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Statements Special Procedures

Statement of Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples at the General Assembly 74th session

11 October 2019

Mr. Chair,

Distinguished delegates,

Indigenous peoples' representatives,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today I am presenting my final thematic report to the General-Assembly (A/74/149). I have decided to dedicate it to analysis of the recognition and exercise of indigenous peoples' right to self-determination, building on the related report that I submitted to the General-Assembly last year. This year´s report comments on existing legal and other arrangements and processes reflective of or conducive to the recognition and implementation of the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy or self-government, with a view to identify positive elements as well as limitations and challenges, and to provide some recommendations to move forward in the realisation of these fundamental collective rights.

In my view, the recognition of the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination has had a positive and transformative influence in international law. Moreover, it also has a transformative impact when implemented at the national level. The adequate implementation of this right implies changes in the general governance of States, which in turn leads to constructive results in terms of human rights compliance, remedy of racism, discrimination and inequality, more democratic and inclusive societies, and enhanced legitimacy of the State itself. The full implementation of the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination is also at the core of redress for past and ongoing human rights violations and the foundation for reconciliation.

In my report, I briefly describe different situations all over the world with regards to the realisation of indigenous peoples' self-determination through autonomy and self-government. I have examined a variety of scenarios, including inter alia countries with no recognition of indigenous peoples, States with historic and contemporary treaty relations with indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples living in isolation, nation-building processes based on plurinationality, or instances of recognition of certain aspects of the right to autonomy or self-government.

As I conclude in my report, all the steps ahead adopted by States in terms of realising these rights have merit and should be pursued. Nevertheless, in most cases the existing arrangements have not resulted in full compliance with these rights. Thus, indigenous peoples can generally only exercise what could be termed as 'fragmented self-determination.' In my view, adequate enjoyment of the rights to self-determination, autonomy and self-government can only be achieved through the full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and natural resources, to maintain and develop their own governing institutions, and to enjoy the ways and means to finance their autonomous functions.

The right of indigenous peoples to self-determination as essential for their dignity and survival as distinct peoples. It is also important for States themselves. Efforts should focus on how both States and indigenous peoples can move forward towards its fulfilment. In my view, this calls for the establishment of a true intercultural dialogue, that takes into account indigenous peoples' own concepts of autonomy or self-government. Insufficient attention has been devoted to the interpretation that indigenous peoples themselves give to these rights, and to their own initiatives to realise them. Indigenous peoples' interpretation should be the starting point for the development and adoption of the measures required for their implementation.

For a dialogue to be fruitful, mutual trust has to be built. There is a need for a change in the approach of States to indigenous claims. These should be considered as justice and human rights issues that, adequately solved, would result in benefits for the country as whole. The fulfilment of indigenous peoples' rights should not be portrayed as a cost. Such a position estranges indigenous peoples from the State and promotes the notion within the larger society that indigenous peoples are requesting unwarranted privileges. Moreover, it is not conducive to the spirit of partnership emphasised by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is the Declaration itself, as a consensus framework, which provides the best basis to start or continue an intercultural dialogue on how to implement indigenous peoples' rights in an environment of reciprocal cooperation.

As I observed in my report last year, States, indigenous peoples and societies at large share common goals in answering to the human rights, sustainability and environmental challenges that the world faces today. In order to contribute to the solutions needed, indigenous peoples should be able to control their own futures through the exercise of their right to self-determination.

Mr. Chair,

I also briefly wish to refer to my thematic report which I presented to the Human Rights Council this September (A/HRC/42/37), in which I examine indigenous peoples' access to justice, both through the ordinary justice system and through their own indigenous justice mechanisms. My report analyses existing interaction and harmonisation between the ordinary and indigenous justice systems and the opportunities offered by legal pluralism.

In my report, I observe that effective access to justice for indigenous peoples implies access to both the State legal system and their own systems of justice. Without accessible State courts or other legal mechanisms through which they can protect their rights, indigenous peoples are vulnerable to actions that threaten their lands, natural resources, cultures, sacred sites and livelihoods. At the same time, the recognition of indigenous peoples' own justice systems is essential to ensure their rights to maintain their autonomy, customs and traditions.

States, the United Nations and other stakeholders should support indigenous peoples in their efforts to seek recognition of their justice systems, with a view to supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 of achieving justice for all.

I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that the two official country visits I have undertaken this past year were to Ecuador in November 2018 and to Timor-Leste in April 2019. Next week, I will commence an official country visit will be to Congo-Brazzaville. I am pleased that I have also been invited to visit Namibia, Denmark /Greenland and Vanuatu. Unfortunately, I will only be able to undertake one more official country visit before my mandate expires next year.

Before concluding, I would like to reiterate the importance of ensuring that my mandate continues to engage in relevant international dialogue and policy forums related to achieving the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

I would like to express my gratitude to the numerous States, indigenous peoples, and others, and in particular to the staff supporting my mandate in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and also to my external assistants, for the support they have provided as I have carried out my mandate over the past five years. 

I will now conclude my statement. I thank you all for your kind attention and I look forward to our interactive dialogue.