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USA / Indigenous Peoples: “New measures needed for reconciliation and to address historical wrongs”

USA / Indigenous Peoples

11 September 2012

GENEVA (11 September 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, calls on the United States authorities to adopt new measures “to advance toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples and address persistent deep-seeded problems related to historical wrongs, failed policies of the past and continuing systemic barriers to the full realization of indigenous peoples’ rights”.

“Indigenous peoples in the United States – including American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples – constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of the country,” says Mr. Anaya on his report made public today on the situation of indigenous peoples in the United States.

However, “they face significant challenges that are related to widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression, and misguided government policies, that today manifest themselves in various indicators of disadvantage and impediments to the exercise of their individual and collective rights,” the human rights expert notes.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur provides an overview of significant federal legislation and programs that have been developed over the last few decades. He notes that these, “in contrast to early exercises of federal power based on misguided policies, constitute good practices that in significant measure respond to indigenous peoples’ concerns.”

Mr. Anaya welcomes the many new initiatives taken by the executive to advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the last few years, but finds that existing federal programs need to be improved upon and their execution made more effective.

The report stresses that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an important impetus and guide for improving upon existing measures to address the concerns of indigenous peoples in the United States, and for developing new measures to advance toward reconciliation.

“The Declaration, which is grounded in widespread consensus and fundamental human rights values, has been accepted by the United States at the urging of indigenous peoples from throughout the country, and it is an extension of the United States’ international human rights obligations”, the Special Rapporteur said.

“With these characteristics,” he stressed, “the Declaration is a point of common understanding to address indigenous peoples concerns and develop measures of reconciliation, and it should be a benchmark for all relevant decision making by the federal executive, Congress, and the judiciary, as well as by the states of the United States”.

Mr. Anaya’s report was developed on the basis of research and information gathered, including during a visit to the country from 23 April to 4 May 2012. During his mission, the Special Rapporteur held consultations with United States officials as well as with indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations in Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Alaska; Oregon; Washington state; South Dakota; and Oklahoma, both in Indian country and in urban areas.

The Special Rapporteur will officially present his report on Tuesday 18 September 2012, during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The UN Human Rights Council appointed S. James Anaya as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in March 2008. Mr. Anaya is a Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (United States). As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

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