Last updated: 28 Jan 2024
In 1982, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 9 August as International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, commemorating the day of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Geneva in 1982. This update provides an overview of Indigenous Peoples, the environment, and the role of International Geneva in protecting, promoting, and upholding their rights, practices, customs, and knowledge.
- Leading Database on Conservation by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Opens to Public | UNEP-WCMC | January 2024
The ICCA Registry is an online reporting platform for strengthening evidence on the conservation importance of ICCAs, alongside increasing global understanding and recognition of these vital areas and their custodians’ conservation practices. The database was made available to the public in January 2024.
- Letter to COP28 Delegates from Indigenous Leaders & Allies: Ensure Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Are Secured in the “Green” Transition | 7 December 2023
“We, Indigenous leaders and allies from diverse cultures, traditions, and regions across the globe, are united in calling for COP28 to be a platform to discuss Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the context of the increasing demand for minerals mined for energy storage, electrified transportation batteries, and other green energy technologies.”
- Hurt ripples in wake of Indigenous Voice vote | BBC News | 15 October 2023
Australians rejected a referendum on whether to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the nation’s 122-year-old constitution, and give them greater political say.
Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
As defined by the United Nations, Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
Climate change, deforestation, pollution, development and loss of diversity are serious threats to indigenous peoples due to their dependence on the environment and the resources of the lands and territories. It causes the loss of traditional knowledge, disintegrating traditional governance structures and their cultures.
Although they comprise less than five per cent of the world population, indigenous peoples protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity in the ecosystems in which they have lived for centuries. With an estimated 476 million individuals in over 90 countries, indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They speak a vast majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures. There is a large overlap between indigenous peoples’ areas and areas with very high biodiversity, both in tropical forests and other biodiversity-rich ecosystems. Their social, cultural, economic and political characteristics distinguish them from those of the dominant societies in which they live, however, they share common problems related to protecting their rights as distinct peoples, therefore the environment. They face discrimination because of their distinct cultures, identities and ways of life, and are disproportionately affected by poverty and marginalisation, accounting for 15 per cent of the world’s poorest population.
International Day Observance
In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1993 the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and on 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided, in its resolution 49/214, that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples shall be observed on 9 August every year. This day is celebrated to raise awareness of the needs of indigenous population groups, in commemoration of the day of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Geneva in 1982. On this day, people from around the world are encouraged to spread the United Nation’s message on the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples.
2023 Theme: Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-determination
Indigenous youth are playing an active role in exercising their right to self-determination, as their future depends on the decisions that are made today. For instance, Indigenous youth are working as agents of change at the forefront of some of the most pressing crises facing humanity today. Since colonization, Indigenous youth have been faced with ever-changing environments not only culturally in modern societies, but in the traditional context as well. While living in two worlds is becoming harder as the world changes, Indigenous youth are harnessing cutting-edge technologies and developing new skills to offer solutions and contribute to a more sustainable, peaceful future for our people and planet. Their representation and participation in global efforts towards climate change mitigation, peacebuilding and digital cooperation are crucial for the effective implementation of the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination, and to their enjoyment of collective and individual human rights, the promotion of peaceful co-existence, and ensuring equality of all.
In the lead-up to the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September 2023, marking the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and the Summit of the Future in 2024, it is important to ensure an inclusive and diverse youth engagement in multilateral fora towards transformative changes in decision-making processes. The meaningful engagement of Indigenous youth in the following areas are crucial to exercising the right to self-determination and ensuring a better future for all.
This year, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) is organizing a virtual commemoration of the International Day on Wednesday, 9 August 2023 online from 15:00 – 16:30 CEST.
