My Introductory Notes to Indigenous Peoples’ Panel at Annual Human Rights Conference in Tallinn (Dec. 10, 2014)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The topic of this panel discussion is „Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Theory and Practice“

A key issue/problem for the ovewhelming majority of world’s 370 million indigenous persons is that the „global theory“ about the rights of indigenous peoples (IP-s) markedly differs from local, practical realities.

In theory, there exists a global consensus on the minimum standards of the rights of IP-s. This consensus is manifested above all in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) adopted in 2007 that has by now been endorsed by 150 states, with no state publicly objecting to it. This document also enjoys broad respect of IP-s. Most recently the importance of UNDRIP was reaffirmed in the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoles (WCIP) that was, interestingly, supported even by states that have not explicitly endorsed UNDRIP.

In practice, however, there are few if any states with IP populations that fully follow the principles of UNDRIP, let alone those who have raised the bar higher.

Implementation of UNDRIP has been uneven. While there is one state (Bolivia) that has codified UNDRIP into national law, for most other states UNDRIP appears to have more of a recommendational character, some calling it an „aspirational document“.

In practice, there are as many intepretations and levels of implementation of UNDRIP (more generally rights of IP-s) as there are states. More often than not, implementation lags behind the states’ rhetoric.

As a result, daily realities faced by indigenous rights activists – on whatever continent, in both „developing“ and „developed“ world – differ greatly from the polished speeches that can be heard in the halls of the United Nations HQ. These local realities can be quite grim and gritty, as in many countries indigenous activists confronting powerful economic and political interests are criminalized and subjected to violence.

Many indigenous peoples constantly face discrimination, racism and negative stereotyping, and not only by the state, but by the society as a whole, reflecting centuries-old mistrust and hostility between the dominant group and indigenous peoples.

Much too often indigenous peoples, e.g, those objecting to major industrial development projects on their traditional lands are not consulted or engaged in decision-making according to the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) – a key principle behind UNDRIP.

Many of these peoples have nowhere to go or nobody to call for help/advice as their own governments and courts effectively collude with the corporations, and international mechanisms are not (yet) equipped to deal with concrete problems of concrete peoples.

This does not mean that practical indigenous activism is futile or without successes – quite the opposite, we are hearing about more and more successful local actions. It’s just that the practical work of an IP right activist can be a world apart from the promise of international law and human rights instruments, such as UNDRIP.

To truly understand the state of the human rights of IP-s we need to talk about both the global-theoretical and local-practical sides of the equation. This in turn allows us to understand the gap that still remains between the two sides. More importantly, it can inform a debate about what can be done to reduce if not altogether close that gap. This is also the focus today’s discussion.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I invite to the stage our panelists who represent both the theoretical and practical perspectives, both global and local expertise with respect to the rights of IP-s, and all of whom are indigenous: Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, Dr. Pavel Sulyandziga, Mr. Mustafa Dzhemilev, Ms. Valentina Sovkina and Mr. Dmitry Harakka-Zaitsev.

More information about the panel’s speakers, photo gallery and soon video of the entire panel here.

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