Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by James Anaya

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by James Anaya

Article excerpt

Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Bruce, for chairing this and for the organizers for inviting us to participate in this.

I'd like to talk briefly about my mandate for those of you who are not that familiar with the UN system of Special Rapporteurs or "special procedures," as they are called. I am appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which is the major entity of the UN that looks at human rights issues. The Council is an intergovernmental body made up of 47 member states, the U.S. among them now, and it has a number of these so-called special procedures, mandate holders. Most of us are denominated Special Rapporteurs. Others are called "independent experts" and so forth, but we are all appointed independently to look at a particular item or country situation. In my case, the theme is the rights of indigenous peoples, and there are several others. I think right now there are 33 thematic rapporteurs or special procedures, and among these are violence against women, the right to food, housing, torture, and counterterrorism.

As Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, my function is to monitor the conditions of indigenous peoples worldwide through various methods. I do evaluations of country situations, so I go to a country and look at how that country's policies and laws relate to indigenous peoples, and what are the major issues. That usually involves a country visit, and in fact, I'll be doing a country visit to the United States from April 23rd through May 4th.

I've done a range of these. I think that since I was appointed in 2008, I've done about 18 country assessments, which involve country visits. The most recent ones were Argentina, Australia, Congo, Botswana, really most countries now in Latin America, and Russia. In addition to these country assessments, I receive information and respond to allegations of human rights abuses or situations of human rights problems. These can involve natural resource extraction on indigenous lands and a range of human rights issues connected with that, or they can involve issues of violence against women, and so on. There is a range of issues that have to do with indigenous peoples as such, as communities. Promoting good practices is also something I do, and it's one that the Human Rights Council has specifically emphasized. I have worked on constitutional reforms in other countries, and one of my first engagements of this kind was with the government of Ecuador, really the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador. I was involved in discussions on how to include recognition of indigenous group rights in the Ecuadoran constitution, and that eventually was achieved.

Recently, I was in Brazil working with both the government or government agencies and indigenous peoples on new regulations or laws on consultations with indigenous peoples. That's a huge and recurring issue--how do companies and governments consult with indigenous peoples, as they are required to under contemporary standards, with regard to decisions affecting them? Countries are finding that they have to establish specific procedures for that. So I was involved in conversations with Brazil and the indigenous peoples there on that just a couple of weeks ago.

In responding to specific violations of human rights, which can involve a country visit and an effort to build good practices and build models, I was recently in Costa Rica looking at how to construct a consultation procedure around a particular issue--the construction of a dam that would be on or that would affect indigenous territories. When I first became involved in that particular issue, it was a very contentious situation. What I found when I went to Costa Rica with the consent of the government and at the invitation of indigenous peoples as well, was that people were basically talking past each other. Indigenous peoples had a series of problems they were concerned with, but they were not necessarily opposed to the dam itself. …

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