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American Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Approved

The declaration was adopted at the second and final day of the 46th General Assembly of the OAS held in Santo Domingo, and reaffirms the right to self-determination, also included in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Servindi, June 15, 2016. – After 17 years of discussions, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on Tuesday, 15 June, in the context of severe crisis at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) due to lack of funds to operate.

The declaration was adopted at the second and final day of the 46th General Assembly of the OAS held in Santo Domingo, and reaffirms the right to self-determination, also included in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” reads one of the articles of the declaration.

In its resolution, the organization acknowledged that indigenous peoples “have suffered from historic injustices as a result, inter alia, of colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them particularly from exercising their right to development in accordance with their own needs and resources.”

At the same time, the organization recognized the “urgent need” to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which stem, it said, from their political, economic, and social structures, and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, history and philosophy, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.

“Self-identification as indigenous peoples will be a key criterion in determining to whom this Declaration applies”, and states “will respect the right to such self-identification as indigenous, individually or collectively, in keeping with the own practices and institutions of each indigenous people”, the statement said.

Celebration
The approval was jubilantly celebrated by various personalities in the area of indigenous people’s policy. Such is the case of David Choquehuanca, Bolivia’s Foreign Affairs Minister.

“It is important to defend the human rights of all, but also of groups such as indigenous peoples, that is why we celebrate this statement,” Choquehuanca said in a press conference.

Armstrong Wiggins, director of the Office for Indigenous Peoples of the Legal Resources Centre in Washington, said in a statement that “This is a great moment in the history of the movement for indigenous rights”.

“No statement is perfect, but this represents an important step in the right direction to protect indigenous peoples”, he said.
Adelfo Regino, Secretary of Indian Affairs in Oaxaca, Mexico, also celebrated that the OAS has “finally” approved the declaration. It represents “an historic moment for the peoples of the Americas because it is the first time the OAS recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples,” he said.
“It will be of the utmost importance for our indigenous peoples to be able to get out of the marginality, poverty, and colonization in which they have been, and enter a stage of growth and sustainable development,” Regino stressed.

The Kuna people’s lawyer Hector Huertas acknowledged the sustained effort of countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Paraguay to finally get the statement approved, and joined Adelfo Regino in accusing countries like Colombia, Brazil and Argentina of “blocking” the progress of this initiative.

Access the text of the resolution and statement placed on the agenda of the General Assembly of the OAS by clicking on the following link:
AG/doc. 5537/16

Servindi, July 15th, 2016