EU reaffirms commitment to indigenous rights

28 May 2017

On 15 May, the Council of the European Union adopted its Council Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples, which adheres to the Joint Staff Working Document “Implementing EU External Policy on Indigenous Peoples” published in October 2016 by the European Commission. In doing so, the Council affirms the commitment of each individual member state to “enhance the EU’s impact and make the EU’s action more effective and evenly applied in EU relations with its partner countries and in multilateral cooperation”.
The EU Council gave special priority to:

  •  the discrimination and inequalities based on indigenous origin or identity […] and

  •  the actions taken to address the threats to and violence against indigenous peoples and individuals as well as to human rights defenders, in the context of land and natural resources in the protection of the environment, biodiversity and the climate.

The conclusions reached by the European Commission aim to emphasise a common policy and to provide an overview of the actions taken by the EU in supporting indigenous peoples in relation to the international legal instruments to protect them (notably the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the ILO Convention 169). It also sought to issue specific recommendations to enhance implementation and the impact of its existing EU policies to this end

Both documents highlight the link between the extraction of natural resources and the effects on local indigenous peoples. They also seek to reaffirm the commitment to remind third countries to apply the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights (2011) as well as other legal instruments and global policies relevant to indigenous rights, for instance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Council’s conclusions pay particular attention to three principles that should guide the work of the EU in supporting indigenous peoples:

  • Indigenous peoples’ right to their ‘self-development’, including the right to object to projects and the right to obtain compensation where projects negatively affect their livelihoods.

  • The full and effective participation of indigenous peoples at all stages of the project cycle (in development cooperation) and the importance of building capacities among organisations representing indigenous peoples.

  • The inclusion of the concerns about indigenous peoples in the political dialogues held with the partner countries.

Whilst these recommendations are not legally-binding on EU member states, they provide a commitment of adherence to such principles. They may also lead to increased effort to ensure that these include indigenous rights in their discussions with third states..

The Council noted in particular that “the EU’s rights-based approach to development, encompassing all human rights, should be the main vehicle in external action for integrating the support to indigenous peoples in the EU’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It highlighted the importance of “further enhancing opportunities for dialogue and consultation with indigenous peoples at all levels of EU cooperation”.

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