8 October 1999
Original: Spanish



[Submitted in compliance with paragraph 4 of
Resolution AG/RES. 1610 (XXIX-O/99)]

In compliance with OAS General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1610 (XXIX-O/99), which requests the Inter-American Institute to submit a report on actions taken by other international organizations to promote the rights of indigenous populations, we are submitting for consideration the following:

Report on Actions Taken by Different International Organizations to Promote the Rights of Indigenous Populations


The approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Conventions on the Prevention of Genocide and the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, as well as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights laid the foundation for building a body of laws on human rights.

As progress has been made in establishing the rule of law and individual rights, laws have begun to be enacted on collective human rights and third generation rights both at the international level and in different countries.

It is in that context that the topic of the rights of indigenous populations belongs, which has begun to be addressed through a number of legal instruments and international regulations.

For indigenous populations, however, the discussion of draft declarations on their rights, both within the United Nations and the Organization of American States, represents the culmination of an important phase in the building of a body of human rights laws, despite the fact that these instruments are non-binding for states.

Both draft declarations are perceived by indigenous populations as a coordinated effort, which will permit expression of the political intent of states to move forward with the building of new relationships and with addressing effectively the exclusion to which these populations have been subjected. The UN declaration is a document that has been discussed and is the object of broad consensus fostered through participatory discussions that have taken place from the outset, with priority being given to dialogue between states and indigenous organizations. The work of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations has been critical to that process.

In the case of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, despite the fact that initially no mechanisms were established to facilitate the involvement of indigenous populations, several events have been organized which have been supported by indigenous populations. Therefore, General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1610 (XXIX-O/99), which provides for the participation of indigenous populations, is paving the way for an important phase of its discussion.

The drafting process of both draft declarations has underscored, as a core topic, issues related to the self-determination of indigenous populations, and as a result, the concept of indigenous populations (the concept of collective law) and, flowing from this, their closely interwoven rights to economic, social, and cultural development.

Indigenous populations have introduced into the discussion the notion that human rights are indivisible and universal. Recognition and respect for indigenous rights should guarantee not only the physical survival of indigenous populations, but also their right to territory, its resources, and to interact as a society and a people.

Organization of the Report

This succinct report has been organized in five parts. In the first part, matters related to the promotion and defense of indigenous populations within the United Nations system are presented: the activities of the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, the Fund for Voluntary Contributions to Indigenous Populations, the Study on Treaties between States and Indigenous Populations, the Study on the Protection of the Heritage of Indigenous Populations, the seminars on the rights of indigenous populations, the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, the World Conference on Human Rights, the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

The second part presents the activities and programs conducted by a number of specialized agencies of the United Nations System: UNESCO/ PAHO/WHO, ILO, FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, UNEP, and programs on the environment, biodiversity, and a number of aspects related to intellectual property and indigenous rights.

The third part presents the concepts and programs of financial organizations: the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Indigenous Fund.

The fourth part reviews provisions, resolutions, and parliamentary activities: the European Parliament, PARLATINO, the Indigenous Parliament of the Americas, and PARLACEN.

The fifth part presents matters related to the promotion and defense of the rights of indigenous populations in the inter-American system.

The United Nations System

Without a doubt, the United Nations System has made great efforts to promote and safeguard the rights of indigenous populations.

From the outset, the United Nations introduced a number of aspects that laid the foundation for the subsequent establishment of legal instruments to promote the rights of indigenous populations. The United Nations Economic and Social Council established the Commission on Human Rights in 1946, and vested it with the authority to create subcomissions to protect minorities and prevent discrimination.

In 1947, the Commission established the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of minorities. Although it clearly applied to minorities only and indigenous populations were not specifically mentioned, it did not classify the problems faced by them or their demands and basic needs.

It was only in 1971 that the Economic and Social Council authorized the Subcommission to do "a general and complete study of the problem of discrimination against indigenous populations and to recommend the national and international measures to eliminate this discrimination, in collaboration with the other organs and entities of the United Nations and with competent international organizations." The final result of this research was the "Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations," known as the Martínez Cobo report, which was published in 1984.

The report contained the following chapters:

Part One

  • Measures taken by the United Nations
  • Measures taken by specialized organizations
  • Measures taken by the Organization of American States
  • Other international measures

Part Two

  • Definition of indigenous populations
  • Composition of these populations
  • Basic principles
  • General measures adopted for the prohibition, prevention, and elimination of discrimination
  • Basic policy
  • Administrative arrangements
  • Health, medical assistance, and social services
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Language or tongue
  • Culture and cultural, social, and legal institutions
  • Jobs, employment, and professional training
  • Land
  • Political rights
  • Religious rights and practices
  • Equality in the administration of justice and judicial assistance

The Special Rapporteur concluded that the study demonstrated clearly that the social climate in which the vast majority of indigenous populations were living was conducive to the different kinds of discrimination, oppression, and exploitation in a variety of areas described in the study. In many countries, indigenous populations did not have the same employment opportunities or access as other groups to public services and/or protection in the areas of health, living conditions, culture, religion, and the administration of justice.

He also pointed out that they were unable to participate significantly in political life, and that indigenous populations had long resigned themselves to that situation or had made an effort to assimilate the non-indigenous culture since they saw this as the only way to improve their living conditions.

A number of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur involve the Organization of American States. They are summarized below:

    • The system of information sharing and joint sessions between the organs and agencies of the United Nations and the corresponding entities of the OAS should be improved. There should be close cooperation between the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights; and between the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the Inter-American Indian Institute in matters germane to indigenous populations.
    • The Inter-American Indian Institute should participate annually in the session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

The Committee on Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have, on several occasions, addressed matters related to the rights of indigenous populations. In addition to commissioning a study by a Special Rapporteur on treaties and indigenous populations, they have reviewed a number of cases in this area, some of which, because of their importance to the topic of self-determination and indigenous populations, are indicated below:

At its 1994 session (Fifth Session 1994), the Commission on Human Rights recognized, under Article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that the right to enjoy a particular culture … can consist of a way of life linked to one’s territory and the use of its resources. Furthermore, it indicated, in reference to that right, that it can cover the situation of members of indigenous communities who constitute a minority. That comment served as the basis for the Sami Parliament to obtain jurisdiction over the use of its territory.

In another important case, on April 7, 1999, the Commission on Human Rights (Session 65), after analyzing the report of the Government of Canada, pointed out (with regard to Article 40 of the Covenant):

7. The Committee, while taking note of the concept of self-determination as applied by Canada to the aboriginal peoples, regrets that no explanation was given by the delegation concerning the elements that make up that concept, and urges the State party to report adequately on implementation of article 1 of the Covenant in its next periodic report.

8. The Committee notes that, as the State party acknowledged, the situation of the aboriginal peoples remains "the most pressing human rights issue facing Canadians". In this connection, the Committee is particularly concerned that the State party has not yet implemented the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). With reference to the conclusion by RCAP that without a greater share of land and resource institutions of aboriginal self-government will fail, the Committee emphasizes that the right to self-determination requires, inter alia, that all peoples must be able to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources and that they may not be deprived of their own means of subsistence (Art. 1 para. 2). The Committee recommends that decisive and urgent action be taken towards the full implementation of the RCAP recommendations on land and resource allocation. The Committee also recommends that the practice of extinguishing inherent aboriginal rights be abandoned as incompatible with Article 1 of the Covenant. (Document CCPR/C/79/Add. 105 of 7 April 1999).

The Commission on Human Rights has also organized sessions to obtain information on the proposal of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations (Resolution 1988/20 of the Commission on Human Rights). The proposal to create a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations System, as contained in the Declaration of the Vienna Program of Action, has been discussed within the Working Group on Indigenous Populations where matters such as the mandate, structure, institutional status, and financing of activities have been analyzed, and the establishment of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations has been proposed as a key goal to be achieved during the Decade of World’s Indigenous People.

