University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program Hosts the Special Rapporteur and Offers Students Exciting Experiential Learning Opportunities

March 2, 2022

New Online Resource for Indigenous Advocates

The Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program (IPLP), within the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, recently launched the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNSRIP) website. The site is designed to be user friendly and accessible to grassroots Indigenous communities and organizations, researchers, human rights defenders, and stakeholders around the world. It provides human rights resources, calls for input for thematic reports, a searchable database of reports, statements, communications, news and activities of the current UNSRIP, José Francisco Calí Tzay, as well as the three rapporteurs who preceded him. The website provides timely and relevant information on all aspects of the work of the UNSRIP mandate. The UA UNSRIP website is complementary to  the official webpage of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The IPLP is currently hosting its second United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay. Previously, S. James Anaya was appointed to the position from 2008-2014, during his time as a University of Arizona College of Law professor. Anaya worked closely with Faculty Co-Chair and Regents Professor, Robert A. Williams, Jr., to run a very successful rapporteurship. Williams says of the experience, “Jim really elevated that special rapporteurship and then was reappointed. Over those six years, it allowed us to really understand what it takes to do that type of work.” 

Vishal Siddharth Gaikwad, Director of Marketing and Communications for the UNSRIP program at IPLP and Doctor of Juridical Science candidate, developed the UNSRIP website in collaboration with the UA Campus Web Services. “If we take a closer look at the history of UNSRIP websites, Professor James Anaya was the first to create an external website to archive his work as Special Rapporteur. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also created her external website with a similar structure. Now, the UA UNSRIP website hosts a comprehensive database of all four UNSRIP mandate holders sorted into searchable categories including ‘special rapporteur,’ ‘country,’ ‘year,’ ‘data type,’ and ‘issues’. The website includes three interactive world maps that display country visits and communications, the regional human rights systems, and the UNDRIP adoption status by country. IPLP and the Human Rights Practice Program (in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences) are currently working on embedding a search engine into the UNSRIP database so users can easily find specific documents or reports through keyword searches and filters. “For example, if you are a researcher looking for past UNSRIP activities on the issue of ‘Forced Relocation’ in a specific country or involving specific indigneous peoples, you will be able to find the relevant information in the search result,”  said Gaikwad.  

At the University of Arizona, a strong team of experts supports the Special Rapporteur including Robert A. Williams, Jr. (Regents Professor and Faculty Co-Chair, IPLP), Seánna Howard (Director, International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop, Associate Clinical Professor), Elisa Marchi (Advisor for the UNSRIP at IPLP, Affiliated Faculty Human Rights Practice), and Raquel S. Hernandez (Administrative Assistant to the UNSRIP). Collectively, the team brings an extensive background of talent and knowledge including representing Indigenous communities on cases at the international level. Prior to hosting the Special Rapporteur, the program was involved in precedent setting cases including Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, Mary and Carrie Dann v. the United States, and Maya Indigenous Communities v. Belize. IPLP assisted the Water Protectors Legal Collective to develop an international human rights response to the concerns facing those demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock North Dakota, took part in self-determination initiatives with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and worked to protect the San Francisco Peaks and the religious practices and spiritual beliefs of the Navajo people. 

Special Rapporteur José Francisco Calí Tzay 

José Francisco Calí Tzay, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples is a Mayan Kaqchikel, from Guatemala, and was appointed as rapporteur in March 2020. His impressive background includes 16 years as a member of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (serving as President from 2014-2016), Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, he was a member of the Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism Against Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala (CODISRA), President of the National Reparation Program for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict (Guatemala), and Ambassador for Guatemala to Germany. 

Tzay’s responsibilities as Special Rapporteur include reporting to the UN about global human rights standards for Indigenous peoples, advising the UN and member States about best practices to promote these standards, developing studies and reports related to the protection of Indigenous peoples’ human rights, and responding to specific complaints and allegations of abuse of Indigenous peoples’ human rights. Calí Tzay’s primary focus in his post thus far has been the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people around the globe, and the extent to which national governments are respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights while working to reduce the spread of the virus. He presented a report on the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous peoples’ rights to the UN General Assembly in October 2020, and a report on COVID recovery measures to the Human Rights Council in September 2021. The reports included recommendations for a framework to prepare for future pandemics while respecting Indigenous people’s rights to self-determination and self-governance. He also presented a report to the General Assembly in 2021, addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples living in urban areas, with a focus on the challenges and opportunities of urbanization, and recommendations on measures necessary to guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights by Indigenous peoples.  

This year the rapporteur will dedicate his annual report to the General Assembly on Protected Areas and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: The Obligations of States and International Organizations. His next thematic report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 51th session in September, will be devoted to Indigenous Women and Development, Application, Preservation and Transmission of Scientific Knowledge. 

Students at Work 

University of Arizona IPLP and Human Rights Practice students have the coveted opportunity to work directly with the Special Rapporteur. Calí Tzay’s office is located at the Law College, where he works as lecturer and Associate Director of the IPLP’s Human Rights Advocacy Workshop for the duration of his mandate. When asked about this opportunity, Calí Tzay said, “Asking the IPLP Program to support my mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples was an easy choice given that IPLP had already hosted the very successful mandate of U.N. Special Rapporteur James Anaya when he served in that role from 2008-2014, while on the University of Arizona faculty.” 

Regents Professor and IPLP faculty co-chair, Robert A. Williams Jr. notes that, “These are unique opportunities for our students to work directly on the most urgent human rights issues confronting indigenous peoples in the world today.” 

An area of significant opportunity for students is participating in the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop, directed by Associate Clinical Professor, Seánna Howard, and in the Human Rights Practice Program , under Professor Elisa Marchi’s supervision. Students have assisted Cali Tzay with the research and drafting of the annual thematic reports, statements presented at webinars, information and advocacy materials, and have even accompanied him on an official country visit to Costa Rica.