Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Participate in OAS Working Group and Indigenous Caucus to Ensure a Strong American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

OAS Negotiations on the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Background: Indigenous Rights within the OAS

The Organization of American States was formed in 1948, at about the same time as the United Nations, and is made up of the 35 countries of the Americas. In recent decades, indigenous peoples have urged the member countries (or "states") of the OAS to recognize the human rights of indigenous peoples as distinct peoples. In the 1980s, indigenous communities in Latin America that were threatened by war and genocide brought their human rights claims to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a special branch of the OAS.

In 1989, the OAS leadership directed the Inter-American Commission to draft a document about the human rights of indigenous peoples. This document became the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If all the member states of the OAS agree, it will be adopted by the General Assembly of the OAS, and incorporated into the body of developing international standards within the Inter-American legal system. The adoption of the declaration would not only represent an important recognition of indigenous rights in the Americas, but could also serve as the foundation for establishing a more binding legal instrument, such as a convention or treaty on Indigenous rights.

Negotiation of the Draft American Declaration

The current draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples deals with economic, cultural, and political rights. The declaration affirms the right to self determination, education, health, self government, cultural heritage, and the right to lands, territories and natural resources, among others. A copy of the most recent draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can be found on the OAS website:

In 1999, the OAS established a Working Group to review and make changes to the Declaration. The Working Group is open to all member states of the OAS, although some countries participate more than others. The Working Group meets several times a year to discuss the declaration and to try to reach agreement about its text.

From the very beginning, indigenous representatives insisted that these Working Group meetings be open to them, as well. Many OAS member states strongly opposed this kind of openness. By demanding that they have a say in discussions about their rights, however, indigenous peoples became the first non-state group to participate in high-level OAS meetings like those of the Working Group. Over just a few years, indigenous peoples established their right to take part in these activities.

Currently, indigenous and NGO representatives continue to attend the negotiation sessions of the Working Group to debate the articles and ensure that the Declaration accurately reflects the interests of indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, general awareness of the Declaration and its implications remain relatively low, and increasing indigenous participation remains as important as ever. There is also a need to increase the involvement of indigenous governments as they are representative entities with unique status and influence.

The Working Group negotiation sessions are usually convened at OAS headquarters in Washington D.C., but are sometimes hosted by other OAS countries. There have been nearly a dozen meetings on the OAS Declaration since 1999, including nine Negotiation Sessions, the most recent of which was held April 23nd-27th 2007 in La Paz, Bolivia. Each negotiation session consists of a week of discussions regarding the form and content of the articles of the declaration, with the objective of reaching consensus between State delegations and indigenous representatives. These sessions are not only important for resolving differences regarding the text of the declaration, but also in advancing international thought and collaboration surrounding these fundamental rights.

Getting Involved

Continued participation of indigenous representatives in the proposed American Declaration process is fundamental to developing adequate international standards regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. Indigenous representatives are welcome to participate in all Working Group meetings on the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without having to previously register with OAS, and can find information regarding the upcoming sessions on the OAS website:

Indigenous representatives can also participate in the meetings convened by the Indigenous Caucus, which is an ad-hoc gathering of indigenous participants that usually convene two or three days prior to the official Working Group meetings in order to consult with each other and, where possible, develop common strategies and proposals for the negotiation sessions. These meetings are loosely organized and completely open to indigenous representatives.

A special fund administered by the OAS is available to facilitate indigenous participation in the Working Group. Indigenous representatives may seek economic support from this "Specific Fund" for travel and per diem expenses related to their participation in the meetings. The criteria for receiving this support are available at Indigenous representatives who wish to apply should contact Luis Toro or Johanna Salah, OAS Office of International Law at (202) 458 6377 or by fax, (202) 458 3292, or e-mail at and/or

[Editor's Note: For information regarding human rights violations committed against Indigenous Peoples by large corporations and their client governments in the western hemisphere, see our article posted on April 9, 2009 titled Call to Action: Demand OAS Support a Strong American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And while you're there, do your part by signing a letter calling for a strong draft of the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The work has been done for you, with a well-written form letter addressed to the representatives of all the member nations of the OAS. All you have to do is add your own personal comments, if any, and send the letter. You can also send the demand letter without going to the previous article by clicking

Our thanks to the staff at the Indian Law Resource Center for making this information available to us so that we can make it available to you. They have been working to protect and advance the cause of indigenous rights for more than 30 years. Visit their website and sign up for their free email newsletter. And while you're at it, show your support by making a tax-deductible contribution to the cause. -- Perry Chesnut, Editor, NRN]
__________________________________________________________ ©2009 Indian Law Resource Center. All rights reserved.

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Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry..

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