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Janice Collins
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The Human Rights Council and indigenous peoples

Within the United Nations, the Human Rights Council a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, dealing with human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. The task of the Council is to promote universal respect for the protection of human rights and to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon. The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. It consists of 47 UN Member-States.

A number of UN processes dealing specifically with indigenous peoples fall under the Human Rights Council. Among these is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.

Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
In December 2007, the Human Rights Council decided that a new Expert Body on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights was needed to assist the Council in fulfilling its mandate in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples.

The experts are to provide the Council with studies and research-based advice on the best means to develop and mainstream international standards that promote and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples. They will point out measures to ensure implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples among other things by reviewing and evaluating best practices and obstacles for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. The Expert Body shall report annually to the Human Rights Council on its work.

In June 2008, five independent experts – all of indigenous origin – were appointed to hold office for a period of three years. The experts are:

  • Ms. Catherine Odimba Kombe (Congo)
  • Ms. Jannie Lasimbang (Malaysia)
  • Mr. John Henriksen (Norway)
  • Mr. José Carlos Morales Morales (Costa Rica)
  • Mr. José Mencio Molintas (Philippines)

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People

the Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint in 2001 a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was renewed by the Commission on Human Rights in 2004, and by the Human Rights Council in 2007. In the fulfillment of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur:

  • Presents annual reports on particular topics or situations of special importance regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • Undertakes country visits;
  • Exchanges information with Governments concerning alleged violations of the rights of indigenous peoples; and
  • Undertakes activities to follow-up on the recommendations included in his reports.

Universal Periodic Reviews to watch over Human Rights
Another significant innovation adopted in June 2007 by the Human Rights Council is the creation of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Under this system the human rights records of each and every one of the 192 UN Member States will be regularly examined through a common mechanism.

The Universal Periodic Review will fall into three steps:

  • First, the government of the state being examined must present a national report on the fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments to a working group of the Human Rights Council.
  • Second, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will contribute to the review. The office will present a compilation of information drawn from reports of treaty bodies, special procedures and other relevant official United Nations documents on the human rights situation of each specific state.
  • Third, so-called credible and reliable information provided by other relevant stakeholders will also be taken into consideration by the Council in the reviews. Among such stakeholders, NGOs, national Human Rights Institutions, human rights defenders, research institutes as well as regional organizations are mentioned.

For indigenous peoples’ organisations, communities and individuals, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism provides a valuable opportunity to pass on information concerning indigenous peoples situation to the international community.

A general guideline for the preparation of national reports, information notes for NGOs and a calendar showing when each every state is due for examination, can be found on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:





A guide to ILO Convention
No. 169

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