Working Group on Indigenous Populations

As a result of the Martínez Cobo study, and taking into account the suggestions of various organizations and commissions, the Economic and Social Council, in Resolution 1982/34 of May 7, 1982, authorized the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to establish a Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

The Working Group meets in Geneva during the week preceding the annual meeting of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. It examines national events relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of indigenous populations; and drafts proposals on international guidelines pertaining to the rights of indigenous populations.

The participation of representatives from indigenous and non-governmental organizations has increased each year since 1983. In 1995, the Working Group fostered a broad process of consultation, which culminated in the formulation of the Draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, which enjoys the support and backing of indigenous organizations.

Once the draft was approved by the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, it was turned over to the Commission on Human Rights. The draft declaration was prepared with the aim of laying the foundation for respecting the rights of indigenous populations and preventing violation of these rights, something that can be clearly seen in the report of Special Rapporteur Martínez Cobo.

In that context, the Draft United Nations Declaration has been prepared with the goal of fulfilling the basic requirements necessary to enable indigenous populations to exercise human rights in the areas of health, education, development, territory, and intellectual property, while recognizing their diversity as subject to collective law.

It is for this reason that the concept of indigenous populations includes the right to self-determination, the right of indigenous populations to decide on the structure of self-governing institutions, the right to the recognition, control, use, and possession of their territories; the right to collective intellectual property; and the right to participate in all levels of government and "in the drafting of the laws and administrative measures that directly affect them."

Working Group on the Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Populations

In Resolution 1995/32 of March 1995, the Commission on Human Rights established an open working group that meets between sessions to review the text submitted by the Subcommission and to prepare the Draft Declaration that will be examined and approved by the General Assembly within the context of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

Fund for Voluntary Contributions to Indigenous Populations

The sessions of the working group in Geneva bring together people from all over the world. Through the Fund, which has a decision-making body in which indigenous representatives participate, the United Nations can facilitate the participation of the representatives of indigenous populations, many of whom are from remote regions.

Study on Treaties between States and Indigenous Populations

"The sequence and content of resolutions approved by the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Economic and Social Council led to the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to prepare a complete report covering the history of treaties concluded with indigenous populations," and the current status of the society and the findings of the studies and actions undertaken by various organizations.

The appointment of this Special Rapporteur took place by means of Economic and Social Council Resolution 1989/77 of May 24, 1989, and the first report was submitted to the Working Group on Indigenous Populations during its ninth session, and to the Subcommission at its forty-third session. This document contains important information and begins with difficulties encountered by the Special Rapporteur in conducting the research and other activities until the time of its submission on August 25, 1992, to the Subcommission at its forty-fourth session.

Chapter II covers "a number of anthropological and historical considerations on important issues related to the study." In paragraph 29, the author notes "the crux of the problem lies in the fact that basic social sciences, for example, anthropology and history, which should contribute to the achievement of a clearer vision of rationality in actions that involve indigenous populations in their past and present forms of social organization (particularly in the institutional/legal spheres) is still unable to break free of a range of notions, concepts, and methodological approaches which, in the view of the Rapporteur tend to obscure and often impair and even conceal the real content and true meaning of indigenous social relations."

He adds in the next paragraph (30): "All these elements lead all too often to one-sided and Euro-centric approaches to what has been called the indigenous issue, which, by definition, are simplistic, narrow-minded, unscientific, and consequently, sterile."

In the next chapter, the Special Rapporteur analyzes and lists treaties that have been concluded over time between nations and/or indigenous peoples and between colonial countries and colonizers when these countries achieved their independence. At the end, he describes treaties with multilateral organizations such as the ILO or other treaties that have affected them as third parties.

A number of treaties have withstood the test of time and serve as a basis for the harmonious coexistence of populations with different ancestors and cultures. Many others have been terminated, either because they were viewed as having been unfairly negotiated, because the rights recognized in them were violated, or because of the failure to fulfill the obligations set forth in them. The Special Rapporteur is responsible for preparing a study on the potential usefulness of the treaties, agreements, and other constructive accords between States and indigenous populations.

Study on the Protection of the Heritage of Indigenous Populations

Since the establishment of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982, these populations have insisted on the need to protect their spiritual and cultural lives, their art, and their scientific and medical knowledge.

The Draft Declaration contains specific provisions pertaining to protection against ethnocide and cultural genocide, and on cultural development, the protection of intellectual property, freedom of religion, and the control of education. Despite this, it has been considered important to address in greater depth the issue of the protection of their heritage, because of its importance, and with a view to coming up with a unique definition, given the absence of provisions in international laws.

The growing interest in biotechnology, medicine, the sale of indigenous art, and tourism in terms of the threat that they pose to indigenous heritage are noteworthy.

The Economic and Social Council approved the appointment of the Special Rapporteur of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, who is responsible for preparing a study on the measures to be adopted by the international community to achieve greater respect for the cultural and intellectual heritage of indigenous populations (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1993/28).

The study contains assessments of contemporary topics related to indigenous heritage and analyzes the international guidelines and mechanisms that are in effect in this area. The methodology used in the study was one of broad-based consultation.

In 1997, a technical meeting on the topic was held (E/CN.4/Sub.2/197/15). In 1998, the World Intellectual Property Organization organized an informal meeting on the protection of the intellectual property of indigenous populations.

The most important international instruments to date on the topic are the 1966 UNESCO Declaration on the Principles of Cultural Cooperation, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Prohibition and Prevention of the Illicit Importation, Exportation, and Transfer of the Ownership of Cultural Property, the 1981 San José Declaration on Ethnocide, Article 8 (j) of the Agreement on Biological Diversity, ILO Convention 169, the FAO Special System for the protection of the rights of persons involved in genetic enrichment, and the International Foundation on Plant Genetic Resources.

Based on the results of the study, the draft proposes 10 principles and 49 rules that target areas such as the transmission, recovery, return of property, national programs and laws, research, enterprises, and industry.

Seminars on the Rights of Indigenous Populations

At a United Nations seminar held in Geneva in January 1989, a group of government experts and indigenous populations that had been invited to the event examined the effects of racism and racial discrimination on social and economic relations between indigenous populations and States.

In pointing out the vulnerability of indigenous populations to racism and discrimination, an agreement was reached in Geneva in October 1988, within the framework of the Program of Action for the Decade, on the need to adopt all measures necessary to ensure that indigenous populations can conserve and develop their culture, and on the need for governments to foster favorable conditions and to strive for the adoption of legal measures in order to promote and protect the human rights of indigenous populations, as beneficiaries, among others.

Seminar on the Indigenous Communications Media

A seminar on communication and indigenous populations was held in Madrid, Spain in 1997. Based on the recommendations of the seminar, it is expected that support will be provided for the convening of another gathering of indigenous journalists in the year 2000.

Seminar on the Right of Indigenous Populations to Higher Education

The seminar on indigenous populations and higher education was held in Costa Rica in June 1999. On this occasion, various experiences of higher education institutions were analyzed, as well as the possibilities for and limitations to access by indigenous populations. Recommendations were formulated, which were submitted at the session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in July 1999.

Seminars on the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples have also been held at the United Nations.

International Year of the World’s Indigenous People

1993 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People. The goal, during that year, was to strengthen international cooperation in order to solve the problems faced by indigenous populations in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education, and health under the logo: "Indigenous Populations: a New Alliance."

World Conference on Human Rights

"The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, approved on June 25, 1993, by the World Conference on Human Rights, urges States and the international community to promote and protect the rights of persons who belong to minority groups, as set forth in the Declaration. The measures to be adopted include the facilitation of their full participation in all areas of political, economic, social, religious, and cultural life of the society, and in the progress and development of their countries. The World Conference on Human Rights reiterated that minorities have the right to "their own culture, to profess and practice their religion, and to use their own language in public and private circles with total freedom, and without any interference or discrimination whatsoever."

This Declaration also includes "very important declarations on indigenous populations, paragraph 31, part II of which urges States to ensure the full and free participation of indigenous populations in all aspects of the society, in particular in matters of interest to them; and paragraph 32 of Part II recommends to the General Assembly the proclamation of an "International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People."

