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Washington, August 9, 2011. On the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) highlights the importance of indigenous and tribal peoples’ right to prior, free and informed consultation with regard to decisions that may affect them.
As the organs of the Inter-American Human Rights System have reiterated, States must guarantee that indigenous peoples are consulted on all matters that may affect them, taking into account that this consultation must be aimed at reaching agreement with regard to the administrative or legislative actions that have an impact upon their rights.
The right to consultation, and the corresponding State duty, are linked to several individual and collective human rights. Apart from being a manifestation of the right to participation, the right to be consulted is fundamental for the effective enjoyment of indigenous peoples’ right to communal property over the lands they have traditionally used and occupied, and is also directly related to the right to cultural identity, insofar as these peoples’ culture may be affected by the State decisions that concern them.
The right to prior consultation is especially relevant for the conduction of development or investment plans or projects and for the implementation of extractive concessions in ancestral territories, given that said plans, projects or concessions, in undermining the natural resources that are present therein, can affect the survival and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples and their members. The effective participation of indigenous peoples through their own institutions and distinctive forms of organization is required before the approval and implementation of these plans, projects or concessions, as a guarantee of their individual and collective survival, as explained by the IACHR in its Report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Rights over their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources.
The IACHR calls upon the States of the Americas to adopt the domestic legal measures required to recognize, and especially to enforce indigenous peoples’ fundamental right to prior consultation and -in the cases defined by inter-American jurisprudence- to prior, free and informed consent, with regard to decisions that may affect their rights or interests.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.