OAS adopts Declaration on Indigenous Rights

“Today, after nearly 30 years, the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” according to an article published Wednesday, June 15, by the Indian Law Resource Center.

For generations, indigenous peoples’ human rights, including their right of self-determination and their rights to their lands, territories, environment, natural resources, sustainable development, and cultural survival have been challenged globally. The American Declaration offers specific protection for indigenous peoples in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

The OAS brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas, including the United States, “and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere,” according to its website. According to the OAS announcement on its declaration of indigenous rights, it is “the first instrument in the history of the OAS to promote and protect the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”

The OAS announcement lists key points of the declaration, which include:

  • Self-identification as indigenous peoples will be a fundamental criterion for determining to whom the Declaration applies.
  • Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination.
  • Gender equality: indigenous women have collective rights that are indispensable for their existence, wellbeing, and comprehensive development as peoples.
  • Indigenous persons and communities have the right to belong to one or more indigenous peoples, in accordance with the identity, traditions, and customs of belonging of each people.
  • They have the right to maintain, express, and freely develop their cultural identity.
  • They have the right to not be subjected to any form of genocide.
  • They have the right not to be subject to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, or other related forms of intolerance.
  • They have the right to their own cultural identity and integrity and to their cultural heritage.

And the list goes on.

In 2007, the United Nations adopted a similar declaration — the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. According to a media release from the Native American Rights Fund:

Article XXXIX of the [OAS] Declaration provides that: “The rights contained in this Declaration and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” The American Declaration goes beyond the UNDRIP in several respects including treaties, the rights of children, and the rights of peoples in voluntary isolation.

As with all declarations, it looks good on paper. It remains to be seen if this becomes an effective document for change. It does provide indigenous peoples an additional tool to make their case for self determination and to protect their cultural identities.


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