N° 34/08



Washington, D.C., August 8, 2008—On the eve of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, through its Rapporteur, Commissioner Víctor Abramovich, urges the OAS Member States to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are respected and guaranteed, especially their rights to lands, territory, and natural resources, and to participation and consultation.


The Inter-American Commission views with concern the frequency of social conflicts and acts of violence associated with disputes over indigenous peoples’ lands, territories, and natural resources. These situations of conflict normally arise because the States do not guarantee due protections of indigenous territories, nor do they guarantee indigenous peoples the right to participate in decision-making about the activities that affect their rights.


Given the situation faced by indigenous peoples in the Americas, the IACHR, through its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is preparing a thematic study on the scope of the right to consultation and its connection with the right to land, territory, and access to natural resources. The Commission invites representatives of indigenous peoples, civil society, the States, and academic institutions to present applications for thematic hearings and offer other contributions to the Rapporteurship’s study.


The IACHR reminds the States that international human rights law specifically recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territory, and natural resources. Case law in the inter-American human rights system has further reaffirmed the States’ obligation to consult with indigenous peoples regarding any economic activity or project that may affect their lands and natural resources, including such cases in which the State seeks to exploit subsoil resources. The right to consultation encompasses the positive duty of the States to make available appropriate and effective mechanisms to obtain prior, free, and informed consent, in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customs and traditions, before undertaking activities that may have an impact on their interests or could affect their rights to their lands, territory, or natural resources.


Along the same lines, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.” It also holds that States “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”


The Inter-American Commission considers it urgent that States 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 indigenous peoples and their special relationship with the land and natural resources, and most of all with their right to be consulted about any measure or activity that may affect those rights.


The IACHR created the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1990 to focus on the hemisphere’s indigenous peoples who are especially exposed to human rights violations, as well as to strengthen, advance, and systematize the work of the Inter-American Commission in this area. The Rapporteur, on behalf of the Commission, will continue to closely monitor developments on this issue throughout the Americas.


Read this press release in Spanish / Lea este comunicado de prensa en español

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