The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna called on States to take positive and concerted measures to guarantee respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous populations, based on equality, non-discrimination, and recognition of the value of the diversity of their different identities, cultures, and systems of social organization.

International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People

In December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly, in response to the recommendation of the Vienna Declaration, approved Resolution 48/163, declaring the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, beginning in December 1994 and ending in the year 2004. 1994 was dedicated to planning for the decade in conjunction with organizations of indigenous populations.

Among the factors considered by the General Assembly in declaring the decade was "international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms …. international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in areas such as human rights, the environment, development, education and health."

"The value and the diversity of the cultures and the forms of social organization of the world's indigenous people … the interrelationship between the natural environment and its sustainable development, including their holistic traditional scientific knowledge of their lands, natural resources and environment … the establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous people in the framework of an International Decade" are recognized.

The aim of this proclamation is to carry out immediate and practical actions and to make a number of decisions, among them the annual celebration of an International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The proclamation document requests that the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights serve as the Coordinator for the Decade and the designation of focal points for coordination with the Center for Human Rights, and thus, the allocation of funds to the Center for Human Rights to conduct these activities.

Fund for Voluntary Contributions for the Decade

This fund was established in order to provide financial assistance to the projects and programs carried out by indigenous populations during the Decade.

August 9, International Day of Indigenous People

This day was declared by the United Nations to place the spotlight on indigenous issues and societies.

Among the other relevant aspects of the United Nations System, it should be pointed out that one of the achievements of the 1992 Earth Summit was the signing of the Agreement on Biodiversity, which includes provisions specifically related to indigenous populations.

All previous conferences, among them the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), and the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) (Istanbul, 1996) have made recommendations related to indigenous populations.

2. Specialized Agencies of the United Nations System


The position of UNESCO in building awareness among nations has been very important and its effects have been seen in the conferences, projects, meetings, and activities related to indigenous populations. The official position of UNESCO, which will be cited in this document, is contained in the document "Protection and Promotion of the cultural rights of persons belonging to minority groups in the areas within the competence of UNESCO" (144EX/15), which was discussed by the Executive in April 1994.

This document makes a clear distinction between minorities and indigenous populations, and this distinction must be grasped for an understanding of the problem of indigenous populations and the meaning of "populations" and all that this concept implies.

UNESCO has focused its efforts primarily on education that benefits native or indigenous populations.

The Fifth Centenary of the Meeting of two worlds (1992) and the International Year of Indigenous People (1993) brought together in Ottawa 800 representatives of indigenous populations throughout the Hemisphere. The theme was "Renewal of the spiritual force beyond the 500-year period." On this occasion, inter-ethnic relations, cultural diversity, modernity, and other topics were discussed once again.

That event, together with the meeting "America towards the third millennium," held in 1991 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, led to the opening of dialogue between indigenous representatives, intellectuals, and government representatives. The declaration, which was a call to heed the diverse voices demanding dignity, struck a responsive chord at the Guadalajara Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government, where the contribution of indigenous populations to the culture of the Americas and the world was recognized.

UNESCO has therefore contributed to greater awareness regarding the actual situation of indigenous populations; in addition to the meetings in Oaxaca and Campeche in 1993, and the Chimalteanago meeting, that is, the First World Summit of Indigenous Populations, organized by Rigoberta Menchú, with the assistance of UNESCO, which led to fundamental contributions that were adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993).

UNESCO also provided assistance for the Meeting on the Indigenous Initiative for Peace, which brought together scores of indigenous leaders at its headquarters in Paris in 1996. It also appointed Rigoberta Menchú Tum as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador.

UNESCO provided assistance with a variety of initiatives undertaken with a view to developing skills within indigenous populations and facilitating participation in socio-cultural life. Among them, mention should be made of the technical assistance provided with organizing meso-american research on the endogenous educational practices of indigenous populations, which has permitted indigenous people in the region to have community records that incorporate for the first time, in indigenous languages, the forms of education traditionally used by indigenous populations. (Final Report)

The United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, circulated a document on July 22, 1998 on the "Activities of UNESCO in support of indigenous populations," which states: "The organization of the program for the 1998-1999 period represents the second phase of the medium-term strategy (1996-2001), which contains four main programs and two interdisciplinary projects:

    • Lifelong education for all
    • Science serving development
    • Cultural development: tradition and creativity
    • Communication, information, and information technology.

The projects are:

Education for sustainable development: Education in the area of the environment and population for development.

Education for a culture of peace, broken down into three main areas:

Fostering a sense of belonging and conviviality
Educating for peace
A culture of peace in action

This third area, a culture of peace in action, is aimed at determining how UNESCO can be given an opportunity to make a contribution in the areas under its institutional control to activities related to the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

In recent years, UNESCO has conducted a number of important activities.

In 1997, it organized the "Colloquium on indigenous populations and the State in Latin America," held in Ecuador as part of UNESCO’s efforts in the academic sphere related to indigenous populations, in conjunction with the Símon Bolívar university. Indigenous intellectuals and professionals in the region participated in this colloquium.

The most recent UNESCO activities conducted in support of indigenous populations include the training of indigenous youth, in particular young women and women from the English-speaking Caribbean. These programs have been designed to include indigenous populations in modern life while preserving their socio-cultural identity.

UNESCO has made a commitment to hold an international event in the year 2000 on the topic culture and indigenous populations. To that end, indigenous leaders around the world have been invited to a preparatory meeting to be held in October 1999.

World Health Organization (WHO) – Pan American Health Organization

Among the programs of the WHO, which is proposing as Health for All as a goal to be achieved by the year 2000, is recognition of the inequalities that persist in access by indigenous populations to health services and technologies. A series of global programs are being proposed, which would take effect in 1996, and in that regard, "an adequate and propitious context for activities related to the health of indigenous populations and joint activities for the improvement of health and the environment" is being established.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) prepared a document on the improvement of health in Latin America contained in the Document: Strategic Orientations and Programmatic Priorities for the Pan American Health Organization in the 1991-1994 quadrennium," which expresses the view that "insofar as the health of indigenous populations is concerned, a number of important elements are proposed in the strategic orientations. The following should be pointed out:

    • Health in development is a strategy that recognizes the promotional and political role of health.
    • Reorganization of the health sector is of great importance to indigenous populations, since it brings about changes in the health sector.
    • Emphasis must be placed on high-risk groups.
    • Integration of women into health and development is particularly important in the case of indigenous women.

A document was prepared in 1993 for the PAHO Directing Council that addresses ethnic and legal problems and points out that "in the area of policies, those pertaining to traditional practices and the use and preservation of plant medicines should be given special attention and developed."

"Recognizing the effectiveness, importance, and cultural value of traditional medical practices, the tackling of juridical and legal issues seeks, as a main goal, the review of the pertinent legal instruments and codes in order to limit or reduce the number of mechanisms that diminish or prohibit these practices."

"With regard to the ethical practices that should govern research on human populations, gaps and ambiguities persist, which call for attention to be given by the organization, on a priority basis, to research involving indigenous populations in particular.

That same year, the Pan American Health Organization held a meeting in Winnipeg, Canada, with government representatives, indigenous organizations, and non-governmental organizations of 18 countries in the Region to address the topic of indigenous health.

Emerging from the recommendations made at the meeting were the following principles that should guide health programs and projects in areas where indigenous populations live, namely:

    • Respect for the self-determination of indigenous populations
    • A comprehensive, holistic approach to health
    • Cultural revitalization*
    • Systematic participation by indigenous populations
    • Reciprocity and shared responsibility in health actions

Based on the Winnipeg recommendations, PAHO submitted Resolution V for consideration by the Directing Council, which was approved in September 1993. Based on this, it has formulated a Plan of Action that was subsequently revised.

PAHO has held several meetings on the topic of indigenous health and has prepared material on the topic and focal points on the health of indigenous populations in its representative offices in the countries.

