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The Working Group on Indigenous Populations

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The Working Group on Indigenous Populations

One of the most accessible charter-based UN bodies for indigenous peoples was the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. It provided an opportunity for indigenous peoples to share their experiences and raise their concerns at the UN.

With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly in 2007, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations has achieved one of its major goals.

Following a reform to the UN human Rights machinery, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 6/16 to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene an informal meeting to discuss the most appropriate mechanisms to continue the work of the working Group on Indigenous Populations. The Informal meeting took place in Geneva on 6 December and the morning of 7 December 2007.

As a follow-up to the informal meeting the indigenous caucus and a number of governments continued informal negotiations to finalize a draft resolution and submitted to the resumed 6th session of the Human Rights Council. On December 14, 2007 draft resolution A/HRC/6/L.42 (HRC Resolution 6/36) establishing a new expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples was adopted by consensus by the HRC.

The Working Group on Indigenous Populations met for the last time in July 2007.

The set-up:

In 1982 the Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established as a subsidiary organ to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. It is comprised of five members of the Sub-Commission, one representing each of the five geographical regions designated by the UN for electoral purposes. As a subsidiary organ of the Sub-Commission, the Working Group is located at the lowest level of the hierarchy of UN human rights bodies. Its recommendations have to be considered and accepted first by its superior body, the Sub-Commission, then by the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) before reaching the General Assembly.

The Working Group has flexible rules of procedure, enabling all those interested to participate in the deliberations of the working group. The indigenous peoples' organisations attending the annual Working Group meetings also take the opportunity to hold indigenous meetings before and during the meetings. The aim of these indigenous meetings is to discuss common problems, draw up strategies and determine joint positions.


In addition to facilitating and encouraging dialogue between governments and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, the Working Group has two main tasks:

· To review events relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples. To analyse this material and send its report to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. For this, the Working Group receives and analyses oral and written information presented to it by indigenous organisations, governments, specialised agencies and other UN organs.

· To give particular attention to changes in international standards relating to the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The Working Group is not authorised to examine concrete complaints of alleged human rights violations with the aim of formulating recommendations or adopting decisions on concrete cases or countries.


At its 1996 session, the Working Group decided to consider specific themes to focus the discussions. In past sessions the Working Group has examined the themes of: health and indigenous peoples; indigenous peoples: environment, land and sustainable development; education and language; indigenous peoples and their relationship to land; and indigenous children and youth. In the 2006 session the theme was "Utilization of indigenous peoples' lands by non-indigenous authorities, groups or individuals for military purposes".


The Working Group has been the catalyst for many initiatives related to indigenous peoples. It has produced some important studies, e.g. a "Study on Indigenous Peoples and their Relationship to Land", but the most important achievement has been the formulation and adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

IWGIA's involvement:

For many years IWGIA has participated and supported indigenous representatives to participate in the sessions of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The support is allocated via the Human Rights Fund, which IWGIA administers together with 4 other NGOs.

More information:

You can find more information about the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in the following IWGIA publications:

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples (Lola García-Alix 2003)

Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples: A Handbook on the UN System (Florencia Roulet 1999)

UNHCHR has made a leaflet on "UN Charter-based Bodies and Indigenous Peoples", which can be found at This leaflet provides in-depth information about the Working Group and how indigenous peoples can participate in the Working Group meetings.

Information about the Working Group can also be found in OHCHR's Fact Sheet No. 9: The Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which can be found at:

You can also visit OHCHR's website where you can find the various statements, working papers and reports presented at the Session: