Remarks by Dinah Shelton

Article excerpt

I wanted Jim to start this discussion precisely because there are UN instruments, and we do not have a specific instrument in the Inter-American system as yet on the rights of indigenous peoples. There has been one in progress for 23 years. We may break the UN record in terms of how long it takes to negotiate a final text. We are meeting again in the middle of April for another negotiating session, so there does seem to be some slow progress. But, ironically, the adoption of the UN instrument has provided an excuse for not going forward with an American declaration in the minds of some governments, and they say, "What's the point? The UN has done the state-of-the-art," and I think that's not accurate. There are some issues the UN declaration does not touch upon, and we can come back to that later in terms of what those are.

The question is then, what do we do and what law do we make reference to in the Inter-American system? I'll do a little compare-and-contrast about my mandate and the Inter-American system compared to Jim's mandate. Unlike the UN, we do not pull in outside people, by and large, to be our rapporteurs. Instead, the members of the Commission themselves are country and thematic rapporteurs. We have seven members elected for four-year terms by the OAS General Assembly, and they are staggered terms. So during every even-numbered year we have a certain number of new commissioners come in, and in January, we sit down and do orientation for the new commissioners and play OAS monopoly. We divide up the 35 countries in the hemisphere in terms of who is going to be the rapporteur for the countries, and then we allocate the thematic rapporteurship.

I have a couple of countries in which indigenous issues are prevalent--Guatemala and Ecuador. Then, to balance that with a slightly easier mandate, I have the English-speaking Caribbean. I'm still waiting for my yacht to visit all of them.

[Laughter]

And so in that context, we each have a certain population. We are much less like the UN in terms of having rapporteurships for specific rights. We tend to have seven of our eight rapporteurships deal with vulnerable populations. We only have one--freedom of expression--that deals with a specific right.

So the mandate of the Commission is to promote and protect human rights, which we do not see as promote or protect. We see them as overlapping, and we do many of the same things that Jim does. We do country visits. We do thematic reports. We hold hearings. Jim didn't mention anything about invoking people to have hearings, but we hold hearings in two of our three sessions. We just finished the spring session yesterday, so we have five days of hearings during the session. That can be either addressing a country/case, or a theme/ issue that crosses several countries.

This year, eight out of our approximately 50 hearings concerned indigenous peoples. I think that is the highest number that we've ever had on this issue, and it's indicative of the demand for the hearings--we get over 200 requests for hearings--and also the issues that are seen to be particularly important by the Commission.

As I mentioned, we issue thematic reports. I've put our most recent thematic report on indigenous peoples on the back table, which is a compilation of the standards and jurisprudence of the system on the land and resource rights of indigenous peoples. Please feel free to take that with you. It came out at the beginning of last year, and it was a very long process of drafting.

In addition to hearings and thematic reports, we sometimes issue country reports that can either be on the general situation of human rights in a country or on a specific issue. One of the specific ones that was done by the Commission some years ago was on the Miskito Indians of the eastern region of Nicaragua. We have in mind to be doing another of those this year. We also are in the planning stage of having a joint report done by my rapporteurship and the rapporteurship on the status of women on the issue of discrimination against indigenous women and the problems they face in the hemisphere. …