Geneva Celebrations of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
Listed here are other celebrations of organizations in Geneva:
International Decades of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
The United Nations General Assembly established the first International Decades of the World’s Indigenous Peoples from 1995 to 2004 (resolution 48/163), and the second from 2005 to 2014 (resolution 59/174), with the goal of strengthening international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in important areas such as human rights and the environment. The year 2022 marks the beginning of a new decade for the indigenous community: the celebration of the Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022 – 2032, following the celebration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007, establishing a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world. It is the most comprehensive instrument elaborating the rights of indigenous peoples and should be the critical starting point for any consideration of their individual and collective rights. Today, the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples, and it requires that free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples be obtained in matters of fundamental importance for their rights, survival, dignity, and well-being.
Indigenous Peoples in International Environmental Treaties, Processes and Negotiations
Articles 18 and 41 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples respectively affirm that indigenous people “have the right to participate in decision making in matters which would affect their rights” and that “ways and means of ensuring participation of indigenous peoples on issues affecting them shall be established”. As Indigenous Peoples have a direct and interdependent relationship with their environment, various environmental treaties, process, and negotiations have recognized the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ participation in them, as seen in the list below.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The CBD is an international legal framework adopted in 1992 that aims to uphold the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
The CBD recognizes the dependency of indigenous peoples and local communities on biological diversity and their unique role in conserving life on Earth. This recognition is enshrined in the preamble of the Convention and its provisions, including Article 8(j): Traditional Knowledge, Article 10(c): Customary Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, Article 17: Exchange of Information including its Repatriation, and Article 18(4): Technical and Scientific Cooperation including Indigenous and Traditional Technologies.
In Article 8(j) of the Convention, Parties have undertaken to respect, preserve and maintain the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities relevant for the conservation of biological diversity and to promote their wider application with the approval of knowledge holders and to encourage equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological diversity. Furthermore, considerations relating to the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities are also being incorporated in all the programmes of work under the Convention.
As such, the Working Group on Article 8(j) and related provisions was established in 1998 by the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4). At its fifth meeting in 2000, the COP adopted a programme of work to implement the commitments of Article 8(j) of the Convention to enhance the role and involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities in the achievement of the objectives of the Convention.
Global Biodiversity Framework
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) following a four year consultation and negotiation process. This Framework, which supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and builds on the Convention’s previous Strategic Plans, sets out an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050. Among the Framework’s key elements are 4 goals for 2050 and 23 targets for 2030.
The active participation of Indigenous Peoples in the development of the Framework has led to the recognition in the Framework of the role and rights of the Indigenous Peoples in rebuilding our relationship with nature (Section C.7.a,b,o). Several of the goals and targets of the Framework specifically address indigenous peoples’ interests, including those on:
- Area-based conservation, recognizing indigenous and traditional territories (Target 3);
- The use of wild species, protecting and encouraging customary sustainable use (Target 9);
- The fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources (Goal C).
- Calls for full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their rights over lands, territories and resources, and the full protection of environmental human rights defenders (Target 22).
Moreover, cross-cutting the entire Framework is a requirement that, in its implementation, the rights, traditional knowledge, worldviews and values of indigenous peoples must be respected in accordance with the UNDRIP and other relevant instruments. The Framework also includes a safeguard statement that nothing in it may be construed as diminishing or extinguishing the rights that indigenous peoples currently have or may acquire in the future.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
CITES has recognized and promoted the engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities (including rural communities) in its various decisions since its 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17).
At CoP19, Parties were invited to (a) engage indigenous peoples and local communities in CITES decision-making and implementation processes at the national level to better achieve the objectives of the Convention; and (b) share their experiences and lessons learned in engaging indigenous peoples and local communities in CITES processes with the Secretariat and other Parties.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
The IPBES rolling work programme up to 2030 recognizes the contribution of Indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems as a cross-cutting issue relevant to all of its activities. objective focuses on implementing the approach to recognizing and working with indigenous and local knowledge in IPBES, considering the special needs of indigenous and local knowledge holders through the implementation of the participatory mechanism established under the approach, as well as taking into consideration the recommendations and findings set out in document IPBES/7/INF/8 and other relevant future IPBES processes.
As such, the IPBES established a task force on Indigenous and local knowledge systems, which will oversee and take part in the implementation of enhancing recognition of and work with Indigenous and local knowledge systems; support the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel in implementing the approach to recognizing and working with indigenous and local knowledge in IPBES; and guide the secretariat, including the dedicated technical support unit, in supporting the Panel in implementing the approach.
Much of IPBES’ work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities and ILK has been coordinated by the technical support unit (TSU) for Indigenous and local knowledge, hosted by the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme, based at UNESCO.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
The IUCN has a long history of working with Indigenous peoples both to promote recognition of their rights at policy level and to support their conservation activities on the ground. For decades Indigenous peoples’ organisations were members as part of the civil society category at IUCN. But at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016, the IUCN Members Assembly adopted a landmark decision for indigenous peoples and conservation. Members voted to create a new category of IUCN membership for Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations (IPO), strengthening the recognition of their rights, participation, voice and role in IUCN.
As a distinct and mobilised constituency within IUCN, IPO Members have can benefit from the self-determined indigenous peoples’ strategy that identifies joint priorities for advancing their rights and issues in conservation and engaging with each other and within IUCN moving forward. At the 2021 IUCN Congress, the Indigenous Peoples Member Organisations called for the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights and governance over their lands and resources, which is part of a global agenda of Indigenous priorities for conservation action.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has a long-standing commitment to promote, recognize and strengthen the active participation of indigenous peoples, and local communities as key stakeholders for conservation and integrated wetland management (Resolution XII.2). Traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities relevant for the wise use of wetlands and their customary use of wetland resources, are documented, respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC has recognized the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change.
One of the key decisions taken during the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris was the establishment of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) that allows ‘the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation’, between local communities, indigenous peoples, countries and all other relevant stakeholders. Such a platform would mark a critical milestone in the global endeavor to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices, and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples in addressing climate change.
Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution
Through UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolution 5/14, the Assembly has requested the UNEP Executive Director to convene an INC to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. UNEA has decided that the INC, in its deliberations, should consider “the best available science, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems” (4d).
In its discussion on Core Obligations, Control Measures and Voluntary Approaches in the INC’s second meeting, various obligations have highlighted the role and interests of indigenous peoples and of ILK in addressing waste management, use of alternatives and substitutes, facilitating just transition, protecting human health from the adverse effects of plastics, among others.
Minamata Convention on Mercury
In its fourth meeting, the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the Minamata Convention called upon parties to engage indigenous peoples, local communities and other relevant stakeholders in the development and implementation of national action plans to tackle the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). COP-4 also requested the secretariat to compile views on the needs and priorities of indigenous peoples and local communities with regard to the use of mercury in ASGM.
The COP-4 decision also mandated an Open-ended Scientific Group to develop a scientific report in which it will compile, analyse and synthesize comparable mercury monitoring data, and an Effectiveness Evaluation Group (EEG) to oversee the development of the effectiveness evaluation report. Both Groups are asked to invite experts from Indigenous Peoples organizations to provide input to the development of these reports.
UN Bodies Mandated to Deal with Indigenous Peoples’ Issues
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is a high- level advisory body to the Economic and Social Council. The Forum was established on 28 July 2000 by resolution 2000/22, with the mandate to deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people
In 2001, the Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. In 2019, this mandate got renewed, requesting the Special Rapporteur to “participate in relevant international dialogues and policy forums on the consequences that climate change has on indigenous peoples” and to “undertake thematic research and to develop cooperation dialogue with States, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and other stakeholders on effective and sustainable practices”. The current mandate holder is Francisco Cali Tzay, a Mayan Cakchiquel from Guatemala, who has represented indigenous peoples at the United Nations since the early 1980s. He was appointed and took up the role in 2020.
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) was established by the Human Rights Council, the UN’s main human rights body, in 2007, as a subsidiary body of the Council. Its mandate was then amended in September 2016 by the Human Rights Council. Composed of seven independent experts, the Expert Mechanism conducts studies to advance the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights by:
- clarifying the implications of key principles, such as self-determination and free, prior and informed consent,
- examining good practices and challenges in a broad array of areas pertaining to Indigenous Peoples’ rights,
- suggesting measures that States and others can adopt at the level of laws, policies and programmes.
Each year, the Expert Mechanism holds a five-day session in which representatives from states, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ organisations, civil society, inter-governmental organisations and academia take part. The 16th session of the Expert Mechanism will take place in-person on 17-21 July 2023 in Palais des Nations, Geneva.
ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989 (No. 169)
The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 and its predecessor, ILO Convention concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries, 1957 (No. 107), are the only conventions specifically dealing with Indigenous Peoples rights. Convention No. 169 is fundamentally concerned with non-discrimination. While ultimately not as comprehensive as the Declaration, it covers indigenous peoples’ rights to development, customary laws, lands, territories and resources, employment, education and health. Moreover, it signalled, at the time of its adoption in 1989, a greater international responsiveness to indigenous peoples’ demands for greater control over their way of life and institutions. At the time of writing, ILO Convention No. 169 had been ratified by 22 countries, mainly in Latin America.
Indigenous Peoples as Environmental Human Rights Defenders
Environmental defenders, many of whom are part of or represent indigenous peoples, remain highly vulnerable and under attack across the globe. Evidence suggests that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against EHRDs also increases, whether through assaults, murders, intimidation, harassment, stigmatization, and criminalization. In 2021, 200 attacks against environmental defenders were recorded worldwide by the Global Witness, making an average of nearly four killings of environmental human rights defenders every week. Amongst these fatal attacks, 40% target Indigenous people, despite them only making up 5% of the world’s population.
As the field of human rights obligations related to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment expands, the need to protect those who protect our environmental rights also becomes more urgent. As such, the international community in Geneva is taking steps to protect, promote, and uphold the rights of environmental defenders.
Role of Geneva
Various international and local organizations in Geneva – listed below in alphabetical order – are engaged in the protection of indigenous peoples and the environment.
Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
The severe and ongoing harm caused by environmental toxics to indigenous women, girls, unborn generations and indigenous peoples as a whole, requires immediate attention. These toxics include pesticides and other Persistent Organic Pollutants, as well as chemicals produced by extractive industries (coal, oil, tar sands etc.), military installations and weapons testing, waste dumping and incineration, industrial processes, all phases of uranium mining, milling and waste storage. The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions deal with these issues. It is explicitly recognized under the Stockholm Convention that POPs affect, in particular, Arctic ecosystems and indigenous communities. The Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention, in partnership with the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme, carried out studies to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken to lower the impact of POPs pollution on the health of these populations. Because of their traditional ways of life, certain indigenous communities, who rely on natural resources like fish and marine mammals for their survival, are more subject to contamination from certain types of chemicals.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
CITES is a multilateral agreement aiming to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. As of today, it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.
Indigenous peoples and local communities are among the most active groups engaged in conserving and caring for much of our planet’s wildlife and ecosystems.
Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General CITES
In 2021, UN World Wildlife Day was celebrated under the theme “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”, highlighting the role of indigenous peoples and local communities’ livelihoods and knowledge in the conservation of forests species and ecosystems.
Center for Documentation, Research and Information (Docip)
The Center for Documentation, Research and Information was created in 1978 on the initiative of indigenous delegations attending the first International Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was held at the United Nations in Geneva, in 1977. Docip is a Swiss not-for-profit foundation whose primary objective is to support Indigenous Peoples in defence of their rights, mainly within the framework of the UN and European institutions.
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)
The Expert Mechanism provides the Human Rights Council with expertise and advice on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also assists Member States in achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Food and Agriculture Office in Geneva (FAO Geneva)
The FAO’s engagement with indigenous people is guided by the framework within the FAO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (2010), within the overarching goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition. Important studies and policy papers have been published by the organization including a manual on “Free Prior and Informed Consent: An indigenous peoples’ right and a good practice for local communities” and “Insights on sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change“. The liaison office of the FAO in Geneva also engages on the topic by organizing timely events.
Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime
The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime provides a platform to promote greater debate and innovative approaches, which serve as the building blocks to an inclusive global strategy against organized crime, including environmental crime. Indigenous peoples play an important role in tackling organized environmental crime. They are on the frontlines of resisting the main industrial drivers of global biodiversity loss and climate breakdown, and they often face retribution and violence for doing so.
International Labour Organization (ILO)
The ILO has been engaged with indigenous and tribal peoples’ issues since the 1920s. It is responsible for the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), adopted in 1989, which is the only international treaty open for ratification that deals exclusively with the rights of these peoples.
International Trade Centre (ITC)
ITC is a development agency dedicated to supporting the internationalization of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The agency enables SMEs in developing and transition economies to become more competitive and connect to international markets for trade and investment, thus raising incomes and creating job opportunities. Through its “Green to Compete” strategy, ITC supports SMEs to contribute to a nature-positive economy through conservation & sustainable use of biodiversity. Through its platform She Trades, the ITC builds capacity and supports indigenous women in trade and intellectual property.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, headquartered in Gland, plays a defining global role in the definition and management of indigenous and traditional peoples and protected areas through its Global Protected Area Programme. Additionally, the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) on the Theme of Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods provides evidence that conservation led by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, based on their own knowledge systems and stewardship, is the best strategy for people and nature.
The rights of indigenous peoples and local communities underpin their central role in conservation, as leaders and custodians of biodiversity.
Marseille Manifesto, IUCN World Conservation Congress, Marseille 2021
Luc Hoffman Institute
The Luc Hoffmann Institute follows the principles of systems thinking, convening and co-creation to incubate and accelerate new ideas and approaches that will deliver significant gains for biodiversity. By convening a wide range of stakeholders, the institute is a leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity. The role and contribution of indigenous communities and local peoples’ ecological knowledge, through the leadership of indigenous peoples’ community organizations, are more recognized and influential than in the past. Thus, in May 2022, the Luc Hoffman Institute published the report “Exploring Possible Futures for Conservation NGOs”, in which indigenous peoples and their legitimate representatives are regarded as stakeholders that must come to the fore in the future.
Founded by naturalist Luc Hoffman, MAVA supports conservation that benefits people and nature. MAVA accompanies key partners on their conservation journey, helping them develop the skills they need and strengthening their ability to deliver. Through the project “Conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in wetlands: Global leadership for an integrated approach through the Ramsar Convention” (March 2015 – March 2018), Mava Foundation supported the report “The relationship of indigenous peoples and local communities with wetlands” requested by the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in Resolution XII.2, in 2015.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) carries out a range of country-specific and regional activities to advance the rights of indigenous peoples. They have also published a fact sheet on Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Human Rights System which provides an overview of the UN human rights system and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR)
PEDRR is a global alliance of UN agencies, NGOs and specialist institutes seeking to promote and scale-up implementation of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and ensure it is mainstreamed in development planning at global, national and local levels. Around the globe, indigenous communities have faced disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, typhoons, coastal erosion and drought, amongst others, which have caused enormous losses including of lives, property and sources of livelihood. Indigenous peoples understand their environment and practice risk reduction strategies and methods that originated within their communities and have been enhanced and passed down over generations. Among other activities, PEDRR is advocating for an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework, notably through the promotion of Nature-based Solutions.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
The Ramsar Convention has a long-standing commitment to the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the management of wetlands. It was the first multilateral environmental agreement to use the term “indigenous peoples” in official documents, in line with UN standards since the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although wetlands cover only around 6% of the Earth’s surface, they provide vital habitats for 40% of the world’s species. The Ramsar Strategic Plan 2016-2024 has become an important benchmark for the Convention’s policy with regard to indigenous peoples and local communities. Strategic goal 3 includes Target 10 on traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, and in Resolution XII.2, the Conference of the Parties “ENCOURAGES Parties to promote, recognize and strengthen active participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, as key stakeholders for conservation and integrated wetland management.”
