On 17 October 2011, the Special Rapporteur presented his third annual to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The Report provides a summary of the activities over the first three years of the Special Rapporteur's mandate. In his statement to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur addressed the topic of extractive industries, pointing out the negative and even catastrophic effect these activities have had on the rights of indigenous peoples, and the need to facilitate a common understanding among indigenous peoples, governments and private companies about key issues and applicable human rights standards in this context. He stated that this issue will be the major focus of his work during the next three years of his mandate.
Special Rapporteur Highlights ‘Negative, Even Catastrophic’ Impact of Extractive
Industries on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in Third Committee Statement
James Anaya Says Issue Will Be Major Focus of Work during New Mandate;
Hopes to Facilitate ‘Common Understanding’ about Key Issues, Applicable Standards
Underscoring the “negative, even catastrophic impact” of extractive industries on the social, cultural and political rights of indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today that the issue would be a major focus during his second mandated term which runs until May 2014.
“The issue of extractive industries is a major and immediate concern of indigenous peoples all over the world,” James Anaya said, as the Committee began its annual discussion on indigenous issues and the Second International Decade of the World’s indigenous People. Mr. Anaya was first appointed Special Rapporteur in 2008 and was appointed to a second three-year term this past May.
He said negligent projects had been implemented in indigenous territories without proper guarantees and without the involvement of the people concerned. Consequently, disputes related to extractive industries had sometimes escalated into violence, and there was an increasing polarization and radicalization of positions about those industries.
Against that backdrop, the absence of a common understanding about key issues and applicable standards among all actors concerned formed a major barrier to the effective protection and realization of indigenous peoples’ rights, he said. Significant legal and policy gaps, as well as a lack of coherence in standards related to those industries in all countries and regions, contributed to the situation.
For indigenous rights to have a meaningful effect on States and corporate policies and actions related to indigenous peoples, a common understanding among indigenous peoples, Government actors, business enterprise and others was required, and he planned to hold a series of expert meetings and consultations. He would also launch an online consultation forum organized around specific questions and issues, and would gather and analyze empirical information on specific examples of natural resource extraction activities affecting indigenous peoples.
At the same time, he assured States that he would continue to consider the broad range of issues that affected indigenous peoples and to monitor States’ compliance with their international human rights obligations by promoting good practices, reporting on country situations, examining cases of alleged human rights violations and presenting thematic studies.
During a question-and-answer session following his initial presentation, Mr. Anaya cautioned that indigenous peoples should not be confronted with decisions or proposals that were already highly developed during consultations with Governments or corporations on activities and projects affecting them. Rather, they should be involved at the very earliest design stage of such any initiative or project, particularly to overcome a legacy of mistrust and ill treatment.
He also suggested that participation mechanisms for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system were inadequate, because they were often built around existing mechanisms for non-State members. Borrowing the credentials of non-governmental organizations, or forming non-governmental organizations just to participate in relevant United Nations meetings created obstacles for many indigenous peoples, who had their own authority structures. Their leaders were not simply the heads of non-governmental organizations, but governmental authorities, and sufficient mechanisms must be developed to allow them to participate as such.
Earlier, Daniela Bas, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, had underlined the need to make the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — which now had universal support — a reality. “Let us not forget that the majority of the world’s indigenous peoples continue to live in deplorable conditions, with shorter lifespans and higher rates of infant and maternal mortality,” she said.
She said the Secretary-General’s midterm assessment of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2005-2015 demonstrated that alarming gaps still existed in implementing the international human rights instruments, guidelines and policies, and it was time to “move beyond rhetoric” to secure the rights of indigenous peoples around the world and improve their lives.
A number of delegations during today’s debate voiced support for the Special Rapporteur’s stronger focus on extractive industries, with Suriname’s representative acknowledging the issue’s complexities. “We are aware that a delicate balance has to be found between, on the one hand, the opportunities these industries provide for sustainable development of the country as a whole, and guaranteeing that the rights of the indigenous peoples are respected, on the other hand,” he said.
Guatemala’s representative said it was clear that there was inadequate participation by indigenous peoples in both designing and benefiting from a host of projects, including those by extractive industries. The United States delegate invited Member States to review actions under her Government’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a federal process that included all groups.
Throughout the day, delegations highlighted the potential of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to open a new phase in the promotion and protection of their rights. Many stressed the need for indigenous participation before and during the meeting. In that vein, the Mexican delegation stressed that the Conference’s success would depend in large part on the ample and inclusive participation of all involved actors.
Also today, the Committee concluded its discussion on the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Participating in that debate were the Observer of Palestine, and the Observer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the International Labour Organization.
Also participating in today’s debate on indigenous rights were delegates from Belize (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), European Union, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guyana, Australia, Russian Federation, Japan, Cuba, Sweden, Turkey, Peru, Bolivia, New Zealand, Congo, Malaysia, Brazil, Nepal and Ecuador.
Speakers from the International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Food and Agricultural Organization, International Labour Organization United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and World Intellectual Property Organization also commented.