Indigenous People and the UN

Photo by Lolin Menéndez, rscj

The world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people are found in more than 90 countries, according to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They regularly face discrimination and are counted among those who are extremely poor, lacking health, education and social services. They are often disproportionally affected by climate change, deforestation and environmental degradation or exploitation.

As the realities and needs of indigenous people gain increased visibility, this is a moment to review some of the steps the United Nations has taken to make the voices of the indigenous heard and to protect their rights.

1). The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – the most recent gathering of this advisory body to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was held in New York from May 16-27, 2011, bringing together indigenous representatives from around the world, representatives from different countries and UN bodies, as well as civil society and NGOs. To access the UN’s publication State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, click here.

2). The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA voted against the declaration in 2007, but have since then reversed their position. The declaration is available in the six official languages of the UN (i.e., Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Unofficial translations on the above website include Italian, Japanese, Kichua, Maori, Maya, Miskito and Náhuatl.

3). The Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2014). The goal of this Decade is to further strengthen “international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment and social and economic development, by means of action-oriented programmes and specific projects, increased technical assistance and relevant standard-setting activities.” (A/RES/59/174).

4). The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, Mr. James Anaya. For urgent action by the Special Rapporteur in the case of alleged human rights violations, please contact <>.

Cecile Meijer, rscj

NGO Office
July 2011