The indigenous peoples of Latin America represent 10% of the total population of the region. There are 522 different indigenous groups from the Argentinian Patagonia up to Oasisamérica, in the north of Mexico, being Brazil and Colombia the countries with the biggest diversity and Bolivia the country with the largest Indigenous population. These groupsare recognized as independent authorities and play an important role in politics in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador; although this same situation does not apply for the rest of the continent.
These Latin American ethnic groups present high levels of poverty, and are often banned from political power; furthermore, they live threatened by the destruction or invasion of their habitat, desiredfor their natural resources. Despite this situation, they are entitled to a big range of rights that work mostly as an image, but little is being done to accomplish theme. One could think that the international system is the right set-up where this is to be solved. Still, although there are several institutionalized international scenarios where American indigenous peoples can fight for theirrights, the main paths still used by these groups are non-institutionalized processes. Showing a lack of trust in the international system, and in their own governments.
One of the institutions that have been working on the protection of indigenous human rights is the United Nations. The document which contains the aims of the UN and of the signatory countries toward indigenous groups is TheDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was adopted in 2007 by 144 states in favor, 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine) and four votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, they all four have change their position and have ratified the Declaration).
In spiteof the effort to create an effective legal and institutionalized system to protect indigenous peoples’ rights, the outcome has been unsuccessful. Some of the issues that concerned the most signatory countries were the right to self-determination and the control over natural resources. This led to a 20 years discussion over the topic, showing the lack of efficiency of the system. Moreover, thefinal Declaration is a non-binding document, which means that no legal action can be taken so that the rights indigenous peoples where entitled with, can be accomplished.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people was created to follow the condition of these ethnic groups. A report on each country with important indigenous population ismade accompanied with recommendations to improve their circumstances. Still, this is just an analysis that does not force states to act towards the implementation of the recommendations addressed at the report. We can highlight the case of Colombia, where the report usually expresses its concern about the real action the state is taking to address the issue.
The following is an extract of thereport made by Mr. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in his visit to Colombia in 2009: “The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the numerous indications that the grave situation of indigenous peoples in Colombia has not been addressed with the level of urgency it deserves. Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur recalls thecomment of the Constitutional Court regarding the lack of consistency between, on one hand, the serious undermining of rights recognized in the Constitution and enshrined in law and, on the other, the resources actually assigned for ensuring the enjoyment of those rights in practice and creating the institutional capacity necessary for implementation of the corresponding constitutional and legal...