Our Perspectives


Celebrating the world's indigenous peoples, declaring their rights

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indigenous manAn indigenous man at the Copán Ruinas Archaeological Site, Museum of Maya Sculpture in Honduras. Around the world, discrimination and structural inequalities disproportionately affect indigenous peoples. Photo: UN

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples celebrates the wealth and variety of indigenous cultures and the rights, achievements, and contributions of indigenous peoples worldwide. These rights are enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but are not always upheld.

There are more than 370 million Indigenous peoples living in some 90 countries. It is estimated that they constitute 15 percent of the world’s poor, and one third of the 900 million people living in extreme poverty in rural areas. In vast numbers, indigenous peoples live in some of the world's most resource rich areas, but their own forms of conservation and resource management have been historically undervalued. Too often development projects and programmes undertaken near to and within their lands result in degradations to the environments upon which their physical and cultural survival depends, violate their human rights, and exclude them from equitable benefits.

Around the world, discrimination and structural inequalities disproportionately affect indigenous peoples. Human development and peace is not possible where discrimination, injustice, and social exclusion prevail, and where there is a lack of recognition that all groups bring value to society through their different worldviews.

In the Governance and Peacebuilding cluster in UNDP we support countries in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous people, especially through our rule of law and human rights, inclusive governance, and conflict prevention work.

For example, we engage with indigenous peoples in Colombia and Guatemala to promote indigenous people accessing justice, courts and claiming their rights. We supported the national human rights institutions in Indonesia and Malaysia to undertake public enquiries on indigenous land and forest rights to raise the voice of indigenous peoples to influence laws and protection of forests. We support programmes that promote political participation in Panama and Costa Rica.

Last year, during the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was asked to develop a UN-wide plan to implement UNDRIP. This UN System Wide Action Plan (SWAP) will guarantee that the UN advocates with one voice for indigenous peoples rights and implements programmes in a coordinated way. Our team is proud to participate in the development of the SWAP and support consultations with indigenous peoples and UN member states all around the world.

Our recently approved Social and Environmental Standards will help us ensure that our projects protect and foster full respect for human rights of Indigenous Peoples under international and national law.

Through a global survey, indigenous peoples themselves have raised issues such as lack of political will by states, a general lack of information and awareness about indigenous peoples’ rights, the need for more resources and capacity to effectively promote the implementation of UNDRIP, and climate change and environmental degradation that affects indigenous peoples’ lands and way of life.

UNDP brings perspective and experience from working in 170 countries, and will take a leading role in implementing the SWAP with our national partners, governments, national institutions, and civil society in countries. This will entail promoting increased meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in processes that affect them, capturing evidence and data on indigenous peoples, and building capacity of states to implement UNDRIP and international human rights tools related to indigenous rights, and enabling civil society and indigenous peoples themselves to advocate for their rights.

Governance and peacebuilding Human rights Political participation Sustainable development Inclusive growth Patrick Keuleers

UNDP Around the world