The World Health Organization also approved a resolution on the health of indigenous populations at a meeting of the Directing Council. The program for the promotion of health and the prevention of drug use also has a section that is addressing the topic and has provided a report on its work to the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

International Labor Organization (ILO)

Since its establishment, the ILO has recognized that the rural area posed different problems that were not part of the situation of traditional agricultural workers. These situations involved indigenous populations, with all their characteristics and peculiarities that make them different and distinguish them. In view of these differences, the ILO, after lengthy review, adopted the Convention on indigenous and tribal peoples in 1957, known as Convention 107.

The importance of this Convention lies in the fact that "for the first time, an international organization prepared binding or mandatory rules pertaining to various indigenous problems (and not only labor-related problems)."

This Convention recognizes the collective right to land, the right to education in one’s mother tongue, and law based on custom. However, this Convention was paternalistic and protectionist in nature, and sought to assimilate indigenous populations into mainstream society.

"As a result of growing criticism of this approach, the ILO decided to seek the review of this Convention, which culminated with the adoption in 1989 by the General Conference of Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples, which has now been ratified by several member States, and which to date is the only international legal instrument on the human rights of indigenous peoples."

ILO Convention 169.

Convention 169 specifically stipulates the fundamental aspects of indigenous law and human rights; namely, the right to the land which these populations have traditionally occupied, custom-based law, the right to health and life, and the right not to be subjected to forced labor. It makes it clear that Governments shall assume the responsibility, with the participation of the peoples concerned, "for coordinated and systematic action to protect the rights of these peoples and to guarantee respect for their integrity." (Article 2, Convention 169)

Article 3 states: "Indigenous and tribal peoples shall enjoy the full measure of human rights and fundamental freedoms without hindrance or discrimination." Article 4 also refers to the environment of indigenous populations. Later on, provisions are made for recognition of "the social, cultural, religious and spiritual values and practices of these peoples." (Article 5)

It also clearly establishes the right of these peoples to be consulted beforehand and in good faith whenever consideration is being given to measures that affect them; and the right to decide on their own priorities; and also states that governments should give consideration to the views of these people on environmental protection.

With regard to the application of law, Article 8 states: "In applying national laws and regulations to the peoples concerned, due regard shall be had to their customs or customary laws."

And Article 10 states: "In imposing penalties laid down by general law on members of these peoples, account shall be taken of their economic, social and cultural characteristics. 2. Preference shall be given to methods of punishment other than confinement in prison." And Article 12 states: "The peoples concerned shall be safeguarded against the abuse of their rights and shall be able to take legal proceedings, either individually or through their representative bodies, for the effective protection of these rights."

One important aspect of ILO Convention 169 is the fact that it is the first legal instrument that uses the term "indigenous peoples," thereby making an effort to define the concept, although it places restrictions on its use in the law governing international conventions.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

The FAO "implemented many pioneering measures in the international community to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. Despite this, the FAO has not placed special emphasis on indigenous populations outside of the role that culture plays in nutrition and dietary habits. Its work with indigenous populations has been carried out on a smaller scale. However, "in the late 1980s, the FAO, like other UN agencies, is beginning to make an effort to understand the unique issues of indigenous cultures and the role of this uniqueness in issues that relate to development, agriculture, and poverty … which culminated in the conclusion by the FAO of a Plan of Action for participation by the people in rural development, which was approved in 1991."

As part of the celebrations related to the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, the FAO states in a document that "it will facilitate technical assistance to governments so that they will make provisions in their legislation aimed at promoting and protecting the human rights of indigenous populations, in particular with respect to land, environmental protection, education, and nutrition."

United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

The UNDP, as a multilateral assistance organization for development in the world, has focused its efforts on strengthening sustainable human development in the countries. To that end, it has carried out actions that pertain to the elimination of poverty, the promotion of women, the fostering of productive employment, and support for employment-generating projects, together with the protection of at-risk groups and improvement of their conditions, and the protection and preservation of the environment.

UNDP has promoted projects aimed at ethnic development in the countries of the Region. One of the main items on the UNDP agenda has been the allocation of financial resources to the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Populations, known as the Indigenous Fund.

It has been involved, as an organizing agency, in a variety of regional events on ethnic development and the participation of indigenous populations in the appropriate management of the environment and natural resources.


The Convention on the Rights of the Children, ratified by the majority of countries, recognizes the linguistic and ethnic rights of indigenous populations and ethnic communities.

In January 1991, an Agreement was concluded between UNICEF and the Inter-American Indian Institute with the aim of joining forces to achieve survival and better living conditions of indigenous children in the region. The actions resulting from this agreement are based on the Plan of Action of the Children’s Summit, held in New York in 1990.

Based on that Agreement, in 1991 UNICEF held a consultation meeting with the Inter-American Indian Institute, which ended with the formulation of a proposed outline of a regional project on "basic services that benefit the indigenous populations of the Hemisphere. Improvement of living conditions: food, health, and well being." (Tejada consultation meeting. Anuario Indigenista. Vol. XXX, 1999).

In 1993, a meeting was held at the International Center for the Development of Children on discrimination against the children and families of minority groups and indigenous populations. UNICEF has also carried out programs and projects aimed at improving the standard of living of children, pregnant and nursing mothers, adolescents, and other groups at risk among the indigenous populations of the Hemisphere.

United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)

The topic of indigenous populations has been discussed by this organization in different forums. Since 1989, the topic of indigenous populations has been more widely discussed in international circles, especially in international organizations that belong to the United Nations System. However, it was at the Río Conference, held in 1992, that progress was made in this area. The strategy of Agenda 21 grants a central position to indigenous populations as important players who should be included in the environmental agenda.

This Agenda maintained that: "Most indigenous peoples have a special relationship to the environment in their ancestral territories. They should be empowered to participate in formulating and implementing laws and policies on resource management and development. Government mechanisms for consultation, collaboration and cooperation with indigenous peoples are advocated. International conventions on indigenous rights should be ratified and complied with, and legal instruments to protect traditional knowledge related to the environment should be developed".

Rio 92: Earth Summit

The Earth Summit, one of the most important events in recent times and a symbol of fear over what can occur in the centuries ahead, as the millennium approaches, was held in Rio de Janeiro. Numerous agreements and reference guides on saving the planet were prepared. One of the most important documents is the one known as Agenda 21, chapter 26 of which addresses the topic of indigenous populations. It states:

In full partnership with indigenous people and their communities, Governments and, where appropriate, intergovernmental organizations should aim at fulfilling the following objectives:

    • Establishment of a process to empower indigenous people and their communities through measures that include:
    • Adoption or ratification of appropriate policies or legal instruments at the national level;
    • Recognition that the lands of indigenous people and their communities should be protected from activities that are environmentally unsound or that the indigenous populations concerned consider to be socially and culturally inappropriate;
    • Recognition of their values, traditional knowledge, and resource management practices with a view to promoting ecologically sound and sustainable development;
    • Recognition that traditional and direct dependence on renewable resources and ecosystems, including sustainable utilization, continues to be essential to the cultural, economic, and physical well-being of indigenous people and their communities;
    • Development and strengthening of national dispute-resolution agreements in relation to settlement of land and resource-management concerns;
    • Support for alternative environmentally sound means of production to ensure a range of choices on how to improve their quality of life so that they can participate effectively in sustainable development;
    • Enhancement of the capabilities of indigenous communities, based on the adaptation and exchange of experiences, and know-how and resource management practices based on tradition, in order to ensure the sustainable development of these communities;
    • Establishment, where appropriate, of arrangements to strengthen the active participation of indigenous people and their communities in the national formulation of policies, laws, and programs relating to resource management at the national level and other development processes that may affect them, and to encourage the formulation of proposals related to policies and programs of this kind;
    • Involvement of indigenous people and their communities at the national and local levels in resource management and conservation strategies and other relevant programs established to support and review sustainable development strategies, such as those suggested in other program areas of Agenda 21.

One of the important aspects of this document is the recognition, within the biggest world body, of the importance of indigenous populations to life on this planet, and the outlining of a series of actions that pertain to how they conduct their lives and their ecological surroundings.

