By Human Rights Graduate Student, Francisco Socrates
Last March 25, 2022, the human rights cohort met with Dr. Yuri Mantilla, a professor of law at Liberty University and a longtime practitioner and scholar of international human rights. Although his scholarship on international human rights spans across different fields, such as international legal theory, religious freedom, and bioethics to name a few, the lecture he gave us was on the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. Adopted by the Organization of American States in 2016, the document speaks of the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the Americas” (Article XLI). A Bolivian who is partly of indigenous descent, Dr. Mantilla speaks very passionately about the subject.
In order to understand and appreciate the declarations’ relevance, Dr. Mantilla asserts, one has to understand the history of Latin America. Beginning from the time of Spanish conquest, IPs have continually suffered from racial discrimination and other injustices that flow from it. And because it has become so ingrained in the culture, there had to be stronger measures to eradicate it and to protect IPs from it, hence the declaration. Dr. Mantilla highlighted some rights from the document, such as the right to self-determination, the right to reject assimilation, and right to cultural identity and integrity, the right to preserve and promote the indigenous family systems. All of which are grounded on the notion of individual human rights, which is today greatly supported by the international community.
He also spoke about the roots of individual human rights which, he argues, can be traced back to the natural rights discourse of the Salamanca School (late medieval period) which is further rooted in the Christian view that each human being is created in God’s image. Influenced by this school, the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas would use the notion of natural rights to protect the American natives from the abuses of the conquistadores in the 16th century.