UN human rights expert Victoria Tauli-Corpuz expressed [press release] concern Thursday about the situation faced by the indigenous people of Honduras, specifically in connection with their land and natural resource rights, their lack of access to justice, education and health, and the general environment of violence and impunity affecting their communities. In her end-of-mission statement [text], she described the situation as being critical. Among other things, Tauli-Corpuz’s investigation referred to construction projects that had been approved by the government of Honduras without prior consultation with the indigenous people, which have led to grave human rights violations including killings, assassinations of specific tribe members, threats and intimidation. Tauli-Corpuz’s statement specifically noted the lack of awareness of justice operators, lack of institutional resources, linguistic and economic barriers, racism and discrimination, and impunity as significant factors contributing to the lack of access to justice. Tauli-Corpuz further stated that lack of effective legal, administrative and other mechanisms to enable indigenous peoples to present complaints and violations concerning their territorial, cultural and basic human rights have led to peaceful protests from the indigenous communities, which in turn has had the unfortunate effect of criminalizing those defending their lands.
The rights of indigenous people are of major concern in many parts of the world. According to a report [text, PDF] released by Amnesty International [advocacy website] earlier this month, armed conflict in Colombia has caused members of indigenous communities and peasant farmers to lose their lands [JURIST report], and these communities have been unable to reclaim the lands taken from them because of corporate mining interests in the area that are being actively protected by paramilitaries which actively carry out human rights violations inclusive of murder. In October 2013, a UN rights expert expressed similar concern [JURIST report] for aboriginal people in Canada, finding that despite the general wealth of Canada’s citizens as a whole, one in five indigenous people live in poverty, and concluding that the country faced a “crisis” at that time. In August 2013 then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged [JURIST report] states to honor treaties with indigenous peoples, regardless of how long ago they were signed, as such treaties serve to protect human rights. 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].