The rights of indigenous peoples are a priority under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. The goals are to increase indigenous peoples’ rights and capacity to control their own social, economic and cultural development, while enhancing territorial rights and capacity for sustainable management of biological resources.
The UN estimates that there are around 300 million people that define themselves as indigenous living in more than 70 countries – predominantly developing countries. Many live in areas considered critical to the conservation of biodiversity and live in a way that does not endanger these resources.
Since indigenous issues first made it onto the EU agenda in 1997, progress has been made. Most importantly, a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, supported by the European Union. Unfortunately, however, discrimination and unequal treatment persists worldwide.
The EU is helping to address this. It seeks to integrate indigenous issues into all aspects of its external policies (political dialogues, multilateral fora, financial support). The EU is also funding projects through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. Many of the projects are run by international organisations or non-governmental organisations. They typically support indigenous representatives as they seek to participate in relevant UN activities, or support organisations working to promote the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169.
Activities in the field of development cooperation are driven by the European Consensus on Development – a December 2005 Joint statement by the Council, Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission. The Consensus commits the EU ‘to apply a strengthened approach to mainstreaming’ specific cross-cutting issues, including ’indigenous peoples’, to integrate their concerns at all levels of cooperation, ensuring their full participation and free, prior and informed consent.
EU Delegations around the world also organise events around 9 August – International Day of the World’s Indigenous People – to raise awareness of these groups.