First International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004)

The First International Decade of the World's Indigenous People was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 48/163 of 21 December 1993. With this resolution, the General Assembly committed itself to seeking improvements in the situation of the more than 300 million indigenous people worldwide between 1995 and 2004.

The UN's goal for the Decade was "to strengthen international co-operation to solve the problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education and health". The key to achieving this goal was to be found in the UN's theme for the International Decade – "Indigenous people: partnership in action". The UN committed itself to encouraging the development of new partnerships between indigenous peoples and states and other groups, and between indigenous peoples and the UN. These partnerships – based on principles of equity, mutual respect and understanding – offered ways for indigenous peoples to develop their own solutions to the problems facing them.

In 1995, the General Assembly adopted an ambitious programme of activities for the Decade and identified a number of specific objectives including:

· The development of activities, by the specialised agencies of the UN system and other inter-governmental and national agencies, that benefit indigenous peoples.

· Educating indigenous and non-indigenous societies with regard to the cultures, languages, rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples.

· Promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

· The adaptation by the UN General Assembly of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the development of international standards and national legislation to protect and promote indigenous peoples' human rights.


During the first Decade, indigenous peoples have to an admirable extent managed to get indigenous issues on the agenda in a number of international settings, not least the UN and affiliated institutions. The first Decade was used by indigenous peoples to document and provide information about violations of their human rights and to develop skills in standard-setting and promotion of human rights. On this basis, indigenous peoples now have the means to look forward and use their experiences to protect their rights in national and regional contexts. Within the UN and related institutions, indigenous peoples have been able to create a platform from which they have had a significant impact on UN rules and procedures.

A major and unique result of the first Decade was the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This was the outcome of a very productive partnership between various governments and indigenous organisations. Read more about the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by clicking here.

Of other achievements, the following should be mentioned:

· The celebration of an annual day for indigenous peoples.

· The appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people by the Commission on Human Rights.

· The establishment of a fellowship programme within the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

· The creation of a voluntary fund for indigenous peoples to fund indigenous peoples' participation in UN meetings and provide indigenous peoples with support for small projects.

While indigenous peoples have been extremely efficient in carving out a niche for themselves within the UN system, the first Decade offers but few examples of indigenous peoples bringing the achievements from the UN home to their indigenous communities (although there are important exceptions). One reason for this is the lack of a concerted strategy on how to deal with UN and UN associated institutions. Although indigenous peoples have made many statements documenting violations of their human rights, they have only sporadically been able to change the policies and conduct of UN agencies and affiliated agencies.

Another challenge has been the adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Working Group, established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1995, to work on the Draft Declaration was given the mandate to complete the Draft Declaration within the timeframe of the International Decade. However, despite the efforts made by the indigenous caucus and one group of governments to achieve the adaptation of a group of articles, there was not sufficient consensus for the provisional adoption of any of them before the end of the Decade. Click here to read more about the Draft Declaration.