing the chapters on this topic in the special reports on the status of human rights in Colombia and Mexico published in this period, as well as reporting on this topic at the meetings and special visits in relation to the on-site observation missions to Guatemala and Peru in 1998.

[ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]