The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

More than 1,000 indigenous representatives from all regions of the world are meeting in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at UN Headquarters to discuss the impact of climate change on indigenous communities, among other issues.

High Commissioner Louise Arbour visiting the Bolivian indigenous Aymara community of Jesús de Machaca - OHCHR“This year’s session, which is being held from 21 April to 2 May, is the first since world leaders adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On 29 April the Forum will discuss the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.

After two decades of negotiations between Member States and indigenous communities, the Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called the Declaration "a triumph for justice and human dignity" and “the most comprehensive statement to date of indigenous peoples' rights."

For the first time indigenous peoples have a universally-recognized text of their own which legitimizes them as subjects of international law with their entitlement to a full range of rights, established under the basic principles of universality, equality and non-discrimination, and their right to exist as distinct peoples. The Declaration establishes “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world”.

It addresses both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. Indigenous peoples’ equal worth and dignity can only be assured through the recognition and protection of their collective rights as distinct groups.

The purpose of the Declaration is to guide States in the development of a cooperative and harmonious relationship with the indigenous peoples living within their boundaries, to promote and protect their human rights, including their right to a distinct identity as peoples.

The world community of indigenous peoples is made up of over 370 million individuals living in more than 70 countries around the globe. In many countries, more than 50 per cent of indigenous peoples have resorted to living in cities, moving from their traditional lands to seek education and employment, partly because of abuses to their land rights and distinct ways of livelihood.

One of the major achievements of the Declaration was to find a balanced understanding of States’ concerns about their territorial integrity and of indigenous peoples’ desire to determine their own development priorities. In numerous cases, the long traditions of indigenous self-governance have been interrupted, limited or denied. The recognition by States that indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own future in accordance with their own processes is the key principle of the Declaration. Having a role in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of national and regional development plans and programs is crucial for their survival as distinct peoples.

April 2008