Human Rights Brief ~ Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Washington College of Law, American University ~ Volume 2, Number 3 ~ Spring 1996


Human Rights and Environmentalism: Forging Common Ground

by Gabriel Eckstein and Miriam Gitlin

Europeans Disagree Over Human Rights Conditions at Home

by Peter H. Backes

Center Hosts Conference on War Crimes Tribunal

by Dharmaputhiran Niles

Canada and the OAS -- The First Five Years

by Brian Tittemore
The Human Rights Brief is a publication of The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Washington College of Law, American University. Please note that this is copyrighted material. Feel free to download and read articles from The Brief, but these materials may not be republished or reposted without the written permission of The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Rights in the Americas

by Robert Guitteau & Nadia Ezzelarab

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is currently in the process of developing the text of a new draft declaration on the rights of indigenous populations in the Americas. The draft is being prepared at the request of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), and is part of an on-going trend in the development of international human rights to address the inadequacies of existing human rights mechanisms vis a vis the complex survival needs of indigenous peoples.

International instruments, such as the Charter of the United Nations and the two international covenants addressing civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, provide all peoples with the right of self-determination. These documents, however, do not address indigenous populations directly. Nonetheless, they lay the groundwork for the more recent development of legal protections for indigenous peoples. As noted by University of Iowa College of Law Professor, Jim Anaya, there is a "trend among states toward the express recognition that the principle of, or the right of, self-determination implies obligations on the part of states for indigenous peoples." Recently, the International Labor Organization adopted the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO 169), and the UN is currently developing a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous populations.

In formulating the draft instrument, the IACHR has made an effort not to contradict ILO 169 (five of the six countries that ratified ILO 169 are members of the OAS - Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Paraguay) and the UN's draft declaration. According to Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, an attorney with IACHR, any overlap with these instruments reflects the IACHR's desire to reinforce the principles contained in the other two instruments, while at the same time address conditions specific to the Americas.

In addressing the legal effect of a declaration, Professor Anaya suggests that, "a declaration would be beneficial to the rights of indigenous peoples in that the Inter-American Commission and the Court and the OAS Member States would likely be held, as a practical matter, to the standards in the declaration." While the declaration will not have the same legal effect as a treaty, its applicability, according to Dr. Kreimer, will compare to that of a UN General Assembly Resolution. That is, the declaration would be used by adjudicative and administrative bodies for its interpretive value of indigenous peoples' rights and would reflect the collective "state of mind" of the Member-States of the OAS.

As the IACHR's proposed declaration is still in draft form, it does not constitute a final agreement of OAS Member-States. The IACHR is interested in receiving viewpoints and suggestions regarding the further development of the document. Comments can be addressed to: IACHR General Secretariat, Organization of American States, 1889 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006, U.S.A.

© Copyright 1995 The Human Rights Brief

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Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities for the Natural World

by Dean B. Suagee

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Rights in the Americas

by Robert Guitteau, Jr. and Nadia Ezzelarab

Toward an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

by Rochus Pronk

Point/Counterpoint: International Intervention in Intrastate Conflict

Featuring articles by Juan E. Méndez and John R. Bolton

WCL Professor Participates in Election Monitoring in Nepal

by Angela Collier

Alumnus Profile: Santiago Canton

by Karen Graziano

Center News

Faculty News

by Karen Graziano and Frank De Pasquale

Credits & Copyright Information

The Human Rights Brief is a publication of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in conjunction with the Washington College of Law at American University. No portion of this newsletter may be reprinted without the express written permission of The Human Rights Brief. All correspondence, reprinting requests, and articles proposed for publication may be sent to: American University, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Washington College of Law, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016-8181 Phone (202) 274-4180, fax (202) 274-0783, e-mail:

Directors of the Center For Human Rights and Humanitarian Law:
Robert Goldman, Claudio Grossman, Herman Schwartz
Executive Director:
Robert Guitteau, Jr.
Gabriel E. Eckstein
Articles Editor:
Brian Tittemore
Editorial Board:
Nadia Ezzelarab, Fernando González-Martín, Peter Hansen, Nicola Hillman, Rochus Pronk, Ayesha Qayyum, Sergio Ramirez
Alumni Board:
Samir Desai, Sharon Healey-Scully, Antonio Maldonado, Claudia Martin, Diego Rodríguez, Françoise Roth, Claudio Santorum, Jennifer Susman
Newsletter Staff:
Peter Backes, Layli Miller Bashir, Angela Collier, Frank De Pasquale, Bina Desai, Karen Graziano, Fatimah Mateen, Dharmaputhiran Niles, Magda Theodute

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