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International Day of World's Indigenous Peoples: Today’s major issues

On Friday 9 August, the world marks the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. The day celebrates the significant progress and achievements worldwide for indigenous peoples and their rights.

The past 30 years have seen remarkable progress in the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights, with important milestones being the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and the establishment of international and regional human rights mechanisms mandated to monitor the realisation of indigenous peoples’ rights.

However, 9 August is also an occasion to highlight the threats and discrimination indigenous peoples continue to face every day in their struggle for survival as many such mechanisms and laws in many places are not fully or correctly implemented.

The 26th of May 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights made a landmark judgment in the case involving the Ogiek peoples

Indigenous peoples are part of the climate solution

Indigenous peoples manage around 50 per cent of the world’s land, but they only have legal ownership of 10 per cent. However, scholars and decision-makers are increasingly recognising that forests under indigenous peoples’ stewardship are less likely to be deforested and that indigenous peoples have a rich knowledge that can support sustainable development and climate action.

“The recognition of indigenous peoples’ land rights and use of their unique knowledge are key components to prevent the devastating effects of the climate change,” says IWGIA Executive Director Julie Koch.

Five facts about indigenous peoples

  • There are between 370 and 500 million indigenous peoples in the world, living across 90 countries.
  • Indigenous peoples make up less than 5 per cent of the world's population but account for 15 per cent of the poorest.
  • Indigenous peoples speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
  • Indigenous peoples sustainably manage at least 50 per cent of the world’s lands but have legal ownership rights to only 10 per cent.
  • In 2017, indigenous peoples made up around half of all environmental and human rights defenders killed.

The threat of the global natural resource rush

In many areas, indigenous peoples’ land rights are still not well protected and the threat against indigenous communities is exacerbated by the intensifying global competition over natural resources as state and non-state actors grab their land to gain quick profits.

In India, the land rights of eight million indigenous peoples’ and forest-dwelling communities are under attack from at least three angles simultaneously. Their rights are secured in the Forest Rights Act (2006), but these rights are systematically undermined through a dubious process. In July, IWGIA and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) issued an urgent alert on this issue. Find it here >>

“The current pressure on indigenous peoples’ land and other natural resources is unprecedented in the 50+ years IWGIA has worked in defending indigenous peoples’ rights,” says IWGIA Executive Director Julie Koch.

Indigenous peoples on the front line

Recent reports by UN experts and human rights organisations documented an alarming increase in violent attacks and criminalisation of indigenous peoples defending their rights to their traditional lands and natural resources. A record 400 environmental and human rights defenders were killed in 2017 – approximately half of whom were indigenous peoples who died defending their land and rights.
Unfortunately, this development only seems to continue as Front Line Defenders documents in its 2018 annual report that 321 human rights defenders were killed in 2018. Around 77 per cent of those killed were defenders working on land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights. Read more about indigenous people’s defenders at risk here >>

“Every day indigenous peoples are risking their lives when they are defending their communities’ basic rights. In many countries, state and non-state actors, such as corporations, use new and more violent methods to intimidate and even kill indigenous rights defenders,” explains IWGIA Executive Director Julie Koch.

Who are indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have their own social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in the countries in which they live, and they characterise themselves as indigenous. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.

Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, but throughout history, their rights have always been violated. Indigenous peoples are arguably among the most marginalised and vulnerable groups of people in the world today, and the inclusion of indigenous peoples in processes such as the Sustainable Development Goals is crucial.

Support indigenous peoples’ rights

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights, and we have done so since 1968. But we need your support to overcome the challenges and continue our support to indigenous peoples at the local, national and global levels.

When you support our work, you help us promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples all over the world. No matter whether you choose to make a one-off donation, become a member or a monthly supporter, we appreciate your help and support. Read more here >>

Tags: Human rights



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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