October 19, 2020
Hugo Tacuri Huamani
Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Peru (CONAIP)
Honorable Secretary General Luis Almagro and Assistant Secretary General Nestor Mendez, Distinguished Ambassadors and Delegates of Member States, and Guests of the Organization of American States:
My name is Hugo Tacuri Huamani, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Peru (CONAIP), I am Quechua from the Indigenous community of Cancha Cancha, Chuschi, Ayacucho, Peru. Today I speak on behalf of the Indigenous Nations and Organizations Coalition with the purpose of advancing the main issues of the regional agenda, that is, confronting and overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in the hemisphere. I thank you for this opportunity to address you and present our concerns.
In light of the chaos and suffering brought forth by the pandemic, our Coalition would like to address a very important matter: the need for the OAS and its Member States to fulfill its commitments to implementing the Plan of Action of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now, more than ever, the rights and knowledge of Indigenous peoples must be respected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented global health, political, and economic crisis that has deeply affected many indigenous nations and communities, causing an immediate threat to our existence and survival. However, the pandemic has also brought to light what Indigenous leaders have been saying all along, Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable and lack real protections from the state. Already marginalized due to colonization and years of systemic racism, the pandemic has actually exacerbated the existing inequalities and human rights abuses that Indigenous peoples confront on a daily basis.
Without a clear and coherent government policy and protocols to combat the virus, Indigenous peoples are left to defend themselves without access to critical information in their languages, proper protective equipment, and adequate health and medical supplies. Many also lack access to clean or sufficient water sources, further complicating efforts.
At the same time, governments are taking advantage of the focus on the pandemic, using it as a cover to roll back environmental safeguards and push through legislation that supports development projects that indigenous peoples have long opposed. This has led to an increase in land invasions, criminalization of Indigenous leaders, and killings of Indigenous people, activists, and land defenders. These invasions and the ensuing violence constitute serious violations of Indigenous rights. Furthermore, some governments are using the pandemic to circumvent the rule of law, concentrating power in the executive branch through a series of emergency decrees and bypassing legislative processes.
Indigenous leaders are extremely concerned about the situation of indigenous peoples in isolation or recent contact. The pandemic threatens their very existence, whether by epidemiological risks or by direct violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Member States that adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have a duty to protect these peoples from unwanted contact and to recognize their lands and territories under Article 24.
For our collective well-being and survival, we, along with all Indigenous nations of Abya Yala (the Americas), call on the OAS and Member States to implement the Declaration, not just on paper but in practice as well, affirming, guaranteeing, and protecting our self-determination rights and collective land rights, as well as our rights to our cultural heritage; a clean and healthy environment; sustainable development models; free, prior, and informed consent; and the right to participate in decision-making regarding the planning, development, and implementation of programs aimed to protect our peoples and to build sustainable, resilient and just post-COVID solutions. To this end:
- Member States must work with representatives of Indigenous organizations and governments, as well as grassroots Indigenous leaders, who are democratically elected by the communities they represent, to implement culturally and territorially appropriate health and safety measures to combat the pandemic. Despite the adversity of the pandemic, Indigenous peoples have shown resilience by promoting our own strategies; however, if we are to effectively overcome the challenges of the pandemic, we need government support.
- Any program or measures that the states implement or consider when addressing the pandemic must aim to transform the cultural, political and spiritual relationship between society and nature. It is precisely the result of the disharmony cause by man that we have this current pandemic. If we do not rethink our vision in relation to the world and nature from a conservation perspective, we will have worse diseases and pandemics.
- Recognizing that the pandemic is only getting worse, the OAS and Member States must coordinate their efforts with regional bodies such as the Pan-American Health Organization to deliver much needed health and medical supplies to Indigenous communities, as well as information in Indigenous languages.
¡Una América Sin Pueblos Indígenas Nunca Más!