Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), with a view towards the possible adoption of a Declaration. For the first time in the organization's history, there has been dialogue in high level meetings within the OAS, between representatives of the member States and an Indigenous Committee of the Americas. A Working Group to prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been created. A special meeting of this Working Group took place in the Hall of the Americas at the headquarters of the OAS in Washington, D.C. in April 2001. This special session was chaired by Ambassador Ronalth Ochaeta Argueta, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS, President of the Working Group, Commission on Juridical and Political Affairs, Permanent Council of the OAS.



Washington, D.C. 2 - 6 April, 2001

Permanent Council of the OAS Committee on
Political and Juridical Affairs

Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations - GT/DADIN/doc.1/99 rev. 2

Draft work plan 2000/2001 - GT/DADIN/doc.6/00 rev. 5

Working document comparing the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (Approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 1997) and the proposals made by States and Indigenous Representatives at OAS Meetings in 1999 - GT/DADIN/doc.9/01

Special Meeting of the Working Group (April 2-6, 2001) - GT/DADIN/doc.14/01

Draft schedule - GT/DADIN/doc.19/01 corr. 1

Lista de Participantes (List of Participants) GT/DADIN/doc.21/01 rev. 2

Report of the Chair GT/DADIN/doc. 23/01 rev. 1

Nuevas propuestas (New proposals) GT/DADIN/doc.23/01 add. 2

Declaration of Machu Picchu on Democracy
The Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Fight Against Poverty


Working document comparing the proposed American Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (approved by the IACHR in March, 1997) and the proposals made by States and Indigenous representatives at OAS meetings in 1999.
12 January 2001


Ambassador Ronalth Ochaeta Argueta
Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS
President of the Working Group

Special Session of the Working Group to prepare the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Permanent Council of the Organization of American States,
Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs
Washington, D.C.
April 2, 2001
Excerpts from the Inaugural speech by Ronalth Ochaeta in the Special Session of the Working Group:

We must make a joint effort, not only be dissonant voices, and take an interest in participating and giving support through the dialogues and negotiations.

Let's leave behind antagonisms.
We should take from the deepest part of our hearts that feeling of solidarity and comprehension that characterizes our ancestral peoples, and see the other as our brother and feel part of a greater project,
the project of the American family.

Opening Remarks
View Video



Press Release (E-078/01)
April 2, 2001

The consolidation of democracy and human rights protection in the Hemisphere involves the full respect of the rights of indigenous peoples, says Guatemala's Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ambassador Ronalth Ochaeta declared on Monday that "for centuries, millions of indigenous men, women, boys and girls have been socially, economically and politically marginalized all across the hemisphere." He added: "We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this reality, but must work together towards those ideals set forth in the OAS Charter."

Inaugurating a special, weeklong session of the OAS Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, the Guatemalan diplomat, who is also the Working Group's Chairman, commented as well on the participation of more than 70 indigenous leaders from around the Hemisphere, along with representatives from the 34 OAS member states. "This is a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss issues and exchange views."

Stuart Patterson
Stuart Patterson
Tuscarora Nation

We believe that the spirit of the dialogue established during this Working Group session will encourage all States to also make commitments to the development of a strong declaration that recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples in this hemisphere.

States representatives must travel to Indigenous territories to listen to the voices and opinions from the grassroots people who would become beneficiaries of this Declaration. This dialogue would be equally as important as that used in the Working Group meetings.

Closing Remarks
View Video
What are the rights of Indigenous Peoples? Where are they enshrined and how are they respected? What are the mechanisms that can bring about justice when Indigenous rights are violated? What rules of international law can ensure accountability and compliance?

The issues challenging and impacting the adoption of this Declaration in relation to local, regional, national and global agendas/politics and worldviews are both sensitive and volatile. How can the recognition of this international instrument enhance the quality of your life and the collective vision of your community?



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Information Office International
Indian Treaty Council (
from San Francisco wrote:

Subject: Dialogue on the OAS draft declaration
Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 1:30 PM

Thank you for the invitation to join the dialogue. As you may be aware, the IITC has had an interest and worked on the UN draft as well as the Permanent Forum. Generally, the Organization of American States has had a draft declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples on the table for some time, since about the same time that the UN started considering its UN draft declaration.

The OAS draft has gone through its Inter-American Human Rights Commission and now awaits action by the member states of the OAS, all of the American states from Canada to Chile, and the Carribbean (I think Cuba was expelled, but maybe not).

One major complaint has been that only the the Indigenous Institutes (the BIA, the Mexican Indigenous Institute, all charter governmental organizations of the OAS) have had input. I understand now that the OAS has an accreditation process (new) for NGOs that it never had before, due much to the complaints about the OAS draft declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The declaration itself is an ILO 169 rehash, with the same disclaimer on "peoples" (the word does not have the same significance that normally ensures to the term under international law) and is therefore no recognition of the rights of peoples at all.

Although it says that traditional and territories are "impriscriptable and inalienable" it also provides that states may be the owners of the resources of the soil and subsoil, and that when the state requires, by necessity, to move Indigenous Peoples from these lands, that they should be compensated by lands of equal extent and value.

We don't believe that the declaration should be used to establish the rights of states to Indigenous natural resources. Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in common with Article 1 of the ICESC) establishes the right of all peoples to their natural resources and development.

This OAS declaration would establish a lesser standard than already recognized by these UN conventions with regards to Indigenous Peoples. Why should only Indigenous Peoples not have this right, when all other peoples do?

We also believe that Indigenous Peoples should not be removed from their traditional lands for any reason. We also do not believe that compensation should be in the form of other lands or money. We believe that adequate reparations for the loss of lands can only be in the return of the land itself, or restitution.

The IITC is against the passage of this declaration primarily for the above reasons. If the American States want to have ILO 169 as the standard, they should adopt that convention, but not make it the ceiling for all Indigenous rights. We are not against ILO 169, and like many other Indigenous Peoples and their organizations, support universal adoption of 169. But it has many shortcomings, and should not be the final word on international recognition of Indigenous rights.

With the UN declaration, we are seeking that the full rights of peoples be recognized as the rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes the right of self-determination.

Since 1982 in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, and since 1994 at the Commission on Human Rights, thousands of Indigenous representatives of hundreds if not thousands of Indigenous Nations and organizations, have remained steadfast and strong in our insistence that the UN draft declaration recognize the full scope of all collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right of Self-Determination. We would be foolish indeed to accept a less standard from the OAS.

Although the OAS draft does provide for local autonomy in some matters, this part has been qualified or amended recently. A Canadian NGO, IORD, had a forum a few years ago, where the draft was reworked, with regard to the points above, I think, as well as defining intellectual property rights with more precision.

The IITC welcomes the opportunity to exchange views with other Indigenous organizations and Nations, because we believe that the rights of peoples fully recognized are necessary for our survival as peoples.

Information Office Administrative Office
2390 Mission Street, #301-302, San Francisco, California 94110
Telephone: (415 641-4482    Fax: (415) 641-1298

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United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Report of the Sub-Commission on
Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on Its Forty-Sixth Session
United Nations Economic and Social Council
E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/56, (28 October 1994)
Original: English

Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
in Independent Countries 

Indigenous and Tribal Peoples:
A Guide to ILO Convention No. 169

Recent Developments in the ILO
concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples




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Copyright Natalie Drache 1999