Washington, D.C., February 17, 2011—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today published its report Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Rights over their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources.
The protection of indigenous peoples' right to property over their ancestral lands is an issue of particular importance to the IACHR because the effective enjoyment of that right involves not only protection of an economic unit but also protection of the human rights of a collectivity whose economic, social, and cultural development is based on its relationship with the land, which is the basis for its worldview. As a result, the Commission has long paid particular attention to indigenous and tribal peoples’ right to communal property over their lands and natural resources, as a right in itself, and as a guarantee of the effective enjoyment of other basic rights.
The right to property pursuant to Article 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights thus has singular importance for indigenous and tribal peoples, because the guarantee of the right to territorial property is a fundamental basis for the development of indigenous communities’ culture, spiritual life, integrity and economic survival. It is a right to territory that encompasses the use and enjoyment of its natural resources. It is directly related, even a pre-requisite, to enjoyment of the rights to an existence under conditions of dignity, to food, water, health, life, honor, dignity, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association, the rights of the family, and freedom of movement and residence.
The report the IACHR is publishing today compiles and discusses the scope of indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights over their territories, lands, and natural resources. In this regard, it analyses the obligation of the States to consult with indigenous peoples and guarantee their participation in decisions regarding any measure that affects their territories. The State has to consult them on any matters that might affect them, the purpose of such consultations should be to obtain their free and informed consent, and they must be carried out in accordance with their customs and traditions, through culturally adequate procedures and taking into account their traditional decision-making methods.
The report is based on the legal instruments of the Inter-American system, as interpreted by the Commission and the Inter-American Court in the light of developments in general international human rights law. It also aims to point out specific problems, guidelines, and best practices to enhance the enjoyment of human rights by indigenous and tribal peoples across the hemisphere.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.