Rights of IPs
The struggle of indigenous peoples for self-determination, land rights and the preservation of their own cultures dates back to the beginning of European colonization, now more than 500 years ago. In the last four decades indigenous peoples focused on recognition of their rights at the international level, because at the national levels their call for justice was largely ignored. This resulted in the creation of many indigenous peoples’ organizations that have been able to find their way to the United Nations and other relevant international fora. The struggle has lead to a strong global movement of indigenous peoples’ organizations (IPOs) and supporting NGOs such as NCIV and strengthened their position at both the national and international level.
The situation of indigenous peoples can vary greatly in different places all over the world. For example, the Saami in Norway, Sweden and Finland are in a process to negotiate an international agreement that would recognize Saami rights to self-determination as a distinct people as well as the authority of the Saami Parliaments, but the Baka pygmies in Cameroon are still heavily discriminated and completely excluded from political participation. Despite some major successes at the national and international level, many serious violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples are ongoing today.
Struggle for recognition at the UN
It has been a long way for indigenous peoples to have their rights recognized internationally. As early as in 1923 Haudenosaunee chief Deskaheh (Canada/USA) travelled to Geneva to the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations) to claim the rights of his people; the right to live under their own justice systems, on their ancestral lands and practicing their own religion. However, he was denied access.
It was not until 1977 that the doors to the United Nations finally opened to representatives of indigenous peoples. The international NGO convention on Discrimination against the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas gave them access to the UN building in Geneva. Since then, indigenous peoples have actively been working towards the international recognition of their rights and have created an ever-growing international movement of indigenous peoples. Today, they are increasingly participating in the United Nations system, as well as other relevant fora, in their effort to secure their rights. One of the greatest achievements was the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which, after 30 years of lobby, finally was adopted by the General assembly.
Watch the video of Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, where he tells about the first time indigenous leaders were accepted at the UN in 1977>>
First and Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
The year 1993 was the United Nations International Year for the World’s Indigenous People. This was followed by the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995-2004). In the framework of this Decade, the UN called for an intensification of international cooperation in finding solutions for the problems faced by indigenous peoples worldwide in the fields of human rights, environment, development, education and health. Because the UN failed, during this decade to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and because of a lack of implementation of indigenous peoples' human rights standards at the national level, the UN has proclaimed a Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (2005-2015).
Box 1: The five objectives for the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (2005-2015):
- (i) Promoting non–discrimination and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the design, implementation and evaluation of international, regional and national processes regarding laws, policies, resources, programmes and projects;
- (ii) Promoting full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in decisions which, directly or indirectly affect their lifestyles, traditional lands and territories, their cultural integrity as indigenous peoples with collective rights or any other aspect of their lives, considering the principle of free, prior and informed consent;
- (iii) Redefining development policies that depart from a vision of equity and that are culturally appropriate, including respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity of indigenous peoples;
- (iv) Adopting targeted policies, programmes, projects and budgets for the development of indigenous peoples, including concrete benchmarks, and particular emphasis on indigenous women, children and youth;
- (v) Developing strong monitoring mechanisms and enhancing accountability at the international, regional and particularly the national level, regarding the implementation of legal, policy and operational frameworks for the protection of indigenous peoples and the improvement of their lives.