CIESIN Thematic Guides

Rights of Indigenous People

The link between global environmental change and the rights of indigenous populations results from the close relationship between indigenous peoples' cultural and economic situations and their environmental settings. This sensitive relationship was recognized in Chapter 26 of Agenda 21, which identifies a variety of ways that indigenous peoples, national governments, and United Nations' agencies can strengthen the role of indigenous communities in sustainable development. Agenda 21 specifies that "in view of the interrelationship between the natural environment and its sustainable development and the cultural, social, economic, and physical well-being of indigenous people, national and international efforts to implement environmentally sound and sustainable development should recognize, accommodate, promote and strengthen the role of indigenous people and their communities."

Agenda 21 notes that some goals inherent in the program's objectives are already contained in such international legal instruments as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention No. 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, and are being incorporated into the draft universal declaration on indigenous rights that the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations is preparing. Agenda 21 also indicates that the international community's strong interest in these issues led to the designation of 1993 as The International Year for the World's Indigenous People.

The rights of indigenous peoples are also noteworthy in the context of The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), which recognizes some rights in principle but leaves much unresolved as to the extent of those rights in practice. The potentially high economic value of pharmaceuticals derived from medicinal plants used by indigenous peoples stimulates interest in the issue.

Informative resources on indigenous people include the following: