7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Tackling inequalities: Making the SDGs work for indigenous peoples

Tackling inequalities: Making the SDGs work for indigenous peoples

Leveraging synergies of the global agendas on development, indigenous peoples’ rights and climate change

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 13:30 to 14:45

Key points

  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are game-changers for the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • A rights-based approach tackles inequality in all its forms.
  • Indigenous peoples must always be treated as equal partners.
  • Innovative tools are emerging to support the rights of indigenous peoples.


Indigenous peoples face common challenges arising out of historic and continued exclusion and marginalisation that have economic, social, cultural and political dimensions. As a result, today’s indigenous peoples, who are estimated to represent 5 % of the world’s population, account for 15 % of the world’s poor. Panellists emphasised that the adoption of the SDGs marked a real step forward for the enforcement of indigenous peoples’ rights.

A rights-based approach to development is implicit in the world’s shared ambition of leaving no one behind. The European Council recently-adopted conclusions on indigenous peoples, which focus on discrimination and the threat of violence to indigenous peoples and human rights defenders regarding ownership of land and access to natural resources, emphasises Europe’s adherence to a rights-based approach.

Panellists elaborated on the situation in different countries, such as Bangladesh which recognises and protects the rights of ethnic minorities in its constitution, rather than recognise specific indigenous peoples. Tackling the root causes of poverty based on a genuine partnership approach was seen as the way forward. Previous initiatives, such as a hydroelectricity project requiring the construction of a dam as part of a climate change initiative, may previously have disregarded rights and dispossessed indigenous peoples. However, the SDG approach is based on partnership and reduces the likelihood of rights being denied.  

Treating indigenous peoples as real partners is still challenging. International financing institutions, such as the European Investment Bank, can run into difficulty with their due diligence, as the ancestral land rights of a people are not recognised legally and thus development projects can get shelved. The global database of land rights needs to be elaborated to limit the appropriation of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The status of indigenous peoples is often hidden in the monitoring of implementation of global initiatives such as the SDGs. This can make enforcing rights more difficult and cloud over real change. To disaggregate data pertaining to indigenous peoples, exciting new initiatives are being proposed.  

The panellists singled-out the Indigenous Navigator for praise. It is anchored in the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which covers the full range of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Indigenous Navigator provides a framework and a set of tools for indigenous peoples to systematically monitor the level of recognition and implementation of their rights. The tool will help raise awareness and contribute to the ability of indigenous peoples to claim their rights. It will also help to hold states accountable to their human rights obligations and can guide policy and development programmes.

On a related point, indigenous peoples are yet to be treated as equals in the decision-making process. It was noted that capacity building is a two-way street – more effort is needed to recognise indigenous peoples as rights holders and development actors, with sustainable lifestyle practices that can feed into the world’s SDGs. For example, the role of indigenous women in resource management is not sufficiently appreciated.


Buried in the figures: Viet Nam has reported a 40 % reduction in overall poverty levels. However, despite this progress, some 80 % of Vietnamese indigenous peoples live in poverty.

Organised by

    Martin Oelz
    Senior Specialist on Equality and Non-Discrimination
    International Labour Office
    Birgitte Feiring
    Chief Adviser, Human Rights and Development
    The Danish Institute for Human Rights
    Eleni Kyrou
    Senior Social Development Specialist Environment, Climate and Social Office
    European Investment Bank
    Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura
    Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs
    Government of Bangladesh
    Mercedes Garcia Perez
    Head of Unit – Human Rights
    European External Action Service
    Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
    Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad
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