13 September 2019: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has released the fourth edition of the ‘State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ (SOWIP). The report was launched on the 12th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP).

The report titled, ‘State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,’ analyzes the Declaration’s impact on the lives of 370 million indigenous people across an estimated 90 countries, including reflections on progress, good practices and achievements. The report finds that the Declaration has served as the basis for developing new laws, policies and guidelines that uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and as a tool for advocacy and awareness-raising. Since the Declaration’s adoption in 2007, a number of countries have formally recognized indigenous peoples’ identity and rights, including:

  • In Africa: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo;
  • In Asia and the Pacific: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand;
  • In Eastern Europe: the Russian Federation;
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua; and
  • In Western Europe and Other States: Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Bolivia stands out as the only country that has integrated the Declaration into its domestic legislation; the 2009 Bolivia Constitution recognizes indigenous peoples’ rights, including the right to self-determination and self-government. Although Kenya’s constitution does not have specific provisions on indigenous peoples, the constitution explicitly recognizes minorities and marginalized groups and communities, and provides for their rights. Namibia has a white paper that incorporates elements of the Declaration to guide the country’s work with indigenous peoples. Niger and Chad have developed a pastoral code to protect pastoralists. Australia and New Zealand have indicated their intention to consider constitutional changes that recognize indigenous peoples. The report also highlights national courts that have cited the Declaration in cases involving indigenous peoples, including in Belize, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico and the Russian Federation.

Inclusion of indigenous peoples can lead to exceptionally positive results with in accord with the spirit, purposes and principles of the UN.

The report reflects on how the inclusion of indigenous peoples (beyond indigenous NGOs) can lead to “exceptionally positive results when the aims and purposes of the participations are in accord with the spirit, purposes and principles of the UN.” As an illustration, the report highlights how the participation of indigenous peoples in the development of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development resulted in six references to indigenous peoples, including two within the SDGs. Indigenous peoples are referenced in SDG target 2.3 on doubling agricultural inputs and outcomes among indigenous small-scale farmers, as well as in SDG target 4.5 on ensuring equal access to education for indigenous children. In addition, the Agenda’s section on follow-up and review calls for indigenous peoples’ participation.

Despite this progress, the report argues that much more needs to be done to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples. The report highlights a number of challenges, including legal and structural barriers to indigenous peoples’ full, equal and effective participation in political, economic, social and cultural life. Progress has been “uneven and variable within and between countries and regions.” Some countries do not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to land, territories and resources and their right to self-determination, which can result in lower standards of wellbeing among indigenous peoples in comparison with other groups. The report states that indigenous people often have poor access to health care and education, resulting in higher poverty rates, higher child and infant mortality rates and lower life expectancy. Further, many indigenous peoples have been displaced and dispossessed from their traditional territories as a result of natural resource extraction, large-scale agriculture, conservation efforts or infrastructure development.

Additional challenges relate to: a lack of political will to implement the Declaration; enforcement of existing standards and instruments; challenges in securing the effective participation of indigenous peoples in national legislation, implementation, enforcement, monitoring and reporting; and intimidation, threats and violence experienced by indigenous peoples and their defenders, which are often related to exploitation of natural resources or land grabbing.

On statistics, the report underscores the need for data disaggregation, particularly to measure progress on the SDGs. The report emphasizes the “persistent invisibility” of indigenous peoples in official statistics, noting that a 2011 study found that only 43% of 184 countries and territories attempted to collect statistical data on indigenous peoples living in their territories. The majority of the countries collecting this data were in the Americas and Oceania. The report identifies obstacles to data disaggregation and analysis, such as: the need for census offices to incorporate survey questions on the size of indigenous populations and their situations; and variability in the phrasing, terminology and selection of survey questions on indigenous peoples. The report recommends increasing targets and indicators on indigenous peoples in national data censuses and household surveys, improving their specificity, and working towards “faster, deeper and wider data.”

Recommendations also focus on strengthening and coordinating the roles of indigenous-specific mechanisms within the UN, strengthening the role of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, ensuring that the SDG processes focus more strongly and explicitly on indigenous peoples, ensuring respect for indigenous peoples’ rights within the public and private sectors, and strengthening capacity, networking and strategizing among indigenous peoples. The report recommends that the Inter-Agency Support Group continue to implement the system-wide action plan and monitor and document results at country levels. To ensure the SDG processes focus more on indigenous peoples, the report recommends, inter alia, that States facilitate inclusion of indigenous peoples in census and household survey design, data collection and monitoring.

The UN published the first SOWIP in 2009, focusing on poverty and well-being, culture environment, health and human rights. The second and third editions of the SOWIP focused on health and education, respectively. [DESA Press Release] [Publication: State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples]