Indigenous leaders and government officials from 29 countries meet on a proposed legal framework for protecting economic, cultural and political rights.
OPENING STATEMENT of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus at the XII Meeting of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus of the Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
November 30, 2009
Contact: Juanita Cabrera-Lopez
202.547.2800 (o) 240.486.0524 (c)
WASHINGTON-Indigenous leaders and government officials from 29 countries in the Americas - including the United States - will meet this week to seek consensus on a proposed legal framework for protecting economic, cultural and political rights.
The Organization of American States, a regional organization that seeks to build peace, solidarity and collaboration among countries, is hosting the meeting Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Washington. The aim is to produce a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
"This work needs to be completed," said Armstrong Wiggins, director of the Indian Law Resource Center's Washington office. "The declaration is not yet adopted, and I fear it could become an orphan if states do not act more seriously on it."
The working document, called the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, would affirm rights to self-determination, education, health, self-government, cultural heritage, and management of lands, territories and natural resources. Much of the world's remaining natural resources are in the lands and territories of indigenous peoples.
The dialogue comes as global initiatives are threatening indigenous rights. The World Bank and United Nations have funded several projects that are designed to provide climate change solutions but instead could harm indigenous communities if developed on their lands and territories. These projects could lead to violations of indigenous peoples' land and natural resources rights. The declaration would address these threats and establish a framework to protect indigenous rights from potential violations.
"We should not wait for cases to be filed in areas impacted by these global projects," Wiggins said. "Instead, we should take a proactive role, under the umbrella of the declaration, to advise funding institutions about potential human rights violations and give guidance on how best to work with indigenous communities."
Indigenous peoples have requested the United States take stronger leadership on this issue. The level of violence impacting indigenous peoples in the Americas has escalated in the last year, making the declaration all the more urgent.
"We must be diligent in this process and finalize the declaration working in a positive relationship between indigenous representatives and governments," Wiggins said. "We are confident that we can achieve this process working together."
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