United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007, with 144 countries in its favour, 11 abstentions and four against it – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA. Many States have changed their positions to endorse the Declaration since, including the four that opposed it. It is a non-binding instrument.
The Declaration says that indigenous peoples are entitled – individually
and collectively – to the rights mandated by the Charter of the United Nations,
Declaration of Human Rights, as well as international human rights
laws. It says that they should be free from discrimination of any kind in the
exercise of these rights. The treaty notes the historical injustices indigenous
peoples worldwide have suffered such as dispossession of their territories and
resources. It invokes the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in stating that self-determination
is a fundamental right for all.
The 46 Articles of this 3,774-word Declaration describe the minimum
standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of all indigenous people of
the world, acknowledging that these collective rights are crucial for their
The following are excerpts from 14 of the 54 Articles, which remain
especially relevant to the present times:
Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to
self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters
relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for
financing their autonomous functions.
Article 5: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and
strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural
institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so
choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
Article 7: Indigenous peoples have the collective right to
live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be
subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including
forcibly removing children of the group to another group.
Article 10: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed
from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the
free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after
agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of
Article 12: Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest,
practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs
and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to
their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their
ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
Article 13: Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize,
use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages,
oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to
designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. States
shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also
to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in
political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the
provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.
Article 14: Indigenous peoples have the right to establish
and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in
their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of
teaching and learning. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the
right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
Article 16: Indigenous peoples have the right to establish
their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of
non-indigenous media without discrimination. States shall take effective
measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural
diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression,
should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous
Article 17: Indigenous individuals and peoples have the right
to enjoy fully all rights established under applicable international and
domestic labour law. States shall in consultation and cooperation with
indigenous peoples take specific measures to protect indigenous children from
economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be
hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the
child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,
taking into account their special vulnerability and the importance of education
for their empowerment. Indigenous individuals have the right not to be subjected
to any discriminatory conditions of labour and, inter alia, employment or
Article 24: Indigenous peoples have the right to their
traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the
conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous
individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all
social and health services. Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the
enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively
the full realization of this right.
Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and
strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally
owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal
seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future
generations in this regard.
Article 26: Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands,
territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or
otherwise used or acquired. States shall give legal recognition and protection
to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted
with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the
indigenous peoples concerned.
Article 29: States shall take effective measures to ensure
that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the
lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and
Article 30: Military activities shall not take place in the
lands or territories of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant
public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous
peoples concerned. States shall undertake effective consultations with the
indigenous peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular
through their representative institutions, prior to using their lands or
territories for military activities.
Focus by Ankita Radhakrishnan.
13 Sep, 2007