UN expert on Indigenous rights visiting Canada

by Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Over the next week, the United Nation’s top expert on the human rights of Indigenous peoples will be meeting with government officials and First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations, communitie,s and activists across Canada.

In his mandate as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya has carried out research missions to developed and developing countries around the world and published reports on the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Russian Federation, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Botswana, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Nepal, and New Caledonia, among others.

The Special Rapporteur has been an active champion of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. James Anaya has said that the Declaration “represents an authoritative common understanding, at the global level, of the minimum content of the rights of indigenous peoples” and that “implementation of the Declaration should be regarded as a political, moral and, yes, legal imperative without qualification.”

The Special Rapporteur has been especially concerned about the impact of resource development on the rights of Indigenous peoples. In a recent report, the Special Rapporteur noted the “negative, even devastating consequences” when resource development decisions are made without the involvement of the affected peoples. In light of these risks, the Special Rapporteur has concluded that as a “general rule” of international law, the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples is required in decisions about resource development so that their rights can be more securely protected.

In 2010, investigation of a complaint filed by the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta, lead the Special Rapporteur to comment on “dire social and economic conditions” faced by the Lubicon as a consequence of their dispossession from lands subject to massive oil and gas development. The Special Rapporteur called for “renewed and resolute steps” to reach a negotiated settlement over Lubicon land and resource rights “in accordance with relevant international standards.” Until such an agreement can be reached, the Special Rapporteur called for “extreme caution in relation to development projects on the disputed lands,” including respect for their right of free, prior and informed consent.

The Special Rapporteur’s mission to Canada will conclude with a press conference on October 15th.

His report on Canada will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014.

Website of the Special rapporteur

The Special rapporteur’s report on extractive industries

The Special Rapporteur’s investigation of the Lubicon complaint:

Amnesty International appeal on the right of free, prior and informed consent