Relief agency hails Obama's historic endorsement of indigenous people's rights

By jlee

Share this story:

Washington, DC – International humanitarian agency Oxfam America praised President Obama’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Oxfam helps indigenous communities around the world to defend their rights to land, livelihoods and identity.

The United States is the last of the four countries that originally voted against the UN Declaration to reverse its position. By endorsing the Declaration, the US affirms to the world that indigenous peoples have the right to be free from discrimination and forced assimilation, and the right of self-determination.

“The rights of indigenous people are often overlooked, ignored and violated, particularly when it comes to large-scale oil, gas, and mining projects,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Today’s endorsement by President Obama will strengthen indigenous people’s rights to make decisions about how their land is used and to be free from discrimination.”

While large-scale resource projects may bring opportunity for citizens of the nations where the resources are being developed, many of the poorest and most vulnerable, in many cases indigenous communities, are often excluded from the benefits that might be generated by these activities.

The Declaration enshrines the right of indigenous peoples to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), the principle that local communities must be adequately informed about development projects in a timely manner and be given the opportunity to freely approve (or reject) a project prior to the commencement of its operations. In particular, the Declaration calls on states to consult with indigenous peoples through their representative institutions to secure their consent prior to approving projects that would affect their lands or territories and other resources. This would allow and encourage indigenous communities to fully participate in the decision making process around such projects.

“Violations of indigenous peoples' basic human rights, such as rights to land, resources and the environment, often lead to disastrous consequences for these communities,” said Offenheiser. “We are pleased to see the US government take this long-overdue step towards addressing this situation and look forward to seeing the US government promote the principles of the Declaration, including FPIC, in its engagement with international financial institutions and other governments.”