Statement of the Indigenous Nations and Organizations Coalition to the Organization of American States' 49th General Assembly

June 26, 2019
Luis Fernando Arias
National Indigenous Organization of Colombia
Medellín, Colombia


Honorable Secretary General Luis Almagro of the OAS, distinguished Ambassadors, and Indigenous leaders and representatives of Indigenous governments:

My name is Luis Fernando Arias. I am a Kankuamo Indian from Colombia and the Consejero Mayor of the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC). Today, I speak on behalf of the Indigenous Nations and Organizations Coalition and thank you for this opportunity to address you and present our concerns.

For Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, it is imperative that this organization fully complies with the General Assembly Resolution AG/RES. 2913 (XLVII-O/17) that approved the Plan of Action in 2017. The Plan of Action outlines measures that the OAS, as the regional intergovernmental organization, must take within a four years period to affirm, honor, and implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples as stated in the 2016 American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Unfortunately, the OAS is falling short in doing so in a timely manner. Two years have passed since the adoption of the Plan of Action and this organization has failed to launch a discussion on the mechanism devoted to monitoring Member States’ implementation of the Declaration. The deadline to implement the Plan of Action is quickly approaching and the current pace of implementation is not heeding this urgency.

The monitoring mechanism is one of the most important institutional measures that the Plan of Action calls for at the hemispheric level. Yet, the OAS has not held consultations with its Member States and Indigenous Peoples about this critical measure. Constructive discussions and research on the mechanism’s likely mandate, membership, and financial costs are much needed in order to ensure its financial sustainability and that it complements the work of relevant OAS bodies and mechanisms.

We propose that this organization take the following two actions to comply with the Plan of Action in a timely manner. First, the OAS must hold a high-level, two-day consultation with Indigenous Peoples on the Plan of Action, especially on the monitoring and implementation mechanism. This is an immediate, short term action that is critical to gain a much-needed consensus and collaboration between Indigenous Peoples and Member States on the implementation of the Plan of Action. In this regard, we urge the OAS and its Member States to utilize the upcoming Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples to hold the two-day consultation on the monitoring and implementation mechanism in addition to celebrating Indigenous languages and culture.

Second, the OAS must establish a new status for the permanent and more appropriate participation of Indigenous Governments in OAS activities. This organization must institutionalize the permanent participation of Indigenous Peoples as represented through their own decision-making institutions. Two of the most important provisions of the Declaration, Articles 3 and 4, recognize Indigenous Peoples’ right of self-determination and self-government. This organization’s current rules of participation calling for the participation of Indigenous Peoples as Civil Society Organizations do not meet these standards.

As a result, Indigenous Governments cannot directly engage as such with the OAS, Member States, and other regional actors. Indigenous Peoples should not be assimilated to Civil Society Organizations. As political and legal entities, entirely distinct from the general Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples of the Americas must have our own specific representation within the OAS. The United Nations is currently discussing changes in their rules of participation to allow for the adequate participation of Indigenous Governments in the organization’s activities.

Lastly, we are mindful of the fact that as we speak today, Indigenous Peoples’ physical and cultural survival is under threat throughout the Western Hemisphere. States are purposely failing to provide legal security to collectively-held indigenous lands, especially across the Amazon rainforest. States have incurred unwarranted delays and resorted to regressive measures to undermine land titling procedures and have halted titling of indigenous land or refused to respect indigenous land titles once they are established. Legal security over collectively-held lands is fundamental to guarantee the survival of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, community leaders protecting their lands from encroaching business interests are being criminalized and, in some cases, being killed with impunity, even in cases where these rights defenders hold Precautionary Measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

To conclude, while there are many problems that remain in the Western Hemisphere, we have a unique opportunity before us. Now is the time for this organization to take cohesive and concrete institutional actions to create a mechanism to monitor implementation of the Declaration and ensure the permanent participation of Indigenous Government in the OAS Indigenous Peoples are distinct peoples, legally and historically, whose rights must be honored as agreed upon in the Plan of Action.

We look forward to further discussing how we can work together towards achieving the full and proper implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action in a forceful, sustained, and more inclusive manner.

¡Never again Abya Yala without Indigenous Peoples!