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
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Key Resources on ICCAs
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Other Recommended Resources
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CICADA Launches Four Policy Briefs on Biocultural Diversity

CICADA, ICCA Consortium Member, launched the first four policy briefs of its series on biocultural diversity in settler state contexts. They identify challenges, explore opportunities, and provide recommendations on: biocultural indicators and the nexus of nature, culture, and well-being; livelihoods, food sovereignty, health, and well-being; information and communications technologies; and territorial defense in extractive contexts. Read more ▸

Natural Justice Launches the Third Edition of the Living Convention

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Natural Justice (ICCA Consortium Member) launched the third edition of the Living Convention. The Living Convention is a response to this important and often-asked question: “What are the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, peasants and their organisations at the international level?” It provides a foundation to ensure people are in a stronger position to understand the law, shape the law and use the law. Read more ▸

Statement: We Repudiate and Condemn the Murder of Elder Aj ilonel Domingo Choc Ché

Ajq’ij Domingo Choc Che was a husband and father, a community member who worked to help others, and an expert in the knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants and their ancestral uses. In the strongest terms possible, the ICCA Consortium joins Mayan and Guatemalan organisations in condemning Tat Domingo’s assassination and demanding swift action for justice, healing and peace.  Read more ▸

First published on 05/29/2016, and last updated on 07/03/2017