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UN Expert Commemorates International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

GENEVA -- “Since assuming my mandate over a year ago, I have witnessed that indigenous peoples continue to face many impediments to the enjoyment of human rights, despite some important advances,” said James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly was a milestone, culminating in two and a half decades of study and discussion. This achievement, among other things, is a testament to the courage and resilience indigenous peoples have displayed in their determination to survive, and demonstrates their relative success in increased recognition on the world stage.

Since its adoption, the rights upheld in the Declaration--which represent a common understanding at the global level of the minimum content of the rights of indigenous peoples based on universal human rights principles--have been increasingly endorsed and incorporated into States’ approaches to overcoming current and historic discrimination and injustices involving indigenous peoples.

Initiatives to implement the rights in the Declaration can be seen in all regions. “I applaud efforts to raise awareness and provide greater understanding among United Nations representatives, government officials, members of legislative bodies and of national human rights institutions, judicial authorities, civil society partners, and indigenous peoples themselves, about upholding the rights in the Declaration and incorporating them into domestic laws, practice and policy,” Mr. Anaya said.

But much remains to be done to make the rights affirmed in the Declaration a reality in the every day lives of indigenous peoples around the world, and there have been heightened tensions at the local level in certain cases, at times erupting into alarming surges of violence against indigenous peoples. These worrying incidents demonstrate the continuing need for creating spaces for constructive dialogue and mutual cooperation, with the full participation of indigenous peoples in the decisions that affect them.

The right of indigenous peoples to self-determination affirmed in the Declaration, which requires allowing them to pursue their own destines under conditions of equality and to be full partners in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State, has yet to be realized in situations worldwide. Even where notable progress is evident, indigenous peoples face daunting challenges, reflected in continued injustice and persistent discrimination.

The Special Rapporteur is entering the second year of his mandate with qualified optimism, conscious of ongoing developments but urging for “concerted action on the part of all concerned to address inequities, injustices and atrocities involving indigenous peoples worldwide.”

Mr. Anaya will present reports on the implementation of his mandate to the 12th session of the Human Rights Council and the 64th session of the General Assembly.