The struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights has a long history at the international level. In 1970, the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities recommended a comprehensive study on discrimination against indigenous populations, which was undertaken by Mr. José R. Martínez Cobo from 1973-1983. The Working Group on Indigenous Populations, established in 1982, worked for many years to develop principles and a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The UN General Assembly finally adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in resolution 61/295 on 13 September 2007, which remains the most comprehensive international instrument on this topic. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and wellbeing of indigenous peoples and elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples. The UN system now has three key mechanisms and procedures specifically for indigenous peoples: (a) the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; (b) the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and (c) the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.In addition to UNDRIP, indigenous peoples’ rights are also recognised in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Populations (1989), the Organisation of American States (OAS) American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016), and in the jurisprudence of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Inter American Commission and Court on Human Rights, and the African Commission and Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In contrast, although the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognises local communities alongside indigenous peoples in Articles 8(j) and 10(c) on traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use of biodiversity, there is not yet any international instrument equivalent to UNDRIP for non-indigenous communities that have close relationships with and dependence upon their traditionally occupied territories. A recent report by Professor John Knox, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, acknowledged that States nevertheless have heightened obligations to protect such people under various grounds of international law, including as members of minorities and based on the principle of non-discrimination. This is also supported by jurisprudence of the Inter American Court and Commission and of CERD. The legal status of non-indigenous communities might be further clarified in the deliberations currently underway in the Human Rights Council’s open-ended intergovernmental working group on a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

There is arguably a close relationship between appropriately recognising and supporting ICCAs, and implementing UNDRIP and realising a range of human rights (see Stevens, 2010). The ICCA Consortium and its Members are actively participating in a number of UN fora, mechanisms and procedures on indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights more broadly, promoting the central importance of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ collective rights and responsibilities and also seeking to monitor, halt and remedy human rights injustices in the conservation sector. Particular emphasis is placed on supporting members of indigenous peoples and local communities to represent themselves in such processes. Among other things, this has led to consideration of ICCAs in two recent reports of UN Special Rapporteurs, namely, Professor John Knox’s report on human rights and biodiversity (2017) and Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz’s report on the impacts of conservation measures on indigenous peoples’ rights (2016). This closely relates to work on Biodiversity Law and Conservation Policy.

Key International Instruments, Mechanisms and Reports
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UN Special Rapporteur’s Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment (2018)

On March 5, 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Professor John H. Knox, presented the final report of his mandate to the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which identifies 16 framework principles on human rights and the environment, addresses the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and looks ahead to the next steps in the evolving relationship between human rights and the environment. Read more ▸

ICCA Consortium Attends Launch of UN Environmental Rights Initiative in Geneva

The work of Professor John Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, has significantly helped move the profile of the links between human rights and the environment from the periphery to the centre of the UN’s agenda. The new Environmental Rights Initiative of the UN Environment Programme was launched during the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council. Read more ▸

Events and Actions

The ICCA Consortium at the 17th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

A delegation of 20 members of the ICCA Consortium was in New York from the 14th to the 23rd of April to participate in the 17th session of the United Nation Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Two powerful statements in support of indigenous peoples’ collective rights and their role in conservation were made in the larger assembly, and our side-event on resistance to destructive development in ICCAs filled the room. Read more ▸

Key Resources on ICCAs
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Other Recommended Resources
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New report by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In her recent report, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples expresses her grave concern at the drastic increase in attacks and acts of violence against, criminalization of and threats aimed at indigenous peoples, particularly those arising in the context of large-scale projects involving extractive industries, agribusiness, infrastructure, hydroelectric dams and logging.  Read more ▸