Concern for the human rights of indigenous peoples and their
members has been a constant feature in the work of the Commission, as
shown by the documents included in this compilation.
Soon after it began its activities, in 1972, the Commission
declared that it was “a sacred obligation of the states to protect the
indigenous peoples of their territories.” That concern gained wide
visibility as of several cases in the 1980s, in particular the decision,
in 1985, that led the Commission to ask the Government of Brazil to adopt
a series of measures on behalf of the Yanomami people, including the
demarcation of their lands.
As of 1989, when the Commission began the process of preparing an
American declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples--which entailed
extensive consultations and meetings throughout the hemisphere--there has
been increased interest on the part of the indigenous peoples to use the
mechanisms of the inter-American human rights system to pursue claims and
defend their rights. The
growing number of petitions received in this vein reflect this trend. The
States have also expressed greater interest in and sensitivity towards
those issues, evidenced in several friendly settlement agreements entered
into and now being negotiated.
Since then, the successive rapporteurs, Patrick
Lipton Robinson (1991-1995) and Carlos
Ayala Corao (1996-1999), have maintained the commitment to the human
rights of indigenous persons and peoples and have given direction to and
helped strengthen the work of the Commission in this thematic area.
In March 2000, the Commission designated us as the rapporteurs for
this thematic area, and we have assumed that responsibility, aware of the
importance of and ready to work to address the situation of those peoples,
numbering more than 40 million persons in the Americas, who generally, in
addition to having been historically dispossessed, today have the lowest
levels of services, income, and access to opportunities in their
countries. Many continue to suffer discrimination.
The appointment of these Rapporteurs coincides with the approval to
begin the activities of the “Project for Strengthening the
Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights of the
Communities, ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups affected by
the conflicts in Central America,” which, based on international
cooperation from Denmark, will enable the IACHR to accelerate and deepen
its examination of the petitions and cases.
In addition to strengthening its technical personnel at the General
Secretariat, the project facilitates research in the countries concerning
cases being processed, covers the costs for witnesses and expert witnesses
to travel to hearings before the Commission or Court, as well as the
dissemination of the Commission’s doctrine and case-law on this issue
through printed and electronic publications.
The indigenous peoples are facing difficult situations today.
The physical expansion of national economies and infrastructure
works into the territories that have remained as indigenous habitats,
together with cultural inter-penetration through social, political, and
physical borders, has severely disrupted the indigenous communities that
subsisted in difficult circumstances.
Furthermore, the increase in the organizational and claimsmaking
capacity of the indigenous peoples, the general interest in preserving the
environment, which largely coincides with the indigenous habitat, and the
greater national and international visibility of the wealth of their
cultures and of the challenges they face provide a platform and new
reasons and incentives for reinforcing their claims.
The IACHR, on its own, and through the contributions of its special
rapporteur, will continue to administer the inter-American legal
instruments in defense of and to promote the human rights of the
indigenous peoples and their members.
It will do so, first of all, to uphold the legitimacy of those
rights and in view of the vulnerability of those communities, but also
because it considers that recognizing and taking advantage of the
multicultural nature of our nations is one of the obligations of any
democracy, and a requirement for the effective observance of human rights
May 31, 2000
Co-Special Rapporteurs on Indigenous Rights.