Working Group Approves American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for Vote

May 19, 2016

Washington, D.C. — The American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been approved to go before the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in June, 2016.  The OAS is a regional intergovernmental human rights organization of 35 member countries of the Americas including the United States.

“This is an historic day for indigenous peoples in the Americas,” said Armstrong Wiggins, director of the Indian Law Resource Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “While the American Declaration is not perfect, it is still important and will benefit indigenous peoples.”

The American Declaration is a comprehensive, regional human rights instrument that promotes and protects the rights of indigenous peoples in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. It improves on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in part by incorporating a stronger and more thorough treatment of treaties and gender equality.

Indigenous leaders celebrated in 2007 when the United Nations (U.N.) approved the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which now enjoys worldwide support.  “Because of our success at the UN, some feel that the work of indigenous peoples is now complete, but this is far from our current reality.  The realization of the American Declaration is significant; it is specific to indigenous peoples within the Americas and contains articles that go further in protecting indigenous rights than the U.N. Declaration,” said Wiggins.  The American Declaration can be used to ensure that states respect indigenous peoples’ rights through its application within the Inter-American Human Rights System. This is especially important where indigenous peoples are seeking recognition of treaty rights, land rights, protections for those in voluntary isolation or under internal armed conflicts, and protections for indigenous women and children. 

The OAS Working Group on the draft American Declaration began work on the text in 1997 and has hosted several rounds of negotiations.