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
In 2001, the Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as part of the system of thematic Special Procedures. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was renewed by the Commission on Human Rights in 2004, and by the Human Rights Council in 2007.
Other special procedures can address the situation of indigenous rights in the field (e.g. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and more).
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)
TEEB is a global initiative focused on making nature’s values visible. Its principal objective is to mainstream the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels. It aims to achieve this goal by following a structured approach to valuation that helps decision-makers recognize the wide range of benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity, demonstrates their values in economic terms and, where appropriate, captures those values in decision-making. Through different projects, it aims to strengthen indigenous practices.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
UNCTAD‘s member States address the protection of traditional knowledge as part of UNCTAD’s work in the area of trade and environment. Protecting the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities is important to ensure that the benefits of cumulative innovation associated with traditional knowledge accrue to its holders while enhancing their socio-economic development, as well as to prevent the improper appropriation of traditional knowledge with little or no compensation for its custodians and without their prior informed consent.
As part of its work on trade and the environment, UNCTAD has launched the BioTrade Initiative to support the objectives of the CBD. BioTrade refers to those activities of collection, production, transformation, and commercialization of goods and services derived from native biodiversity under the criteria of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Since 1996, the initiative has developed a unique portfolio of global, regional and country programmes as well as a network of partners and practitioners working in over 65 countries. It recognizes indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge through two of its criteria: Criterion 6.3 Rights of local and indigenous communities (territory, culture, knowledge) should be respected; and Criterion 7.3 Access to traditional knowledge should be granted only where prior informed consent has been granted.
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
UNECE promotes sustainable use and preservation of ecosystems by supporting the development of biodiversity conservation policies in the region, and the integration of nature conservation in sectoral policies. Through its Committee on Environmental Policy, UNECE provides collective policy direction in the area of environment and sustainable development, prepares ministerial meetings; develops international environmental law, and supports international initiatives in the region involving all stakeholders. The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, also known as Aarhus Convention, was adopted on 25 June 1998 and it protects every person’s right to live in an environment adequate to their health and well-being. It establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders, linking thus environmental rights and human rights. Recent reports have highlighted serious threats to environmental defenders, working on land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental rights, including in Parties to the Aarhus Convention, thus, the topic remains on UNECE’s agenda.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP recognizes the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ participation and the inputs that traditional knowledge – gained through trans-generational experiences, observations and transmission – can contribute to sustainable ecosystem management and development. Through its Governance Affairs Office, UNEP assists the Member States and major groups and relevant stakeholders, such as indigenous peoples to engage with UNEP’s work. This work is led from Nairobi, as well as the work of the Ecosystem division of UNEP on biodiversity and indigenous-related issues in the environment. The Geneva-based UNEP agencies are nonetheless engaged in various streams of work to protect nature and halt biodiversity loss.
The UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples was established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 40/131 of 13 December 1985. Its scope has been expanded over the years in various resolutions to include participation in new UN mechanisms, sessions and processes. The Fund offers financial support in the form of grants. These grants aim to help representatives of indigenous communities and organizations to participate in UN mechanisms and processes most relevant to indigenous issues.
United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD)
The UN-REDD Programme is a collaborative initiative from the FAO, UNDP and UNEP. The programme supports nationally led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders in national and international REDD+ implementation. By protecting forests, REDD+ mechanisms can not only maintain vital ecosystem services and preserve globally significant biodiversity but also sustain livelihood and mitigate climate change. UN-REDD has devised and implemented a wide range of policy instruments and development practices to help countries promote the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities in forest-based climate solutions. It has also helped more than 30 countries establish participatory and inclusive platforms for REDD+ policies and processes. These platforms are key to continuing the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities through REDD+ financing, including performance payment schemes and emerging carbon market opportunities.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) is undertaking text-based negotiations with the objective of reaching agreement on a text (or texts) of an international legal instrument (or instruments) which will ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.
WWF is one of the leading organizations in wildlife conservation and endangered species. Working in numerous countries around the globe, WWF collaborates with people to develop and deliver innovative solutions that protect communities, wildlife, and the places in which they live. WWF works to help local communities conserve the natural resources they depend upon; transform markets and policies toward sustainability, and protect and restore species and their habitats. This organization recognises that indigenous peoples are among the Earth’s most important stewards of natural resources, as well as the importance of conserving their cultures, working with many indigenous peoples and organizations to conserve and sustainably use natural resources and to advocate on issues of common concern.
Past GEN Events
Previous events that relate to the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment organized by the Geneva Environment Network can be found in this section.
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | 22 March 2022, 13:15-14:45 CEST | CICG Room D & Online
CBD Side Event | Applying a Human Rights-based Approach in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
Swedbio at SRC, FPP, Global Youth Biodiversity Network, ICCA Consortium, IIFB, W4B, UNEP, WWF, Natural Justice, OHCHR, CBD & Geneva Environment Network | 19 March 2022, 13:15–14:45 CET | CICG A, B, C & Online
How Can We Better Protect and Promote Human Rights in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework? | High-Level Panel
Forest Peoples Programme, Swedbio, International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, Global Youth Biodiversity Network, Geneva Environment Network, International Union for Conservation of Nature | 08 December 2021, 14:00–15:30 CEST | Online
Geneva Environment Network | 27 February 2020, 10:00–11:30 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXII
- Indigenous peoples and their communities | UNEP
- UNEP and Indigenous Peoples: A Partnership in Caring for the Environment: Policy Guidance | UNEP | November 2012
- Indigenous Peoples and Environment | UNDESA
- WWF’s commitment to local and indigenous communities | WWF
- Systems and National Experiences for Protecting Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices | UNCTAD | 2000
- Challenges and Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples’ Sustainability, Policy Brief 101 | UNDESA | April 2021
Nature and biodiversity
- Where Indigenous land rights prevail in Brazil, so does nature, study finds | Luis Patriani | Mongabay | 6 April 2023
- Unsung heroes of conservation: Indigenous people fight for forests | UNEP | 5 April 2023
- Embedding Indigenous Knowledge in the Conservation and Restoration of Landscapes | World Economic Forum | 11 January 2023
- Labelling and certification schemes for Indigenous Peoples’ foods | FAO, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT | 2022
- Recognizing and empowering indigenous peoples and Local Communities as critical partners in forest solutions to the climate emergency | UN-REDD | March 2022
- Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogues | Geneva Environment Network
- Local Biodiversity Outlooks 2 | Forest Peoples Programme, in collaboration with: Centres of Distinction on Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network, International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
- Indigenous and traditional peoples and protected areas | IUCN | 2000
- Indigenous and local communities and protected areas: towards equity and enhanced conservation | IUCN | 2004
- Indigenous peoples and the nature they protect | UNEP | 08 June 2020
- The relationship of indigenous peoples and local communities with wetlands | Ramsar Convention | 2018
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples | UN OHCHR | 2007
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, FAQs | UN OHCHR | 2007
- Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Human Rights System | Fact Sheet | UN OHCHR | 2013
- Promoting Greater Protection for Environmental Defenders Policy | UNEP
- Environmental Human Rights Defenders | GEN
- Human Rights and the Environment | GEN
- World Indigenous Peoples Day: Bridging past and future | Franciscans International | 9 August 2023
- Moving in the Rights direction: To successfully conserve nature requires empowered stewardship by Indigenous Peoples and local communities | IUCN | September 2021
- Gender and Forests The role of women as local indigenous knowledge holders in sustainable management of forests | UN-REDD | July 2022
- Addressing Women’s Rights, Gender Equality and the Future of Biodiversity in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework | Women4Biodiversity | December 2021
- Best Practices in Gender and Biodiversity | UNEP and CBD
- Indigenous Women and Environmental Violence | Submitted to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Expert Group Meeting “Combatting Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls” | 18 – 20 January 2012