UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Wednesday urged [press release] states to honor treaties with indigenous peoples, two days before the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples [official website]. Pillay stated that treaties with indigenous peoples ought to be respected regardless of how long ago they were signed and that such treaties serve to protect human rights. While acknowledging the growing commitment to indigenous peoples in many countries through constitutional, legislative and administrative measures, Pillay emphasized that indigenous peoples still face exploitation today and are often forced to go to courts to enforce promises their states make.
The rights of indigenous peoples have become a pressing issue in recent years. Last month the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples encouraged [JURIST report] the Panamanian government to strengthen the rights of its indigenous people. In December 2010 US President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] that the US would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [text]. The declaration, adopted in 2007, is a non-binding treaty outlining the global human rights of approximately 370 million indigenous people and banning discrimination against them. The US was one of four member states originally opposed to adopting the treaty.