This document led to a series of actions that changed the concepts held by many organizations with regard to the role played by indigenous populations, which transcends borders, and emphasized the importance of respecting their traditions and practices for the conservation of planet earth.

In one of the points, with reference to activities, this document states: "United Nations agencies and other international financial and development organizations and governments should, drawing on the active participation of indigenous people and their communities, as appropriate, take the following measures, inter alia, to incorporate their values, views and know-how, including the unique contribution of indigenous women, in resource management and other policies and programs that may affect them."

Convention on Biological Diversity

At that same Rio meeting, the Convention on Biological Diversity was approved, Article 8(j) of which covers matters related to indigenous populations. Genetic Resources International Action (GRAIN) has suggested that the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity:

"a. Stipulate, as a requirement, that indigenous and local communities grant security with respect to landholding and other resources." In addition, it recommends respect for systems of common ownership, the strengthening of systems of local community management of biological diversity, the financing of community initiatives, and that "biased attitudes against systems of indigenous know-how, traditional systems of farming and local farming be eliminated from agricultural policies and development programs."

After the Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, important commitments were made to:

    • Create alternatives to intellectual property systems that safeguard the rights of farming and indigenous communities;
    • Continue the current transformation of the current dominant system of ex situ conservation to one based on community conservation;
    • Ensure that the WTO review process in 1999-2000 withdraws agriculture from the Uruguay Round Agreement and the elimination of TRIPS.

Another important aspect of the Leipzig Declaration is recognition of the sovereign rights of States to their genetic resources. This position is at odds with the FAO, which seeks the internationalization of knowledge. It recognizes that the know-how and the capacity of developing countries should be strengthened and that access to information on genetic resources is essential to ensuring world food security.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is governed by the Conference of the Parties (COP), based on the 1994 COP meeting, which, for the first time, addressed important matters and agreed to examine in detail the matter of forests and of indigenous populations, which appear several places in the document.

Before drafting a declaration on how the Convention should be interpreted, however, it is important to analyze in detail the potential problems generated by the Convention for indigenous populations, so that explanations of the proposed solutions can be placed in context. At the Conference of the Parties that was held in Bratislava, progress was made with the discussion and formulation of mechanisms for inclusion of indigenous populations in discussions.

Intellectual property and biological diversity or biodiversity are new topics as they relate to the living conditions of indigenous populations. This may seem paradoxical, since "indigenous populations have the greatest cultural diversification in the world and live in regions of greatest biological diversity."

The topic is new because it is in only recent years that realization has dawned in various parts of the world of the need to protect the environment, and of the fact that indigenous populations have protected the environment and natural resources, and may be in a position to continue to protect it, since it is their natural habitat.

However, this global urgency has posed a basic challenge from the point of view of the organizations and traditional authorities of indigenous populations since: "biodiversity will be achieved only through respect for the fundamental rights of indigenous populations: self-determination, collective rights, control of our territories, access to our resources, recognition of our political and legal institutions, and control of our traditional know-how."

In this regard, various international events have been sponsored to expand the discussion on the method of application of Article 8(j) of the Biodiversity Convention.

3. Ibero-American Summits

Guadalajara Summit

The heads of Ibero-American States have met on different occasions to create a stronger force in the Spanish-speaking world and to establish land policies aimed at economic development, cultural exchange, and the promotion of democracy and human rights, among others.

Since the first Summit, which took place in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, in July 1991, the "Guadalajara Declaration," as it was called, addressed the indigenous topic in a highly positive manner: "we recognize the immense contribution of indigenous populations to development and diversity in our society and we reiterate our commitment to their economic and social well-being, as well as the obligation to respect their rights and cultural identity."

Also, in the point on "effective exercise of international law," they declare in paragraph "LL) that the establishment of an Ibero-American Fund is proposed, with the support of international organizations, with a view to the development of indigenous populations, which permits the favorable resolution of the pressing problems involving the indigenous peoples, free of any notion "indigenous reservation" or "paternalistic compensations."

In view of the commitment of Heads of State to "economic and social welfare," the Government of Bolivia established contact with different international organizations such as the IDB, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UNDP, and the ILO, in order to formulate the preliminary proposal for the establishment of the Indigenous Fund.

Madrid Summit

(Establishment of the Indigenous Fund)

One year after the convening of the Second Summit of Ibero-American Heads of States and Government in Madrid, Spain, in July 1992, the Constitutive Agreement of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Populations of Latin America and the Caribbean was adopted, in the presence of representatives of indigenous populations of this Region. Hereinafter called the "Indigenous Fund," its principal objective is "the establishment of a mechanism aimed at supporting the processes of self-development of the indigenous populations, communities, and organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean, …. with indigenous populations being defined as the descendants of the populations living in the country or in a geographic region to which the country belonged during the era of conquest, colonization, or the establishment of the current State borders, and who, regardless of their legal status, have retained all or some of their social, economic, cultural, and political institutions."

In addition, awareness of indigenous identity should be considered a basic rule in determining the groups to which the provisions of this Constitutive Agreement apply."

Viña del Mar Summit

At the Viña del Mar summit held in Chile in 1996, there was special recognition of indigenous populations when it was stated: "Governance in a democracy implies the representation and participation of all the inhabitants of our countries, regardless of origin, race, religion, or sex, with special consideration being given to indigenous populations, since this confers legitimacy on a political democracy. This involves recognition of the contributions of majority and minority groups to the enhancement of our democratic models."

Later on, the Viña del Mar declaration makes reference to the Indigenous Fund, calling it a "program of great importance in the identification of projects and technical assistance to Ibero-American indigenous communities, and, with a view to its sustainability, we enthusiastically endorse the establishment of a Capital Fund to support its operations."

However, it is more specific in supporting and defining the rights of indigenous populations when it states: "We recognize the diversity of our societies as the central element in the strengthening of democracy , and we make a commitment to provide for the full participation of all its components. Moreover, we reaffirm the legitimate right of indigenous populations to political, economic, social, and cultural development."

Margarita Island Summit

During the Margarita Island Summit, Ibero-American leaders showed firmer resolve in recognizing the importance of indigenous populations in development and as a model for our countries. They stated:

"28. We undertake to give consideration to the models of development of indigenous populations, which are characterized by an integrated concept of needs related to economic and cultural life, without separating them, and to come up with specific ways of providing them with assistance, while recognizing fully their property rights, as well as the protection of their cultural and intellectual heritage. In that regard, we call on technical and financial cooperation agencies to provide their support for the projects submitted to them with a view to achieving these objectives."

4. Financial Organizations

The World Bank is one of the multilateral organizations that shows the best understanding of the rights of indigenous populations. It conducted a study on the status of indigenous populations, the findings of which show a direct link between poverty and the indigenous populations of the Region. Its operating guidelines with respect to indigenous populations is contained in a document aimed at providing guidance to officials and line staff of the Bank in implementing its policies on indigenous populations.

Point 2. The guidelines set forth the basic position of the World Bank: "The guidelines offer policy orientation for: (a) ensuring that indigenous populations benefit from development projects, (b) avoiding or mitigating the potentially adverse effects of activities supported by the Bank on indigenous populations."

The World Bank has come up with one of the most practical definitions of the factors that identify indigenous populations:

"a. Great attachment to the ancestral land and the natural resources of these areas;

Self-identification and identification by others as being a member of a distinct cultural group;
An indigenous language, usually different from the national language;
Presence of custom-based social and political institutions;
Production primarily geared towards subsistence."

We consider it important to cite two of the objectives related to the strategy of the Bank towards indigenous populations:

6. The general objective of the Bank with regard to indigenous populations, which is the same applied to all populations of member countries, is to ensure that development process fosters respect for dignity, human rights, and cultural uniqueness. Specifically, the central objective of these guidelines is to ensure that indigenous populations are not adversely affected during the process of development, particularly by those projects financed by the Bank, and that they receive culturally compatible social and economic benefits.

