ILO Convention No. 169

The ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 is an international treaty, adopted by the International Labour Conference of the ILO in 1989.

The ILO convention No.169 is, along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, a cornerstone of the international framework on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Convention No. 169 is an unprecedented and visionary instrument aimed at ensuring that indigenous peoples enjoy their fundamental human rights equally, exercise control over their own development and participate fully in the national development of the States in which they live, in accordance with their cultural identities.

The Convention has informed constitutional reforms in Latin America, provided a framework for the negotiation of the peace agreements that ended civil wars in Guatemala and Nepal, and influenced the design and adoption of many laws, policies and programmes, notably related to land rights in ratifying and non-ratifying countries.

In addition, the Convention is a reference point for domestic and regional courts, investment policies, private companies, multi- and bilateral development policies, environmental agreements and various international and regional processes.

Challenges of ratification and implementation

Convention No.169 is still not widely ratified and the rights-based and inclusive development it was devised to achieve often remains a distant aspiration. 

To date, 22 countries have ratified the Convention, with some two-thirds of ratifying States found in Latin America. In Europe, the most recent ratification, that of Spain, dates back to 2007.

The Asian continent is yet to record a second ratification of the Convention after that of Nepal in 2007. In Africa, the Central African Republic remains the only country that has ratified this instrument (in 2010).

Over the years, the General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, as well as the UN bodies and mechanisms especially dealing with the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights have repeatedly stressed the importance and necessity of advancing in the practical implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights as enshrined in ILO Convention No.169 and the UNDRIP. They have also encouraged States which have not yet ratified the Convention to consider doing so.

Full implementation of the Convention remains a challenge almost everywhere. The ILO supervisory bodies have noted a number of implementation issues over the years, most often with regard to coordinated and systematic action to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the need to ensure consultation and participation of indigenous peoples in decisions that affect them. UN mechanisms dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights have similarly highlighted the need for further progress in these areas.

Consultation and participation related to extraction of natural resources extraction

Ensuring consultation and participation of indigenous peoples has proved to be particularly challenging in the context of natural resource extraction, which is often perceived as being in contention with indigenous peoples’ collective rights over land and resources. 

Indigenous peoples’ lands therefore continue to be encroached upon and their own perceptions, priorities and aspirations are often not taken into account by national development strategies or programs. This being the case, there are crucial lessons to be learnt from practical experiences.

To advance the implementation of the Convention a focus on practices at the country-level and lessons learnt from practical implementation is crucial for achieving constructive dialogue, building partnerships and alliances and strengthening national action.

UN calls for renewed commitment to the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights

On 22 September 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted by acclamation the Outcome Document of its High-level plenary meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP).

In this landmark document, UN Member States reiterated their commitment to respect, promote and advance the rights of indigenous peoples and to uphold the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Furthermore, the WCIP Outcome Document recognized the crucial role of Convention No.169 in the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights by encouraging those States that have not yet ratified the Convention to consider doing so.

It also recalled the obligation of ratifying States under the Convention to develop coordinated and systematic action to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Read more about the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples here