United States Endorsement of the UN Indigenous Rights Declaration a Welcome Development

Application of Declaration Crucial in U.S. Foreign Policy

Amazon Watch

For more information, contact:

Ada Recinos at +1.510.473.7542 or ada@amazonwatch.org


Washington, DC – The Obama Administration's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a welcome development, Amazon Watch stated today. Following a policy review process, announced in April of this year at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Administration released its new position on December 16th. Of the four countries that originally voted against the UNDRIP – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States – the U.S. is the last to reverse its position to endorse the Declaration.

President Obama officially announced the U.S. support for the declaration during the White House Tribal Nations Conference on the morning of December 16th. He was echoed later that day by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice who said, "The Declaration is a milestone in the international community's efforts to identify and address the needs of Indigenous peoples around the world, to protect their ways of life and to help their communities to flourish."

"The Obama Administration deserves praise for reviewing and ultimately reversing its position on the UN Indigenous rights declaration. Now, what's important is that UNDRIP be implemented," stated Amazon Watch's DC Advocacy Coordinator, Andrew Miller.

In a 15-page statement, the Administration appropriately focused commentary on how the Declaration applies to domestic policy. Given that the document was issued by the U.S. State Department, however, there was a conspicuous lack of perspective about how the U.S. endorsement of the Declaration would impact U.S. policy overseas.

"In addition to two million Native Americans within the U.S., there are hundreds of millions of Indigenous people around the world who are affected by how the U.S. conducts itself in the international arena," Amazon Watch's Miller noted. "The Declaration's key principles, including free prior and informed consent (FPIC), right to sovereignty, territory and respect for traditional knowledge, should be applied to all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, whether free trade agreements, climate negotiations, or development assistance through multilateral banks."

During Administration consultations with civil society, Amazon Watch recommended that the Declaration be employed as a tool to improve due diligence around the potential Indigenous rights impacts of U.S. foreign policy. Amazon Watch highlighted the issue of bi-lateral U.S. trade agreements with other countries as one with stark implications for Indigenous rights.

New laws that the Peruvian government publicly rationalized as necessary for the implementation of the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement have exacerbated existing social conflicts. Indigenous protests against laws Peruvian President Alan Garcia justified as being FTA-related culminated in the violent June 2009 confrontation that left 34 fatalities, between police officers and protesters.

"It is incumbent upon the U.S. government to guarantee that international trade policy does not contribute to violations of Indigenous rights in countries like Peru or Colombia, where there are serious existing social conflicts around Indigenous territories and natural resources," stated Miller. "An immediate application of the Declaration should be ensuring that new legislative measures related to the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement – such as the Forestry Law currently under consideration – fully respect Indigenous rights."

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