ICTMN Exclusive: A Conversation With 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee James Anaya

Vincent Schilling
2/13/14

Last week in Geneva, James Anaya, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, discovered from a colleague that he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after his nomination, indigenous leaders worldwide spoke out in support.

“If American lawyer James Anaya wins the world’s most prestigious political award, the development could represent a major advance in the human rights battle for aboriginals in Canada,” said Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Stewart Phillip to the Vancouver Sun.

RELATED: United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Member of Parliament who nominated Anaya told the Sun that awarding the Peace Prize to Anaya could send a powerful signal to governments around the world and heighten the profile of Indigenous Peoples.

Anaya—who has called out Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s government for not doing enough to reduce poverty, address missing and murdered aboriginal women and more—spoke with Indian Country Today Media Network about receiving the nomination, his work as a Special rapporteur and the state of indigenous issues.

Congratulations on your nomination.

Thanks so much. I was real surprised, and I certainly wasn't expecting that.

How did you learn you were nominated?

I was in Geneva last week attending meetings, and one of the officials at the U.N. who is from Finland and reads Norwegian newspapers had come across it in a publication. He said, “Let me be the first to congratulate you.” I just thought he was joking.

What do you do in your position as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

It is the position that the U.N. has established for monitoring the human rights condition of indigenous people around the world. The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body, and I report to them.

Basically I am charged with receiving information from sources and investigating situations on my own that may give rise to potential or ongoing human rights problems. I am authorized to communicate directly with governments In order to address these situations and try to overcome the problems.

We get a lot of written communications from Indigenous Peoples’ organizations on a daily basis. We sift through those and follow up on them. It is a rare occasion when I will just go out and look for a problem, because they are brought to me. The mechanism is made this way for Indigenous Peoples to access the U.N. system for some kind of intervention.

I'll also do visits to countries in an effort to identify problems and seek solutions to overcoming them. I won't just look at one case but I will look at the overall case in that country and do a country report. And I have done maybe or 18 or 20 of these in different countries. I will also do thematic reports, which are based on an issue. For example I look at extractive industries and what they do on indigenous territories.

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