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In focus

The rights of indigenous peoples


Countrywoman in Cochabamba, Bolivien.

Around 90 coun­tries of the world are home to some 5,000 indigenous peoples, to which a total of more than 370 million people belong. Although they make up five per cent of the world’s popu­la­tion, they account for 15 per cent of the poor. In most coun­tries, indigenous peoples are largely excluded from political, economic and cultural life. Their standard of living often falls far below that of the poorest strata of the non-indigenous popu­la­tion.

This exclusion not only violates the civil and political human rights of the indigenous peoples. Discrimination and marginalisation also deny them their right to self-determined de­vel­op­ment. This harbours significant potential for conflict, for instance where land rights or the use of further natural resources are concerned.

Sustainable de­vel­op­ment can only be achieved when indigenous peoples are able to participate actively, or in other words when they are involved directly in all decisions that affect them (and thus enjoy the right to self-determination). This requires compliance with the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

In­ter­national agreements and initiatives

Convention No.169 concerning "indigenous and tribal peoples in independent coun­tries", which was adopted by the In­ter­national Labour Organization (ILO) in 1989, is the only in­ter­national agreement designed to comprehensively protect the rights of indigenous peoples. It has so far been ratified by 22 coun­tries, most of them in Latin America.

A further key frame of reference for the human rights of indigenous peoples is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2007. Given the efforts made over many years by the representatives of indigenous peoples to raise awareness of their situ­a­tion within the in­ter­national com­mu­ni­ty, this declaration is a milestone.

The United Nations also provide the indigenous peoples with various platforms where they can deliberate on their concerns, and influence governments and in­ter­national organisations with regard to respecting, protecting and fulfilling their rights.

Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 is also of major importance for indigenous peoples. It protects traditional knowledge as well as innovations and practices of indigenous peoples that are relevant to the conservation and sus­tain­able use of biological diversity. The German gov­ern­ment provides continuous support to the representatives of indigenous groups as they prepare to articulate their concerns at the Conferences of Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Germany's contribution

Protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples, and the principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in planning processes that affect indigenous peoples and local communities, are im­por­tant elements of the BMZ strategy paper on human rights published in 2011. For German de­vel­op­ment policy, the active participation of indigenous peoples is a key prerequisite to fulfilling their human rights. Above and beyond its involvement in the United Nations bodies, the BMZ also uses its bilateral contacts with coun­tries that have an indigenous popu­la­tion in order to stand up for their interests in policy dialogue.

The BMZ also abides by the provisions of the ILO Convention No. 169, and supports implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). So far, the regional focus of bilateral co­op­er­a­tion to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples has been in Latin America. The strategy paper on co­op­er­a­tion with indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, which the BMZ published in 2006, provided an im­por­tant foundation for this work.

Latin America a key region

In Latin America indigenous people account for around ten per cent of the total popu­la­tion; their rights and interests are increasingly being recognised by governments. Support is provided chiefly in the areas of democratisation, the protection and management of natural resources, crisis prevention and conflict management, and education. In all activities of bilateral official de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion in this region, project and programme planners assess whether the measures might have negative impacts on indigenous peoples. For measures that affect indigenous groups directly, these groups are involved in the planning process both early on and comprehensively.

To supplement the bilateral measures, at the regional level indigenous umbrella organisations are supported in defining and articulating their political positions and claiming their rights. This also promotes cross-border co­op­er­a­tion and coordination among the indigenous organisations. One example is the Indigenous Intercultural University, a regional network facilitated by the Fondo Indígena (Indigenous Peoples Fund) in La Paz. It offers postgraduate courses on intercultural bilingual education, medicine and legal pluralism.

Another area of German de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion with Latin America is strengthening the rights of indigenous women. Since 2009 the German gov­ern­ment has also been supporting the Organization of American States (OAS) in realising indigenous rights within the inter-American system.

And in Asia and Africa too, Germany includes the concerns of numerous indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups in its de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion activities. However, self organisation by the indigenous peoples and the awareness of governments concerning their rights and interests are not yet as advanced here as it is in Latin America. The BMZ is currently preparing a position paper on the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide.

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