International Standards relating to indigenous peoples

According to the resolution establishing the mandate, the Special Rapporteur promotes “the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international instruments relevant to the advancement of the rights of indigenous peoples, where appropriate”.

On the basis of this mandate, the Special Rapporteur’s activities are based, inter alia, on the following standards:

Specific instruments

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. The Declaration affirms the basic rights of indigenous peoples in a number of areas of special concern for these peoples, under the framework of the general principle or right to self-determination, including the right to equality and non-discrimination; the right to cultural integrity; the rights over lands, territories, and natural resources; the right to self-government and autonomy; the right to free, prior, and informed consent, and others.

The International Labour Convention (ILO) on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, No. 169, adopted by the International Labour Conference on 27 June 1989. The Convention is the up to date most advance international treaty specifically targeted at the advancement of the rights of indigenous peoples. The Convention includes a number of provisions regarding, inter alia, administration of justice and indigenous customary law; the rights to consultation and to participation; the rights over lands, territories and natural resources; labor and social rights; bilingual education, and trans-border cooperation.

Other relevant instruments

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966. The Human Rights Committee, responsible for monitoring the implementation of ICCPR, has applied several of its provisions in the specific context of indigenous peoples, including the right to self-determination (article 1), and the rights of national, ethnic, and linguistic minorities (article 27).

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, responsible for monitoring the implementation of ICESCR, has also applied several of its provisions in the specific context of indigenous peoples, including the right to adequate housing; the right to food; the right to education; the right to health, the right to water, and intellectual property rights.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted by the General Assembly on 21 December 1965. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), responsible for the supervision of the Convention, has paid an increased attention on the situation of the human rights of indigenous peoples through its different procedures. See General observation No. 23 (Indigenous Peoples).

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 1979. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has paid a special attention to the situation of indigenous women as particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. See, e.g., General Recommendation No. 24 (Women and health). In the resolution establishing the mandate, the Human Rights Council has requested the Special Rapporteur to pay a special attention to the situation of indigenous women, and to take into account a human rights perspective in the performance of his/her mandate.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1989. Article 30 of the Convention explicitly refers to the rights of indigenous children. Under the bases of this provision, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has given particular attention to the situation of indigenous children (see the Committee’s recommendations). In the resolution establishing the mandate, the Human Rights Council has requested the Special Rapporteur to pay a special attention to the situation of indigenous children.
The Convention on the Biological Diversity, adopted in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992. Article 8(j) of the Convention affirms the rights of “indigenous and local communities” over their “knowledge, innovations and practices…embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity” and to be involved in their wider application and to participate in the equitable sharing arising from them. The Parties of the Convention has adopted a number of decisions relevant to these issues, and have developed a set of Voluntary Guidelines for the cultural, environmental and social impact assessment regarding indigenous communities. See Akwé: Kon Guidelines.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement: Adopted in 1992, the UNFCCC sets to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system, based on a dual strategy of mitigation and adaptation measures. In 2016, State parties pledged to strengthen their global response in the landmark Paris agreement, which is the first agreement explicitly recognizing human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. The preamble acknowledges that climate change is a common concern of humankind and that parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health and the rights of indigenous peoples. These references provide an important milestone and commitment, as in implementing the agreement, parties should ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in their climate change measures.

The Paris agreement recognizes the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change (op 135) and acknowledges that adaptation action should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions. (op5)

The Escazu Agreement is a  regional agreement on access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean. It opened for signature in September 2018 at the UN headquarters and requests States to provide assistance to indigenous peoples in preparing their requests for environmental information and obtaining a response. (Art 5.4), It  requires States to guarantee that their domestic legislation and international obligations in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples are observed (Art.7). Furthermore, it sets out that States shall guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters, so that they are able to act free from threat, restriction and insecurity (Art.9).