The Indigenous World 2023: European Union Engagement with Indigenous Issues

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 Member States. Its legislative and executive powers are divided between the EU main institutions: the European Parliament (co-legislative authority), the Council of the EU (co-legislative and executive authority) and the European Commission (executive authority). In addition, the EU has its own diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (with EU Delegations throughout the world).

The EU maintains trade relations with the whole world and is the biggest donor of development aid. Aside from its influence within the territory of its Member States and its influence in international organisations, the EU also has a global impact, being an international key player in the area of ​​human rights, development, and control of corporate and environmental issues.

The EU is part of the international process of promoting and protecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Five EU Member States have ratified ILO Convention No 169[1] and the EU supported the adoption of the UNDRIP in 2007 as well as the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014.

In recent years, the EU has moved from a relatively passive position regarding recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to a much more active involvement in ensuring the effectiveness of these rights in its policies.


Evolution of European legislation and recommendations relating to Indigenous Peoples

The involvement of the European Union in the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights has grown and evolved considerably in recent years, particularly since 2017.[2]

The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024[3] provides strong references to Indigenous Peoples’ rights and notably foresees: “Support[ing] Indigenous peoples by advocating for their participation in relevant human rights and development processes and by upholding the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in all decisions affecting them.”

In the context of the new EU Green Deal and its EU Biodiversity strategy for 2030,[4] new opportunities and actions were set up at the EU level to aid the protection, promotion, and respect of the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. The European Commission proposes in its “Communication on the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 - Bringing nature back into our lives” that the EU should ensure a principle of equality in “respect for the rights and the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities”. Moreover, the European Commission proposes that: “In all of its work, the EU will strengthen the links between biodiversity protection and human rights, gender, health, education, conflict sensitivity, the rights-based approach, land tenure and the role of Indigenous peoples and local communities.”[5]

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are also increasingly involved in the defence of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Since the Parliament’s Resolution on violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the world (3 July 2018),[6] MEPs have become accustomed to involving Indigenous Peoples’ representatives in their decision-making processes and ensuring the mainstreaming and transposition of their rights on a wide range of subjects. It is interesting to note that while Indigenous Peoples’ rights have long been the almost exclusive concern of the DROI committee, many committees (AFET, DROI, DEVE, ENVI, LIBE, FEMM, INTA)[7] have now taken up these issues and are working to ensure their transposition into their area of competence.

On 26 September 2021, the Subcommittee on Human Rights held a hearing on Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Brazil and, in its resolution of 17 February 2022[8] (“Human rights and democracy in the world – annual report 2021”), Parliament reiterated its commitment to the rights of Indigenous Peoples and is indignant in particular about:

(...) the fact that indigenous peoples continue to face widespread and systematic discrimination and persecution worldwide, including forced displacement, arbitrary arrests and the killing of human rights and land defenders; reiterates its call for the EU, its Member States and their partners in the international community to adopt all the necessary measures for the recognition, protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, including their language, lands, territories and resources, and the creation of a grievance mechanism to lodge complaints over violations and abuses; welcomes the work that civil society and NGOs are doing on these issues; refers to its appointment of a standing rapporteur on indigenous peoples within Parliament with the objective of monitoring the human rights situation of indigenous peoples; encourages countries to ratify the provisions of ILO Convention No 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples; recommends that the EU and its Member States include references to indigenous peoples and the rights contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the relevant and emerging frameworks for due diligence.[9]

On 13 September 2022, Parliament voted in favour of the proposed Deforestation Regulation.[10] This new law will ensure that companies do not sell products coming from worldwide deforested land in the EU. The new legislation includes products such as: livestock, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, soya and timber, including products which contain, have been fed with or have been made from these products (such as leather, chocolate and furniture).[11] During discussions, MEPs successfully added rubber, charcoal, printed paper products and a number of palm oil derivatives. MEPs also secured that companies will further have to verify compliance with the relevant legislation in the country of production, including on human rights, and that the rights of the relevant Indigenous Peoples are respected. Parliament also secured a broader definition of forest degradation that includes the conversion of primary forest or naturally regenerating forest to forest plantations or other wooded land and the conversion of primary forest to planted forest.

Today, this involvement goes largely beyond supporting Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Most of the EU’s external policies include Indigenous Peoples’ rights as a crosscutting issue through a rights-based approach to its development cooperation or by considering specific EU legislative measures that put Indigenous Peoples at the heart of deforestation, due diligence, conflict minerals, farm-to-fork strategies etc.

The forthcoming policy and legislative initiative on human rights and environmental due diligence, sustainable financial disclosure, and sustainable corporate[12], [13] reporting, as well as the strengthening of trade and sustainable development chapters in EU free trade agreements, will have an important impact on Indigenous Peoples’ rights given the clear reference to the main international legal instruments related to these rights.

However, it should be emphasized that these legislative developments are being threatened by the current European context. The COVID-19 crisis, the current war in Ukraine and increases in the cost of living for European citizens, combined with a fear of the rise of the Far Right and populism in the next elections are all reasons invoked by Member States to stop or reduce the scope of this legislation. On 17 November 2022, EURACTIV[14] reported pressure from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal to reduce the scope of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) to the supply chain of a company alone.

