• The UN Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: 10 Years On

    By Jessica Schofield-Wood

    2017 marks 10 years since the United Nations adopted the declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. A landmark document and the first of its kind, the declaration outlines the rights and freedoms to which all Indigenous communities around the world are entitled. This article will reflect on this document 10 years after its adoption. It will discuss the degree to which the declaration has been made policy in Peru, and the extent to which the rights outlined in the declaration are available to Peru’s Indigenous population.

    There are 46 articles in total, including the right to their own land, the right to participate in decision making and the right to the protection of language and culture.  Indigenous Peoples were greatly involved in the drafting of the declaration, including Habitat Pro Association’s founder Miguel Ibanez.

    Article 32 of the declaration states that governments must consult Indigenous communities before realizing activities of any kind that affect their lives. In 2011, a landmark law was passed in Peru: the Indigenous Peoples Consultation Law. This law requires the Peruvian government to consult Indigenous peoples affected by development policies and projects such as oil drilling, mining and forestry. Consultation must aim to achieve agreement. This law is an example of the UN declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples being implemented into Peruvian law, and an important step forward in Indigenous rights in Peru.

    However, since 2011, the Peruvian government has faced criticism from NGOs such as Oxfam, on the lack on consultation with Indigenous communities. For example in 2013, the government carried out fourteen mining projects in the highlands without prior consultation with neighboring communities. This issue is increasingly important, as insufficient consultation not only means that Indigenous communities are at risk from land eviction, but this has led to feelings of disenfranchisement.

    The lack of consultation can also negatively affect climate change mitigation that the world committed to at COP21 in Paris. Fishermen in Huanchaco say, 30 years ago the daily catch by a fisherman in reed raft was 30 kilos, now – only 3 kilos that leads to an increasing poverty and drives out indigenous peoples from their land. Meanwhile, the Indigenous practice of growing totora reeds in Huanchaco is not only a carbon neutral way of fishing, but the plant contributes to the balance of groundwater that helps to mitigate the effects of climate change. Successful implementation of the Consultation Law will result in Indigenous peoples being able to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and their lands.

    Article 15 of the declaration states that governments should take effective measures to eliminate discrimination. The annual ‘Tinkuy’ event is a good example of this, organized by the ministry of education. Every year Indigenous children are brought together with non-Indigenous children for a series of activities, with a view to celebrate Peru’s cultural diversity. Despite this, many Indigenous peoples face discrimination on a daily basis. This discrimination poses a series threat to the existence of many cultures, as influenced by prejudice many people choose not teach their native language and cultural traditions to their children.

    Article 14 of the UN declaration states that governments should take active measures in order for Indigenous children to have an education in their own culture and language. Likewise, The Peruvian constitution states that it encourages bilingual education, however the number of children studying bilingually is very low. Bilingual education is often not funded – 46% of Indigenous children are not provided education in their native language. It is evident that more could be done to promote the learning in both Spanish and Indigenous languages. This would help to foster a sense of pride in Indigenous languages and culture, and provide the context for which cultural traditions can be passed down.

    It is clear that in Peru since the adoption of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, there has been some effort to integrate aspects of this into Peruvian policy and promote Indigenous rights at state level. However, Indigenous peoples in Peru continue to face serious threats to their existence, including threats to the preservation of culture, challenges to protect their territory and discrimination. It is Habitat Pro’s belief that greater implementation of the declaration would result in significant improvements in the lives of Peru’s Indigenous communities.

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