United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions
Indigenous peoples are today often referred to as the poorest of the poor, sharing an experience of marginalisation, exclusion and/or discrimination. While no universally accepted definition of who is indigenous exists, and in Africa the fact that all Africans are ‘indigenous’ to the continent further complicates the issue, there are several elements of belonging to an indigenous group that enable us to distinguish indigenous peoples who identify themselves as such, have a distinctive world-view, own cultural and economic practices, own concept(s) of development, who desire to retain their traditional ways and are by virtue of these characteristics marginalised and often face impediments to the full enjoyment of their individual and collective human rights.#_ftn1" name="_ftnref1" title="">
International human rights mechanisms and the work conducted under the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)#_ftn2" name="_ftnref2" title=""> has led to indigenous peoples in Africa generally being understood as nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists and hunter-gatherers prevailingly living in situations of marginalization and discrimination. While some positive steps have been undertaken globally and specifically also in Africa to protect indigenous peoples’ rights (e.g. the Republic of Congo in 2010 adopted a specific law for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples), their situation generally remains grave.
At the international level, human rights as they also pertain to indigenous peoples as individuals are enshrined in a number of legal documents (e.g. UDHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, CERD etc.), but it took until 2007 for a specific instrument elaborating indigenous rights to be adopted at a United Nations’ forum. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Majority of states (143) voted in favour, while Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America voted against and 11 states abstained.#_ftn3" name="_ftnref3" title=""> The four countries that had originally opposed the Declaration have since reversed their positions and have endorsed the Declaration.
The Declaration is the most comprehensive instrument dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples providing a global framework for promoting, protecting and fulfilling indigenous peoples’ rights.
Together with other international and regional human rights instruments and a growing body of jurisprudence, related to the rights of indigenous peoples, the Declaration represents authoritative guidance on the obligation to advance the rights of indigenous peoples.
Though it is now universally endorsed, there are significant challenges to the implementation of the Declaration and on a national level this is where national human rights institutions can play a major role. Effective National Human Rights Institutions, especially those that are compliant with the Paris Principles, can be seen as cornerstones of a strong human rights protection system at the national and local level. They are an important relay mechanism and have a critical role to play through ensuring the application of international human rights norms and their effective implementation at the national level.
National human rights institutions generally have broad mandates which require that they protect and promote all human rights for all, however there are strong arguments for them to devote special attention to the situation of indigenous peoples’ human rights. In order to aid national human rights institutions (be they human rights commissions, ombudsman offices or a hybrid of the two) to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions have produced a publication entitled “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions.”
The manual has been designed to assist these institutions and other stakeholders, including indigenous leaders and communities, learn about the Declaration by providing a broad understanding of the legal nature of the rights it contains, of the relevant obligations of States, and by offering examples of practical steps national human rights institutions can undertake to promote the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, using the Declaration as the normative framework.
Focus and objectives
The objective of the event is to present the publication entitled “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions” to representatives of national human rights institutions and indigenous communities from Southern
Africa and wider and train them to strengthen their capacity to effectively work on advancing
indigenous peoples’ rights through the work of national human rights institutions.
Furthermore, the objective of the event is also to strengthen the capacity of UN Staff in the region to work on the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights through building their capacity to support national human rights institutions and provide them with guidance on the international indigenous peoples’ rights protection framework.
#_ftnref1" name="_ftn1" title=""> A strict definition of “indigenous peoples” is neither necessary nor desirable by indigenous peoples as it is impossible to capture the diversity of indigenous peoples in a definition, however elements of being indigenous have been elaborated in several document, for instance: (i) ‘Study of the problem of discrimination against indigenous populations’ (E/1982/34) prepared for the then UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities; (ii) work of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1996/2); (iii) ILO Convention No. 169; (iv) ACHPR Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa; (v) African Commission (Endorois Case).
#_ftnref2" name="_ftn2" title=""> Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities,
adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in 2003.
#_ftnref3" name="_ftn3" title=""> General Assembly resolution 61/295. Countries that abstained are: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi,
Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine.