N° 79/10




Washington, D.C., August 9, 2010 - On the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on the OAS Member States to adopt effective measures to respect, guarantee, and promote the individual and collective human rights of indigenous peoples and their members, particularly when it comes to fighting poverty and ensuring minimum living conditions that are compatible with human dignity.


The IACHR notes with concern that numerous indigenous communities and peoples throughout the Americas endure alarming conditions of territorial dispossession; are deprived of or have insufficient access to the natural resources on which they depend for their subsistence practices; and are not provided with basic services related to food, water, health, and housing by the State authorities. Taken as a whole, these conditions expose indigenous peoples and their members to situations of extreme vulnerability and defenselessness, which hinder the exercise of their individual and collective human rights and particularly affect their ability to preserve and pass down their ancestral cultures. Especially troubling in this context is the condition of indigenous children in the Americas, since infants and children suffer a disproportionate and more serious impact when it comes to conditions of material deprivation, the lack of specifically tailored programs, and the lack of access to the most basic conditions necessary to live in dignity. This impact is reflected in the high rates of preventable infant morbidity and mortality recorded among indigenous peoples of the hemisphere.


The IACHR recalls that by virtue of the right to equality and non-discrimination, established in Articles 1.1 and 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights and in Article II of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, States are not only under the obligation of securing the full exercise of all human rights by indigenous persons on an equal footing with everyone else, but also under the obligation to adopt special measures of an affirmative nature, aimed at alleviating or eliminating the social and economic conditions that contribute to perpetuate the historical and structural discrimination borne by indigenous peoples, taking into account their circumstances of disadvantage, vulnerability and unprotectedness.


Likewise, the IACHR emphasizes that international human rights law obligates the OAS Member States to respect, guarantee, and promote the full enjoyment of the right to life in conditions of dignity, enshrined in Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights and in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. This fundamental right, to which all members of the indigenous peoples of the Americas lay claim, imposes on the States, among other things, a triple obligation: (i) to adopt special measures to generate dignified living conditions for persons; (ii) to refrain from creating conditions that hinder access to basic conditions of food, water, health, and housing; and (iii) in cases in which indigenous peoples are already exposed to situations of vulnerability and risk due to their poverty, to adopt positive measures on a priority basis to meet the basic needs of a dignified subsistence. In the case of indigenous peoples, communities, and persons, meeting this triple obligation must be done with due consideration for ancestral cultures and taking into account the special relationship that ties indigenous peoples to their lands and to the natural resources found on those lands. The Inter-American Commission believes it is urgent for the Member States to undertake the necessary efforts to comply with the recommendations of the IACHR and the judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that have to do with the rights of indigenous peoples.


The IACHR created the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1990 to attend to the indigenous peoples of the Americas that are especially vulnerable to human rights violations, as well as to strengthen, promote, and systematize the Inter-American Commission's own efforts in this area. The Office of the Rapporteur, on behalf of the IACHR, will continue to closely monitor progress on this matter throughout the Americas.


A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


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