UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Joins UArizona Law Faculty

Feb. 10, 2021

The Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law is hosting the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples José Francisco "Pancho" Calí Tzay.

The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Calí Tzay to the position in March, before its 43rd session in Geneva was suspended. The post makes him the highest-ranking independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council with primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

Being hosted at the College of Law's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program means Calí Tzay's primary office is at the college and he holds positions on the faculty as lecturer and associate director of the IPLP's human rights clinical programs.

This is the second time the university program has hosted a special rapporteur focused on the human rights of Indigenous peoples. S. James Anaya was appointed to the position in 2008 during his time as a College of Law professor and left the U.N. position in 2014.

Seanna Howard, a professor of practice in the college, and clinical law students in her International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop, will provide assistance to Calí Tzay.

"We are thrilled and honored to be hosting the special rapporteur in carrying out his U.N. mandate with the assistance of the IPLP Program, its legal staff and students," said Robert A. Williams Jr., Regents Professor and IPLP faculty co-chair.

He added that students at the College of Law will be working with Calí Tzay at the highest levels of the international human rights system.

"They will be involved in the most important issues and human rights crises confronting Indigenous peoples throughout the world," Williams said. "This is an unparalleled opportunity that no other university anywhere can provide to its students who want to work on Indigenous human rights issues."

Calí Tzay is a Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala and served for 16 years as a member of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, including as the committee's president from 2014 to 2016.

He also served as a member of Guatemala's Presidential Commission Against Racism and Racial Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples and as president of the National Reparation Program for the Victims of the Internal Conflict in Guatemala. He served as director of human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala and, prior to this U.N. appointment, as Guatemala's ambassador to Germany.

"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," Calí Tzay said. "Since beginning my work with the IPLP clinic students this past fall semester, it is clear to me that no other university in the world does a better job than the University of Arizona in terms of preparing and training its students with the level of knowledge and expertise needed to do this type of human rights advocacy work."

Calí Tzay's responsibilities for the three-year post include reporting to the U.N. about global human rights standards for Indigenous peoples, advising the U.N. and countries about best practices to promote these standards, developing studies and reports related to protecting Indigenous peoples' human rights, and responding to specific allegations involving the abuse of Indigenous peoples' human rights.

Calí Tzay's immediate focus has been the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities around the world and the extent to which national governments are respecting Indigenous peoples' rights in their efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. He delivered a report on the impact of COVID-19 on the rights of Indigenous peoples to the U.N. General Assembly in October.

Calí Tzay's first online public appearance at UArizona will be February 15 at 1PM (MST). Register here for Conversations With Haury: UN Rapporteur Jose Francisco Cali Tzay.

Funding support to host Calí Tzay has been provided by several major foundations and also by the UArizona Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights supports the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.