In memory of Erica-Irene Daes

Dr. Erica-Irene Daes, an academic, diplomat, UN independent expert and strong human rights defender, was undoubtedly one of the main protagonists in the significant progress achieved over the last four decades in relation to recognising Indigenous Peoples as subjects of international law. She passed away the 12th of February, 2017.

Erica Daes was a member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Chair of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (1984-2001). As UN expert and Chairperson of the first mechanism established by the UN to consider the human rights situation of Indigenous Peoples, she was one of the main drivers behind the development of an international standard for the protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the full inclusion of Indigenous Peoples into UN processes related to their rights.

Under her mandate, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations became the gateway for hundreds of indigenous representatives, who were able to participate in its annual sessions in Geneva and become the main catalyst in recognising and protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples within the UN system. As Chair of the Working Group, she played a major role in developing the draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For the first time in the UN’s history, the elaboration of an international legal norm enjoyed the full and active participation of the subjects of the rights themselves: Indigenous Peoples.

In addition, during her 18 years as expert and Chair / Rapporteur of the Working Group, Dr. Daes was the author of numerous studies and reports that have been fundamental in developing the legal argumentation behind the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The UN recognised her outstanding work by awarding her the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 1993.

Erica-Irene Daes and her work with IWGIA

IWGIA also had the privilege of working with Dr. Daes on her book "Indigenous Peoples - Keepers of our past, custodians of our future”. The book, published by IWGIA in 2008, is a personal account of her experience. As she herself points out in the preamble to the book, this work comes from the depths of her heart, collects together her own experiences on the diversity of indigenous cultures and celebrates the enormous contribution of Indigenous Peoples to our civilisation. The book is undoubtedly a unique testimony, a historical and human memory, which she dedicated to all indigenous representatives whom she had had the honour and privilege to know, to visit and to work with.

Erica Daes leaves us with a legacy of great legal value to all defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples in her numerous studies, reports, contributions to academic publications, etc. But she also leaves us with an example to follow, proof that courage, perseverance, commitment and humanity in the cause of the world's Indigenous Peoples are just as necessary and valuable as the first.

Rest in peace, dear Erica!

Tags: Global governance



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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