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Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Still Lag Behind in Latin America

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS) - A new report issued by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) analyses the gaps in the fulfilment of rights of indigenous peoples in the region.

The report was presented during the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples aimed at pushing forward the commitments of Member States in the protection of these groups

“There have been many outcomes from U.N. Conferences, but this document is unique because of the inclusive way in which indigenous peoples and Member States turned their shared goals into a reality”, said the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa.

“It will serve as a guiding document going forward, building on the commitments the international community previously made in the foundation document, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, he remarked.

Although a number of improvements have taken place in the past decade, regarding for example access to health, education and political rights, these groups still lag behind in the full enjoyment of their rights.

Presenting the report to journalists, Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, said: “There are two countries that are doing a particularly good job in terms of recognition of indigenous peoples in their constitutions and they are Bolivia and Ecuador”.

Both countries have incorporated the natives’ rights in the constitution and Bolivia is now called the Plurinational State of Bolivia, in a more inclusive approach, she added.

According to the latest figures from 2010, Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 45 million indigenous people (982 groups), constituting 8.3 percent of the total of the regional population, which reflects an increase from the last census of population (646 groups).

Brazil has the greatest number of indigenous peoples (305) followed by Colombia (102), Peru (85), Mexico (78) and Bolivia (39). Many of these peoples, shows the report, are threatened with either physical or cultural extinction.

The report gives direct recommendations to the states: they should for example obtain Free Prior and Informed Consent from the people that are affected by development projects or legal reforms; and they should ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 169 Convention, a legally binding international instrument that protects the rights of the indigenous peoples.

ECLAC has estimated that 200 conflicts related to land access and extractive and mining projects have occurred between 2010 and 2013 and calls for the “integration of indigenous peoples’ rights in a new natural resource governance model”, as mentioned in the report.

Bárcena cited Bolivia where the government redistributed to the indigenous communities part of the 6 billion dollars it received from hydrocarbons extraction.

Indigenous peoples give an important contribution to development in the region and ECLAC recognises the importance of including them in the definition of a new sustainable paradigm, with a focus on equality and rights.

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