8. The policy of the Bank is that the strategy for addressing matters related to indigenous populations must be based on informed participation by indigenous populations, and that the identification of local preferences through direct consultation, incorporation of indigenous know-how into the structure of projects, and use of specialists from the initial phase are central activities for any project that involves indigenous populations and their rights to natural and economic resources.

The chapter of the guidelines dedicated to the role of the Bank states: 10. The Bank addresses matters related to indigenous populations through: (a) economic and sectoral analysis, (b) technical assistance, and (c) components or projections related to investment projects. It later makes it clear that the key in drafting a development plan for indigenous populations "in the design of projects is the preparation of a culturally appropriate development plan, based on full consideration of the preferences of the indigenous populations involved in the project."

In the legal sphere, it notes that "special attention should be paid to the rights of indigenous populations to use and develop the lands that they occupy, to receive protection against illegal intrusion, and to have access to natural resources (such as woods, wildlife, and water) which are vital for their subsistence and reproduction.

Inter-American Development Bank

In the mid-1980s, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) began to address the indigenous topic within the context of the prevention of negative effects that could be produced by projects financed by them and "in 1990 internal procedures were adopted to avoid and mitigate negative effects."

On a special basis, the IDB has been participating in bilingual education and health and nutrition projects, in addition to many other rural development projects that fall into the category of support for rural farming populations. The same applies to environmental, management of catchment basins, and sustainable wildlife programs.

All this has been done while "paying scant attention to the needs, priorities, and specific aspirations of indigenous populations, when these populations are different from other low-income groups in the population."

In 1994, as part of the Agreement on the Eighth Increase in the Resources of the Bank "indigenous populations were identified as one of the groups targeted for assistance by the Bank." The mandate made the following reference to indigenous populations:

"Indigenous groups, which comprise a specific and large segment of the population of the region, have a rich cultural and linguistic heritage and have developed economic and social practices that are well adapted to the fragile ecosystems in which they live… The Bank recognizes the important role that indigenous populations can play as contributors to and beneficiaries of future development efforts that are being conducted in the Region … The Bank will step up efforts to obtain additional financing for programs that benefit the aforementioned groups with a view to meeting their needs adequately."

In order to fulfill these mandates, the IDB established the Indigenous Peoples and Community Development Unit (IND) in 1994. This Unit acts as a point of contact for the activities of the Bank in that area and is part of the Sustainable Development Department. This unit has been assigned the task of preparing the strategies of the Bank related to indigenous development." The Bank is seeking direct participation "particularly in the social sector and environmental management projects. In other words, it will promote access by indigenous populations to those programs from which they have been excluded for sociocultural reasons, and the prejudice and urban bias present in most of these programs."

The Bank has also started programs aimed at resolving specific situations of indigenous populations such as the development community programs to strengthen peace in Guatemala, the facility for small projects in southern Mexico, technical cooperation operations in Peru, the training program for leaders in Guatemala, and the pilot program on the health of indigenous populations, together with the Pan American Health Organization. It also financed a process of consultation of indigenous populations and experts in order to support the project "Declaration on the rights of indigenous populations."

These are only some of the more important projects of the Bank, which has also provided critical support for the Indigenous Fund: "At the moment, (1997) the Bank is supporting the formulation and execution of a strategy aimed at achieving the financial sustainability of the Indigenous Fund through the establishment of a trust that would be administered by the Bank.

This Fund would have two objectives. First, to generate annual income for activities related to technical assistance, institutional strengthening, training, identification of projects and consensus-building, as well as operational costs linked to the Technical Secretariat and the organs of administration of the Fund.

Second, to use the capital of the Fund as an instrument for the mobilization of new resources from international financial markets and donor communities for investment purposes on productive projects and other income-generating initiatives, which are carried out by indigenous communities and organizations.

Indigenous Fund

The Indigenous Fund is a financial institution that was created by means of a political decision of the Heads of State of the Ibero-American Summit. Official government and indigenous representatives participate in the General Assembly of this entity, as indicated in the proposal for its establishment.

Among the most important resolutions of the General Assembly is the promotion of a flow of information on the activities of the Fund with the support of government organizations and the indigenous organizations of each country, authorization of the establishment of equity capital with the support of multilateral organizations and other member states, establishment of a trust within the Inter-American Development Bank for the deposit and administration of the equity capital, and the granting of authorization to the Directing Council to negotiate with the IDB.

States may seek assistance from the Fund for the financing of indigenous development programs. This assistance must be proposed by the beneficiary indigenous entities "and must follow the rules and procedures of the trustee entity."

The goal of the Fund has been to build up capital assets to the tune of 100 million dollars through agreements with multilateral organizations and European governments that are so inclined politically, within their development assistance schemes, and with the decisive support of indigenous populations. By 1997, Belgium, France, Germany, and Spain had signed agreements with the Fund.

5. Parliamentary Activities

European Parliament

In numerous resolutions, the European Parliament has called for action to be taken and attention to be paid to the critical situation of indigenous populations in the world. The Parliament has expressed its support for the work being done by the United Nations System in defining the rights of indigenous populations and has appealed to the Council and to the Commission to give consideration to indigenous concerns.

One example of this is Resolution A3-005/93 of 1994, in which the Parliament calls for the establishment of guidelines for the financing of community projects, taking into account the rights of indigenous populations, so that those populations can participate directly in the projects that affect them and for European officials to provide special training and assign follow-up work to them related to the problems of indigenous populations.

In that context, the European Union financed a specific project to support the organizational development of the indigenous populations of Central America in recent years. This project ended in 1999 and yielded good results.

Latin American Parliament – PARLATINO

PARLATINO is the Association of Parliaments or National Assemblies in Latin America. In May 1992, the Permanent Commission of Indigenous and Ethnic Affairs of PARLATINO was established in Nicaragua. That Commission has held various meetings to address topics related to the environment and the status of indigenous populations, and on indigenous rights and the process of legalization of land holdings.

Indigenous Parliament of the Americas

The Indigenous Parliament is comprised of the indigenous representatives of the parliaments of Latin America, the United States, and Canada. They have served to articulate the national or hemispheric concerns of their populations. This forum serves to promote indigenous rights in the States of the Hemisphere. It was established in 1988 and has held annual meetings at which topics linked to the environment, health and indigenous populations, intercultural bilingual education, and the rights of indigenous children have been addressed. It has concluded working agreements with the Pan American Health Organization.

In conjunction with the Commission on Indigenous Affairs of PARLATINO and the Andean Parliament, it has held working sessions to analyze the topic of traditional medicine and indigenous populations.

Central American Parliament – PARLACEN

This entity is comprised of 20 representatives from each country of the former Central American Confederation, excluding Costa Rica. It has a human rights commission, which also addresses the topic of indigenous rights. It has held a number of events aimed at promoting these rights. It has also issued a resolution in which it endorses the process of discussion of the American Declaration Project on the Rights of Indigenous Populations promoted by the OAS.

Another topic that it has supported and for which it has done follow-up work is the Alliance for Sustainable Development (ALDES), a Central American entity that addresses the rights of indigenous populations. It has taken on the task of implementing the recommendations derived from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference on the Environment.

The Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development is seeking to strengthen the democracies of the region by fostering social and economic prosperity, and rational management of the environment.

5. Inter-American System

The Inter-American System initially expressed its position on indigenous rights in the Pátzcuaro Convention (1940), with the establishment later on of the Inter-American Indian Institute, the Inter-American Indigenous Congresses (eleven have been held), and the National Institutes on Indigenous Affairs in each country of the Region.

The instruments of the Inter-American Indian Congresses reflect changes in the policies pertaining to indigenous populations in the Hemisphere during the past 59 years. An integrationist policy prevailed until the Seventh Congress held in Brasilia, Brazil in 1972. (Matos Mar, the system of the indigenous populations).

The Eighth Congress, held in Mérida, Mexico in 1980, marked the beginning of a period of critical review of indigenous affairs based on approaches that range from the elimination of paternalism, recognition of management capabilities of indigenous organizations, recognition of their right to participate in public management, and the diverse and multilingual nature of their national society, to the need to respect and support the human rights of indigenous populations.

