The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous peoples, along with the context of violence and territorial dispossession to their detriment, forces us to think of solutions from the most varied legal and political spheres. On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9, this essay summarizes the way in which international law has addressed self-determination, with an emphasis on the need to strengthen its application to indigenous peoples. This is because of the imperative to preserve the existence of such peoples and their cultures, and the need to mitigate the effects of environmental crises of which the exposure to pathogens displaced from their natural habitat – such as SARS-COVID-2 – is only one manifestation.
It has been several decades since the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) began to address the situation of indigenous peoples in the region. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), since the mid-1980s, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, since the beginning of the 2000s, have adjudicated complaints and addressed the historical problems faced by indigenous peoples, especially in claims related to their lands, territories, and natural resources. The decisions of both bodies have created solid standards, especially on the subject of indigenous peoples’ property, with a level of detail that has been incorporated into other international human rights systems.
But never, until now, had the IAHRS looked beyond the state borders that separate these peoples, to adopt a comprehensive view of the biogeographic regions that they share, as is the case of the Pan-Amazon region. Such an approach is key because within this territory they share elements of their history and cosmovisión (worldview), as well as a contemporary reality marked by multiple patterns of rights violations that require joint efforts. The Report on the Situation of Human Rights of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region, which the IACHR presented a few days ago in Quito, Ecuador, is therefore both groundbreaking and timely.
In 1994, the UN General Assembly chose August 9th as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This day serves a moment for civil society, states, and the international community to reflect on the challenges in ensuring respect for indigenous peoples’ rights. This essay will focus on the right to free, prior and informed consultation (FPIC), which faces major challenges in its implementation. This right was recognized in constitutions that established a new model for the participation of indigenous peoples in state decisions. In the 80’s and 90’s, various states in the Western Hemisphere began to define themselves as multicultural societies and abandoned the previously dominant integrationist constitutional paradigm. This paradigm was based on two main premises: i) indigenous peoples’ cultures tend to extinguish due to their unsuitability to the economic and social order; and ii) public authorities must mediate the assimilation of indigenous peoples to the rest of society, guaranteeing them minimum economic and social rights.