These pressures led the Council to make a proposal on 30 November 2022,[15] drastically reducing the obligations to protect human rights and largely exempting companies and their directors from their responsibilities. It is now Parliament’s turn to react and protect the spirit of the original text. Its decision is expected in March 2023 but the attack on this legislation by certain Member States is being well conducted. Parliament is entering its last year of pre-election activity, which may reduce its mobilization capacity.


Conservation and a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA)

The EU is a member of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and party to the 30x30 target to bring at least 30% of the Earth’s surface under conservation by 2030.

Increasing the size of protected areas without providing safeguards to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world could nevertheless result in serious human rights violations and cause dramatic social damage.

The EU has itself confronted this issue and was led last year to take the decision to suspend part of its funding to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) due to violations of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of the project to create the Messok Dja protected area in Congo-Brazzaville.

On 30 June 2021, the EU adopted a staff working document “Applying the Human Rights-Based Approach to international partnerships”,[16] which provides a HRBA methodology to guide all interventions under the “Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation instrument – Global Europe” (NDICI).[17]

This approach, based on the “do no harm” principle, requires EU partners, in particular its funds’ recipients, to prevent the harmful results of their development, conservation and environmental protection interventions such as increased discrimination or violation of human rights.

Staff working documents are not legally binding on the EU but are binding on EU staff in their work. While the staff of the Commission working on human rights are aware of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the issues that affect them, this is not necessarily the case for all the EU staff, or for all the partners of the EU. This staff working document should promote and ensure greater protection for the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in projects supported by the European Commission.

The EU has also announced that, of the 27 million euro allocated for the Global Gateway investment package on fair, accountable and inclusive trade and business to boost sustainability in global supply chains, it will allocate an additional 7 million euro to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world. Additionally, the EU announced that it would support projects to enable Indigenous communities to monitor and report human rights abuses and environmental damage, and to carry out fact-based advocacy with political and corporate actors at all levels. Indigenous Peoples will also receive EU support for their own initiatives to boost sustainable development.

The EU is a major player in conservation projects and its funding irrigates projects around the world. This strengthening of the obligation to respect the HRBA and this desire for direct collaboration with Indigenous Peoples are encouraging signs of a marked desire to prevent violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

These developments have resulted in a fairly strong legislative framework but its implementation will be decisive. It will be important that representatives of civil society organizations, particularly those of Indigenous Peoples, involve the Commission and testify to the violations of their rights suffered and request sanctions in order to make this legal basis effective.




Mathias Wuidar is a human rights lawyer. He works as representative to the EU for the Indigenous Peoples´ Center for Documentation, Research and Information (Docip).

Anna Bichon studies at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Fontainebleau. She interns as a European Policy and Advocacy officer at Docip.


This article is part of the 37th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2023 in full here.



Notes and references 

[1] Denmark (1996), The Netherlands (1998), Spain (2007), Luxembourg (2018) and Germany (2021).

[2] For more information on the EU legislative evolution related to Indigenous Peoples before the year 2023, please refer to:

Rodriguez Fajardo, Amalia., and Mathias Wuidar. “The Indigenous World 2020: European Union Engagement with Indigenous Issues.” In The Indigenous World 2020, edited by Dwayne Mamo,639-646, IWGIA, 2020, https :// ;

Rodriguez Fajardo, Amalia., and Mathias Wuidar. “The Indigenous World 2021: European Union Engagement with Indigenous Issues.” In The Indigenous World 2021, edited by Dwayne Mamo,677-682, IWGIA, 2021,;

Wuidar, Mathias. “The Indigenous World 2022: European Union Engagement with Indigenous Issues.” In The Indigenous World 2022, edited by Dwayne Mamo, 684-690, IWGIA, 2022,

[3] European Commission. “Human rights and democracy in the EU – 2020-24 action plan.”

[4] European Commission. “Biodiversity strategy for 2030.”'s%20biodiversity%20strategy%20for,contains%20specific%20actions%20and%20commitments.

[5] Ibid.

[6] European Parliament resolution of 3 July 2018 on violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in the world, including land grabbing (2017/2206(INI)). Adopted 3 July 2018,

[7] European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), European Parliament Committee on Development (DEVE), European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), European Parliament Committee on Women´s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), European Parliament. Committee on International Trade (INTA).

[8] European Parliament resolution of 17 February 2022 on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter – annual report 2021 (2021/2181(INI)). Adopted 17 February 2022,

[9] Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers. “Proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence and annex.” 23 February 2022,

[10] For more information please refer to the procedure file of the Deforestation Regulation: European Parliament. 2021/0366 (COD). Deforestation Regulation,

[11] European Commission. Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products. Directorate-General for Environment, 17 November 2021,

[12] European Commission. Proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence and annex (CSDDD). Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, 23 February 2022,

[13] European Parliament. 2020/2129(INL). Corporate due diligence and corporate accountability. Resolution of 10 March 2021 with recommendations to the Commission on corporate due diligence and corporate accountability,

[14] Allenbach-Ammann, János. “EU member states fight over scope of due diligence directive.” Euractiv, 17 November 2022,

[15] Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence and amending Directive (EU) 2019/1937. Permanent Representatives Committee Council, 30 November 2022,

[16] European Commission Staff Working Document. Applying the Human Rights Based Approach to international partnerships. An updated Toolbox for placing rights-holders at the centre of EU’s Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation. 30 June 2021,

[17] For more information on Global Europe see also: “The new ´NDICI – Global Europe´(2021-2027).” European Union External Action, 17 March 2022,

Tags: Global governance



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