ILO Statement to the Third Committee of the 67th General Assembly

ILO Convention has become reference for indigenous issues

ILO Convention 169 is the only international treaty on the rights of indigenous peoples open to ratification by Member States.

Statement | New York | 22 October 2012
Mr. Chair,

The ILO’s Convention on indigenous and tribal peoples (No. 169) is the only international treaty on this subject open to ratification by Member States.

To date, this convention has been ratified and is in force in 22 countries. We are heartened, however, by the wide support for indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights expressed in this Committee and encourage all Member States to ratify this important convention to close the rights gap indigenous and tribal peoples face on a daily basis.

Adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1989, the ILO’s Convention is a treaty grounded in the principles of respect for distinctive cultures, livelihoods and ways of life as well as the right of indigenous peoples to participate in decisions that affect them.

The Convention covers a wide range of rights, including issues of land, natural resources, employment and vocational training, education, health and social security, customary law, traditional institutions, languages, religious beliefs and cross-border cooperation. Within the ILO, this Convention is regarded as an indispensable tool for equal enjoyment of all rights and participation of indigenous peoples in national development processes.

On this occasion, I would like to highlight two key contemporary features of the ILO Convention 169. Firstly, the Convention’s complementarity with the United Nations
Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and secondly, its influence spanning beyond the ratifying countries.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 has galvanised the ILO Convention (No. 169) and made more visible the more than two decades long unparalleled work of the ILO on indigenous peoples’ issues. The ILO’s interest in indigenous peoples’ issues started in the 1920s and since then indigenous peoples became an important part of its mandate on social justice.

Indeed, the ILO Convention (No.169) and the UN Declaration are intertwined international instruments, whose implementation are proving to be mutually reinforcing and sustaining.  The ILO Convention (No.169) appears to be leaning on the UN Declaration moral weight and wide support by Governments to expand in countries that are yet to ratify it. The UN Declaration provides political space, makes indigenous peoples’ less sensitive and thereby opens opportunities for the ILO programme on indigenous peoples at country level.

For instance, since the adoption of the UN Declaration, ILO Convention 169 has recorded its first ratifications in South East Asia and Africa. In return, the UN Declaration appears to be building on, learning and benefiting from the ILO’s Convention (No. 169) decades-long experience of implementation across the World.

In numerous UNDRIP-related reports, court rulings, States’ practices and ILO supervisory bodies comments or observations pertaining to ILO Convention 169 are used as reference points for better implementation and understanding of the UNDRIP. Similarly, both the UN Declaration and ILO are systematically referred to through the Human Rights Council-led Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and by all UN mechanisms on indigenous peoples’ rights, notably the UNPFII, EMRIP and the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Chair,

ILO Convention 169 has become a reference point for governments, workers, employers and indigenous peoples throughout the world. In Norway, for instance, ILO Convention (No. 169) has enabled the country to undertake and make significant progress on dialogue with Sami peoples. It has proven to be an effective tool for dialogue and participatory governance, conflict prevention, reconciliation and sustainable development, poverty reduction with an influence that spans beyond the 22 ratifying countries. It is referred to and quoted in peace accords, domestic and regional courts decisions, international financial institutions and multi- and bilateral development policies, environmental agreements and international and regional processes, including on climate change.

Through these channels, ILO Convention 169’s principles have found their way into national policies and development programmes of countries that are yet to ratify it. It has also inspired or guided domestic legislative processes on indigenous peoples in numerous countries.

I would like to conclude by saying that the ILO Convention 169 and UNDRIP make one set of international legal instruments for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights at the country level. They should therefore be read and understood as complementary and mutually sustaining. This is particularly relevant in countries where both instruments have been adopted. In fact, the adoption of both the UNDRIP and ILO Convention (No. 169) has led to a solid legal framework for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and this is what countries that are yet to ratify ILO Convention 169 do not have.

Thank you.