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In memory of Erica-Irene Daes

February 22 2017
Just months after receiving the news of the death of Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, we now receive the sad news of the death of Dr. Erica-Irene Daes in Athens, Greece, at the age of 91. At IWGIA we would like to express our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.

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.

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. These include the “Study on the protection of the cultural and intellectual property of Indigenous Peoples” (1993), “Indigenous Peoples and their relationship to land” (2001) and “Indigenous Peoples: Permanent Sovereignty Over Natural Resources” (2004).

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!