The rights of Indigenous Peoples
Like everyone, Indigenous people have all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However Indigenous people have specific rights because of their unique position as first peoples of their nations.
There are 370 million Indigenous people in the world. These groups are very diverse but there are common issues that affect Indigenous people globally.
Often due to the lingering effects of colonisation and oppression, Indigenous people are vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment and excluded from effectively participating in processes that affect their rights. This means that today they are more likely to experience poverty, imprisonment, poor health and restrictions on self-determination.
Indigenous people’s unique rights help ensure that their culture continues to exist into the future. This includes their rights to speak and teach their native language and customs, to live on the land of their ancestors, and to look after sacred sites.
“Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.”Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 2
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Over many years the world started to recognise these unique risks for Indigenous people. So in 2007 the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to help eliminate human rights violations against them. It creates a framework for laws to make sure that issues are addressed by working directly with Indigenous communities.
There are 46 Articles, or rules, in the Declaration, including:
- Indigenous peoples are free and equal to all others and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, including discrimination based on their Indigenous origin or identity (Article Two).
- Indigenous people have the right to live in freedom, peace and security.
- They must be free from genocide and other acts of violence including the removal of their children by force (Article Seven).
- Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs (Article Eleven).
- Indigenous peoples shall not be removed from their land by force. Where they agree, they should be provided compensation, and, where possible, have the possibility to return (Article 10).
- Indigenous peoples must not be discriminated against in matters connected with employment (Article 17).
- Governments shall consult properly with Indigenous peoples before adopting laws and policies that may affect them. They must use the principles of free, prior and informed consent – which means giving Indigenous peoples all the facts needed to make decisions (Article 19).
- Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use and control their lands, waters and other resources. Governments shall recognise and protect these lands, waters and resources (Article 26).
This Declaration is unique in that it was the first UN document created for the people, by the people: Indigenous People from all over the world helped to develop it, and it took more than two decades of discussions.
Australia and the Declaration
When the Declaration was adopted in 2007 only four countries voted against it: Canada, New Zealand, the US and Australia. In 2009 the Australian Government made a public statement formally endorsing the declaration.
Even though Australia has now endorsed the Declaration, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia continue to face very different life outcomes than the non-Indigenous population. The ongoing dispossession and racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people contribute to the huge gaps in health, life expectancy and imprisonment rates today.
Download a booklet which includes a simplified version of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, along with commentary from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.