By means of Resolution AG/RES.1022 (XIX-0/89), the OAS General Assembly started preparation of a legal instrument on the rights of indigenous populations. In that context, the OAS, through specialized agencies, has sponsored a series of meetings and discussions to approve the American Declaration on the rights of indigenous populations.

In the Declaration of Principles of the First Summit of the Americas – Declaration of Principles (Agreement for development and prosperity: democracy, free trade, and sustainable development in the Americas), significant progress was noted in this area. Therefore, the chapter "preserving and strengthening the community of democracies in the Americas" states that "democracy is the only political system that guarantees respect for human rights and the rule of law; at the same time, it preserves cultural diversity, pluralism, respect for the rights of minorities, and peace among nations."

In this chapter, it is further stated that "our ultimate objective is to meet the needs of the population more effectively, especially those of women and groups that are most at risk, including indigenous populations, the disabled, children, the elderly, and minorities.

The chapter on the eradication of poverty and discrimination in our Hemisphere states that "everyone must have access to the fruits of democratic stability and economic growth, without discrimination on grounds of race, gender, nationality, or religion."

Also, reference is made to the decade of indigenous people in the following: "in observance of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, we will focus our efforts on improving the exercise of the democratic rights of indigenous populations and their access to social services."

In the section of the Plan of Action of the Summit of the Americas pertaining to human rights "governments will once again ask the OAS and IDB to establish or strengthen, as appropriate, programs to support national projects aimed at the promotion and observance of human rights in the Hemisphere."

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was established in 1959. It is governed by the American Convention on Human Rights, which was concluded in 1969 and entered into force in 1978. The Commission may make recommendations to States, publish its conclusions, and/or institute proceedings against a State on behalf of a victim with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Through Resolution AG/RES.1022 (XIX-089), the General Assembly began preparations for a legal instrument on the law of indigenous populations.

In 1992, the IACHR sent a questionnaire to OAS member States and indigenous and intergovernmental institutions requesting their opinion on topics and approaches that should be included in the instrument. Based on this questionnaire and the recommendations from additional consultations and meetings, the IACHR prepared a first draft.

In the draft resulting from these consultations, the basic contents are in keeping with the following principles, according to Kreimer (Kreimer, O., A reading based on the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, Indigenous Law, INI, AMNU, 1997):

    • Explicit recognition by the community of nations of the Americas, through the OAS, of the value of indigenous populations and their cultures, their cultural integrity, their dignity, and the different contributions.
    • The multiculturalism of our societies, recognizing the diversity and internal richness of each State and the importance of a common national situation that is dignified and suited to all sectors.
    • The integral nature and integrity of the State.
    • The principle of the intrinsic nature of indigenous rights. The special status of indigenous populations given the fact that they are the original people and their survival, from a cultural and social standpoint, in contemporary States.
    • The right of indigenous populations to self-government and internal autonomy.
    • The preeminence and primacy of human rights. The draft develops the philosophical position that collective rights come into being as such and are thus a necessary condition for the full enjoyment of individual human rights.
    • The need for special compensatory measures that seek to provide reparations for discrimination and historical plunder, thereby giving indigenous populations the full capacity to develop their potential.

Inter-American Center for Social Security Studies

When the CIESS was consulted about the American Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it indicated, in its response of May 3, 1999, that:

The many traditions, values, institutions, and specific characteristics of indigenous populations within the framework of the transformation of the society, and, in particular, the context of State modernization and globalization processes are becoming increasingly important.

"The initiative of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations falls within the sphere of activity of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. It therefore underscores equality in terms of the dignity and rights of indigenous populations, and rejects any doctrine and practice based on arguments of racial, ethnic, and cultural superiority.

"For the CIESS, whose specialty is social security, Article 23 and 24 of the Draft Declaration assume special importance. They pertain to the rights of indigenous populations to determine and draft health programs and to administer them, insofar as possible, through their own institutions; to the right to protect their plants, animals, and minerals that are of vital interest from a medical standpoint, and the right to access, free of any discrimination whatsoever, to all health institutions and health and medical care services.

"The CIESS, within this area of action and in its capacity as a center for studies, shares the interest in universal access to social security and to health services, as well as the notion that indigenous organizations should be represented and participate in all the meetings, working groups, and commissions that are involved in discussions and the decision-making process regarding matters for which they are responsible.

It also adds that since 1994, the CIESS, together with indigenous groups, has held seminars related to social security and indigenous populations.

Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH)

The Pan American Institute of Geography and History is a specialized organization of the OAS, which is headquartered in Mexico. In a letter of May 20 to the Inter-American Indian Institute, its Director, Carlos A. Carvall Yáñez, recognizes that "the participation of representatives of indigenous populations in the Working Group will permit the conclusion of substantive agreements in favor of the indigenous population in the Hemisphere."

Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

The Commission has focused on the impact of measures to control drug use existing among the indigenous populations of the Hemisphere, whose cultural tradition includes the production and ceremonial consumption or nutritional or medicinal use of hallucinogenic substances.

In that regard, the Commission is developing a pilot project on the Atlantic Coast of Central America which supports the formulation of culturally acceptable community interventions, with a view to the preservation of the use of drugs in areas where indigenous populations and Afro-Caribbean communities live.

Inter-American Institute of Human Rights

The Inter-American Institute of Human Rights has held a series of training courses on indigenous rights.

Inter-American Indian Institute

The Inter-American Institute has served as the specialized institute on the topic of indigenous rights of the Inter-American System; however, the conditions for fulfilling its mission should be adapted to the new international context.

A document prepared by the current Director of the IAII explains that "although the "indigenous perspective," whose initial objective was to promote "the overall development of indigenous populations," was generally shared in the Hemisphere, there was de facto acceptance of a lack of knowledge regarding the specific circumstances under which these people lived their lives in each region or country of the Americas. This was and is a vision from the outside, one that is generous and committed, but an external one vis à vis indigenous populations."

It further states: "Despite this, we must bear in mind that "indigenous affairs" formed part of a hemispheric approach that struggled for recognition of indigenous cultures and sought to find ways and strategies to overcome the colonialism against which the indigenous populations of the Americas were fighting."

With respect to an integrationist approach, it states: Perhaps it is the "integrationist approach" that encapsulates, in an extreme sense, "the indigenous perspective." In this approach lies the most significant point of conflict with the current approach to the indigenous issue in Latin America."

In reference to the institutional question of States, it adds: "… speeches and national expectations became conceptually detached from the indigenous issue; with indigenous peoples either being placed in the remote past of our nations or portrayed as social survivors who are on the brink of disappearance. Furthermore, the extent to which we have diluted the indigenous component of our societies is, at times, used as a yardstick for measuring modernization.

This practice of concealing or eluding the indigenous question in the discussion of our national projects has led to a great amount of ignorance regarding the actual presence of indigenous populations by the other segments of our societies, and only recently has there been a realization of how essential they are in any development or modernization plan. In many of our countries, this is a prerequisite in setting processes of change in motion."

Gradually, the participation of indigenous populations in Inter-American Indian Congresses began to be authorized, although this was done unofficially. The Inter-American Indian Institute has described as a challenge the need for a new paradigm for envisioning and conceptualizing a new relationship between indigenous populations and States, based on dialogue and negotiation. The foregoing calls for a new way of thinking, from an institutional standpoint, that will permit the indigenous issue to move towards the phase of indigenous rights.

This is the direction in which the work of the Inter-American Indian Institute is moving with regard to the need to reform the Pátzcuaro Convention, provide technical assistance for consensual discussion and approval of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, and establishment of the Forum of Indigenous Populations of the Americas.

Against that backdrop, the Inter-American Indian Institute convened indigenous leaders of the Hemisphere to the First Hemispheric Forum of Indigenous Populations of the Americas in December 1996. Among its final resolutions was support for the process of defining a legal instrument that recognizes the rights of indigenous populations of the Americas, based on a broad process of consultation and participation, so that "consideration can be given to their aspirations for self-development and recognition of their cultural and territorial integrity" (Declaration of the Indigenous Populations of the Americas, First Hemispheric Forum of Indigenous Populations of the Americas. Tlaxcala, Mexico, December 11, 1996).

