Friday, July 10, 2020


Article Index


      The inherent rights of indigenous peoples have been recognized by the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of 2007, which include rights of peoples to their ancestral lands, territories, natural resources, and to exercise control and management over their lands, territories, and resources. These rights were proclaimed as a necessary extension of the cardinal right to self-determination, which requires that all peoples freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social, and cultural developments, including the right to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.

      According to the ILO Convention No. 169, the rights of indigenous peoples to the natural resources pertaining to their lands and territories shall be specially safeguarded. Convention No. 169 goes on to state that these protected rights should include the right of the people to participate in the use, management, and conservation of natural resources within their domain. For its part, Article 26 of UNDRIP specifically declares:

       1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

       2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired, and

       3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

      The international framework has established commendable normative standards to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in relation to land and natural resources, and a number of regional human rights mechanisms have applied these firm normative standards to redress violations of indigenous rights. For instance, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human Rights have on different occasions had to defer to international indigenous rights prescriptions in a bid to protect the collective right of peoples to their land and territories within the respective local boundaries.

      However, at the domestic or national jurisdiction levels, indigenous communities have encountered the most difficulties, often precipitating an alarming rate of abuse of these protected rights.