Protecting human rights and the climate

The total number of indigenous people on earth is estimated at around 370 million people in over 70 countries. Their ways of life are mostly shaped by their special bond with nature that has characterised their culture for centuries. However, their livelihoods are today increasingly under threat. Globalised political and economic interests threaten the ways of life of many indigenous peoples, whose lands are stolen and communities destroyed.


The ILO Convention  No. 169 is the only international law designed to protect the rights of these peoples. The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries guarantees the basic rights of indigenous peoples. The Convention was adopted in 1989 and entered into force on 5 September 1991.

ILO Convention 169 is based on respect for indigenous peoples’ cultures and guarantees them legally-binding protection and entitlement to basic rights. Its aim is to overcome discriminatory practices affecting these peoples and enable them to participate in decision-making that affects their lives through a right to "prior consultation". Consultation is compulsory for every project affecting indigenous territories, the most common being mining projects, agribusiness and logging. The objective is to ensure agreement or consent to the proposed project by the indigenous peoples.


The 44 articles in total also oblige the signatory states to enable indigenous peoples to develop in a way that takes account of their own priorities as indigenous peoples. These include in particular:


* the full and indiscriminate guarantee of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Articles 2 and 3; including equality before the administration and the judiciary, Art. 8 and 9;

* the right to cultural identity, to Community structures and traditions, Art. 4;

* the right to shape one's own future, Articles 6 and 7; in particular the right to participate in decisions which directly affect these peoples;

* the right to land and resources to secure one's identity, Art. 13-19;

* the right to employment and adequate working conditions, Art. 20;

* the right to education and access to means of communication, Art. 21.


Up to now, it has been ratified by 24 countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Domenica, Ecuador, Fiji, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and the Central African Republic). In Europe, the signatories are Denmark, Germany (2022), Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Luxembourg (since 2018).


However, most governments refuse to sign ILO Convention 169, often on the grounds that no indigenous peoples live there. But in our globalised world, multinationals corporations are better held accountable when both the country where they operate and the one where they are based offer the same degree of legal protection. Thereby, each additional ratification of ILO Convention 169 strengthens the very limited protection given to indigenous peoples worldwide, meaning less human rights abuses and more environment protection.



Who is ILO?

The ILO (International Labour Organization) was founded in 1919 as a specialised agency of the United Nations (based in Geneva). Representatives of governments, employees and employers of 173 member states have set themselves the goal of improving global social security and living and working conditions.

"Any country that ratifies the ILO 169 – whether indigenous peoples live there or not – strengthens this legal instrument. If Luxembourg ratifies, it will be a further step in a year-long international process to strengthen the ILO Convention, the ILO itself and the rights of indigenous peoples."

Dietmar Mirkes, ASTM Luxemburg

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