James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

UN Special Rapporteur Review Declaration’s Implementation in US

Gale Courey Toensing

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will conduct his first official visit to the United States next spring.

Professor James Anaya, who was appointed in 2008 by the U.N. Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, will be in the U.S. from April 23 to May 4, 2012. During that time, Anaya will review the U.S. government’s implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Obama administration announced that the U.S. would “lend its support” to, and follow up on information he has received for his current thematic study on the impact of extractive industries on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Commission on Human Rights, which became the Human Rights Council in 2006, appointed the first Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2001 as part of a system of thematic Special Procedures. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights web site, the Special Rapporteur:

  • Promotes good practices, including new laws, government programs, and constructive agreements between Indigenous Peoples and states, to implement international standards concerning the rights of Indigenous Peoples’
  • Reports on the overall human rights situations of Indigenous Peoples in selected countries;
  • Addresses specific cases of alleged violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples through communications with governments and others;
  • Conducts or contributes to thematic studies on topics of special importance regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Anaya’s review will come during the same year that the U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviews the status of implementation by the U.S., of the Committee’s previous recommendations. In its last report in 2008, the Committee found racial discrimination institutionalized in dozens of areas in federal and state governments, in legislation, and in the courts.

Anaya is a Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law (USA), where he teaches and writes in the areas of international human rights, constitutional law, and issues concerning Indigenous Peoples. Prior to becoming a full time law professor, he practiced law in Albuquerque, New Mexico, representing American Indians and other minority groups. For his work during that period, Barrister Magazine, a national publication of the American Bar Association, named him as one of “20 young lawyers who make a difference.” He was the lead counsel for the indigenous parties in the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time upheld indigenous land rights as a matter of international law, and he helped draft the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In his statement to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in October, Anaya said the issue of extractive industries is “a major and immediate concern” of indigenous peoples everywhere. “I have examined various situations in which extractive industry activities generate effects that infringe upon Indigenous Peoples' rights. I have observed the negative, even catastrophic, impact of extractive industries on the social, cultural and economic rights of Indigenous Peoples. I have seen examples of negligent projects implemented in indigenous territories without proper guarantees and without the involvement of the peoples concerned. I have also examined in my work several cases in which disputes related to extractive industries have escalated and erupted into violence. I have seen that, in many areas, there is an increasing polarization and radicalization of positions about extractive activities.”

During this country visit, Special Rapporteur Anaya will meet with various U.S. officials and agencies to review their implementation of the Declaration’s provisions in their policies and practices. He will also collect information from Indigenous Peoples, tribal nations, and organization through several events and site visits. Dates have been provisionally set for only one event at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona April 26– 27, according to International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). Plans for up to four additional events on the east coast, in the Midwest, and northwest are still under development and will be posted at IITC’s website, the council said in a statement. There will also be an opportunity for online and mail-in submissions. Contact information, locations and dates for the regional events will be provided when that information is available. For additional information, go to Anaya’s website or the website of the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights.

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