24 May 2017

On 15 June 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This followed a seventeen year-long period of discussion and negotiation between members of the Organization of American States. The full text of the Declaration has recently been published and can be accessed, here.

Along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1989), the Declaration is a significant move towards recognising, protecting, and promoting the rights of some 50 million Indigenous Peoples across the continent.  

The overarching objective of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is to guarantee the rights and freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, including their right to self-determination and to their ancestral homes. The Declaration is also designed to foster respect for indigenous cultures, languages, and traditions and encourage their development and strengthening.  Similarly, the Declaration also affords all Indigenous Peoples such rights as to be free from any kind of violence and racially motivated discrimination and intolerance.

Adelfo Regino Montes, a lawyer and leader of the indigenous Mixe peoples of Mexico’s Oaxaca region who attended the assembly meeting in Santo Domingo on 22 June 2016, where the Declaration was adopted, stated that ‘it is a leap forward in human rights at both an individual and collective level’.

Indigenous communities have been active in defending their rights, particularly with regard to land and resources as governments and extractive companies, many of them foreign, increasingly encroach upon their traditional lands. Defending their rights places Indigenous Peoples at risk of violence; currently Indigenous Peoples account for 41 percent of murdered human rights defenders in the region. In light of this situation, the Declaration is significant in reaffirming the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas.

The Declaration specifically addresses the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in relation to education. Article XV of the Declaration explicitly states that Indigenous Peoples must have access to all forms of education and that states must develop educational systems which reflect the pluricultural nature of the communities within their countries. Not only this, Indigenous Peoples also have the right to establish educational systems based around their own languages and cultures and which reflect their histories and worldviews.

The provisions on education largely reflect Articles 14 and 15 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the American Declaration specifically provides that states shall promote the reduction of disparities in education between Indigenous Peoples and the general population (Article XV (2)). This is a pertinent inclusion given the disparities and inequalities in education participation and attainment between Indigenous Peoples and the general population across the region.

The Declaration also protects the right of Indigenous Peoples to ‘preserve, use, develop, revitalise, and transmit to future generations their own histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, systems of knowledge, writing, and literature; and to designate and maintain their own names for their communities, individuals, and places’ (Article XIV).

The IACHR has made it clear that simply adopting the Declaration is not, in and of itself, enough.  States will also have to enact and implement laws and policies at the national level, in order to ensure that Indigenous Peoples can enjoy the rights agreed in the Declaration.

To learn more about the right to education of Indigenous Peoples, see our dedicated page which includes information on the content of the right to education as applied to Indigenous Peoples, the main barriers Indigenous Peoples face in claiming the right to education, and a comprehensive list of legal provisions in international law regarding the right to education of Indigenous Peoples.