At that event, indigenous representatives took on the challenge of forming a Permanent Forum of Indigenous Populations within the Inter-American System, as a formal entity for dialogue and negotiation. They asked the Inter-American Indian Institute to support this process as part of the International Decade of Indigenous Populations.

At technical meetings of leaders of indigenous entities of the Americas sponsored by the Inter-American Indian Institute, participants also reiterated the need for comprehensive reform of Inter-American Indian institutions. They pointed out, however, that these reforms must be made with the active intercultural participation of indigenous organizations in the Americas. (Paranoá Declaration, Technical meeting of leaders of indigenous organizations of the Americas, Brasilia, Brazil, May 1, 1997, Anuario Indigenista, 1997, III).

Bibliographic References:

  1. Sánchez, Consuelo. Los pueblos indígenas del indigenismo a la autonomía. Siblo XXI Editores. Mexico, 1999 p. 157
  2. Ibid. p.160
  3. Martínez, Miguel Alfonso. Tratados, convenios y otros acuerdos constructivos entre los estados y las poblaciones Indígenas. "Anuario Indigenista", December 1992, Vol. XXXI, Inter-American Indian Institute. Mexico. p. 133.
  4. Ibid. pp. 137,138.
  5. Ibid. p.162
  6. UNESCO. Directing Council. 144th meeting. Paris, April 5, 1944. " Protection and Promotion of the Cultural Rights of Persons Belonging to Minority Groups within the competence of UNESCO"
  7. Ibid. p.7
  8. Ibid. p.6
  9. 48/163 International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. December 21, 1993. 86th Plenary Session. Report A/48/632/Add.2. 144 EX/15 Anexo III
  10. Salud de los pueblos Indígenas en las Américas a comienzos de los años 90. Anuario Indigenista. Volume XXXI, Inter-American Indian Institute, Mexico, 1992. pp. 279-280
  11. Ibid.
  12. Pan American Health Organization – PAHO. Health of Indigenous Populations. Document prepared for the XXXVII Meeting of the PAHO Directing Council, approved by means of Resolution V of that meeting. September 28, 1993.
  13. Derechos Indígenas. Lectura comentada del Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo. Magdalena Gómez, Inter-American Indian Institute. Mexico 1995.
  14. El marco internacional del Derecho Indígena. Rodolfo Stavenhagen. In Derecho Indígena. International Seminar held in the "Fray Bernardino de Sahagun" Auditorium of the National Museum of Anthropology and History, Mexico City, May 26-30, 1997. Inter-American Indian Institute and the Mexican Association for the United Nations. p. 169
  15. "Hacia el desarrollo indígena: Un proceso en construcción" Thesis to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Marcelino Gómez Nuñez. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, 1999
  16. Activities of the FAO to support indigenous populations, FAO, 1992, typewritten document. In: "Hacia el desarrollo indígena: Un proceso en construcción" Thesis for a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Marcelino Gómez Nuñez. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, 1999.
  17. Guadalajara Declarations. Summit Meeting of Ibero-American Heads of State and Government, held in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, July 18-19, 1991. Published in: Anuario Indigenista, Vol. XXX. Inter-American Indian Institute, Mexico, 1991.
  18. Anuario Indigenista. Vol. XXXI, 1992. Inter-American Indian Institute. Mexico, 1992 pp. 259-260.
  19. Viña del Mar Declaration, VI Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government. November 10-11, 1996.
  20. Ibid. paragraph 3.5 of the second part.
  21. Ibid. paragraph 34 entitled: Participation of Indigenous Populations.
  22. VII Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government.
  23. Margarita Island (Venezuela), November 8 and 9, 1997.
  24. World Bank. Operating Guidelines concerning Indigenous Populations. Published September 17, 1991, to provide guidance to the line staff of the World Bank. This version has not been approved by the World Bank. Version of November 7, 1997. (The World Bank is currently discussing new guidelines that are more modern and in keeping with concepts related to indigenous populations).
  25. Ibid. p. 3
  26. Ibid. p. 4
  27. Ibid. p. 4
  28. Ibid. p. 6
  29. Ibid. p. 7
  30. Pueblos Indígenas y Desarrollo Sostenible: El papel del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, prepared by Anne Deruyttere. Presentation at the Forum of the Americas of the Inter-American Development Bank, April 8, 1997. Publication of the Inter-American Development Bank, Sustainable Development Department. Indigenous Peoples and Community Development Unit, Washington, D.C. June 1997 – No. IND97 – 101.
  31. Ibid. p.12 How is the IDB responding?
  32. Ibid. p.12
  33. Assembly of Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank, Report on the Eighth General Increase in the Resources of the Inter-American Development Bank. AB – 1704, 8/94, p. 22.
  34. Ibid. p. 14. Sustainable Development. Indigenous Peoples and Community Development Unit. June 1997.
  35. Ibid. p. 16
  36. Funds for the Development of Indigenous Populations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Document series No. 14. La Paz, May 1997.
  37. Ibid p. 7
  38. Hacia la Reforma del sistema indigenista interamericano, May 1996, José de Val. In: Cuaderno de trabajo 1, Inter-American Indian Institute, Mexico, 1997
  39. Ibid. p. 10
  40. Ibid. pp.18-19.
  41. Document sent from Mexico by Dr. Luis José Martínez Villalba, Director of the CIESS to José de Val, Director of the Inter-American Indian Institute, May 3, 1999.
  42. Personal letter of May 20, 199
  43. Watu, Acción indígena. Diversidad biológica, diversidad cultural, Madrid, 1997. The Article is entitled: El convenio sobre biodiversidad las preocupaciones de los pueblos indígenas.
  44. Ibid. 141
  45. Rights to Intellectual Property and Biodiversity. Fundamental Agreements reached at the regional meeting sponsored by COICA and the UNDP, which took place in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, September 28-30, 1994.
  46. Río 92: Earth Summit. Recognition and strengthening of the role of indigenous populations and their communites. Chapter 26 of the Report of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (Agenda 21), held in Rio de Janeiro, June 3-14, 1992. Doc. ONU A/CONS. 151/26 (Vol. No. 3), August 14, 1992. In: Anuario Indigenista, 1992, Vol. XXXI, Inter-American Indian Institute, Mexico. Pp.300 – 301.
  47. Ibid. p. 301
  48. Patrimonio Indígena y Autodeterminación. Tony Simpson. Document IWGIA No. 22, Copenhagen. 1997.
  49. Ibid. p. 105
  50. The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources was held in June 1996 in Leipzig, at the request of the FAO and the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, through Agenda 21.
  51. Watu, Acción indígena, p. 145
  52. Ibid. p.144
  53. Derechos Humanos. Los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas. Information Bulletin No. 9 (Rev.1).
  54. Fiftieth Anniverary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 – 1998. United Nations.
  55. Do Cip. Center for Documentation, research, and information on indgienous populations. Geneva, Switzerland.
  56. 56. Inter-American Indian Institute. Anuario Indigenista. Vol. XXX. December 1991. Mexico.

  57. Inter-American Indian Institute. INI. Anuario Indigenista. Vol. XXXVI. Mexico. December 1997.
  58. Inter-American Indian Institute. Anuario Indigenista. INI Vol. XXXIII. Mexico. December 1994.
  59. Inter-American Indian Institute. INI. Anuario Indigenista. Vol. XXXVI. Mexico. December 1996.
  60. Inter-American Indian Institute. Anuario Indigenista. INI Vol. XXXIII. Mexico. December 1995.
  61. Inter-American Indian Institute. Anuario Indigenista. INI Vol. XXXIII. Mexico. December 1993.
  62. OEA. http://www. First Summit of the Americas. Declaration of Principles. Agreement for development and prosperity: democracy, free trade, and sustainable development in the Americas.
  63. OEA. http://www. Human Rights. Plan of Action of the Summit of the Americas.