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United Nations; United States: First U.N. Investigation of Native American Rights

(Apr. 24, 2012) From April 23 to May 4, 2012, James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona, will conduct a U.N. investigation into the rights of Native Americans. The study will be “the first mission to the USA by an independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.” (First Mission to the USA by the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya website (Apr. 20, 2012) [hereinafter First Mission]; see also Official Visit to the United States from 23 April to 4 May 2012, James Anaya website (last visited Apr. 23, 2012) [hereinafter Official Visit]; Jaimie Cremeans, UN to Investigate Rights of Native Americans, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Apr. 22, 2012).)

The non-binding U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by resolution of the U.N. General Assembly (A/RES/61/295) on September 13, 2007. (UNITED NATIONS, UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES (Mar. 2008).) The Declaration “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well being, and rights of indigenous peoples around the world.” (First Mission, supra.) The United States declared its support for the Declaration on December 16, 2010. (Press Release, U.S. Department of State, Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Dec. 16, 2012).)

As part of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur “will assess the ways in which the standards of the Declaration are currently reflected in U.S. law and policy, both domestically and abroad, and identify needed reforms or areas that need further attention in light of the Declaration.” (Official Visit, supra.) More specifically, Anaya will look into the human rights situation of “American Indians/Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians” and hold meetings “with federal and state government officials, as well as with indigenous nations and their representatives, in various locations,” including Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington, D.C. (Official Visit, supra; First Mission, supra.) He will submit the preliminary report on his findings to the United States for its consideration; the final version will be publicly circulated and presented to the UNHRC. (Official Visit, supra.)

Anaya was appointed by the UNHRC to the position of Special Rapporteur in 2008. (Mandate of the Special Rapporteur, James Anaya website (last visited Apr. 20, 2012).) By UNHRC Resolution 15/14, the Special Rapporteur is to “examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, in conformity with his/her mandate, and to identify, exchange and promote best practices.” (15/14 Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples: Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,A/HRC/RES/15/14 (Oct. 6, 2010), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)