IWGIA Annual Report 2020

Publisher: IWGIA
Number of pages: 34
Publication language: English
Country publication is about: Global
Region publication is about: Latin America, Africa, Asia
Release year: 2021
Release month / day: June 01

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has impacted on all corners of the world and on all spheres of our lives and livelihoods. Indigenous Peoples have been disproportionately affected by the epidemic. This Annual Report will therefore give a broad overview of how the pandemic has affected the world’s Indigenous Peoples. IWGIA’s yearbook, The Indigenous World 2021, provides further extensive documentation as to how Indigenous Peoples have been affected in the different countries and how international processes dealing with their rights have had to adjust to the new situation and use digital means to communicate.

The COVID pandemic and Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Indigenous Peoples and their rights have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Their needs and challenges have not been taken into consideration in precautionary measures or emergency relief and, in some cases, their rights have been further restricted through new laws and measures rooted in the pandemic, which has been used to restrict the civic space of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have nevertheless shown enormous resilience and innovation in tackling the pandemic.

In many countries, health facilities have been inaccessible to Indigenous Peoples and health information only disseminated or made available in the majority languages. There has also been a lack of distribution of personal protection equipment. Furthermore, economic relief packages have not considered Indigenous economic markets, and remote education has not factored in the lack of electronic equipment and unavailability of Internet access for Indigenous children and students.

In a number of countries where IWGIA works, Indigenous Peoples have also been affected by the repercussions of a shrinking civic space, which has become clear in legislation being passed that has further restricted Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

IWGIA has tried to address these challenges and the impacts that many of our partners and their communities have faced by being flexible in terms of project implementation and reallocating funding to COVID-19 activities. In Latin America, for example, we supported communication on COVID-19 and prevention possibilities and measures in Indigenous languages to communities in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In Africa, we supported partners to supply communities with basic sanitary equipment (such as for hand washing), as well as with COVID-19 information. In Asia, we placed particular emphasis on the shrinking civic space and were able to obtain funding for three new projects that support our partners on this issue directly related to COVID-19. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our donors, who have been very flexible in this difficult situation and who, in some cases, have proactively reached out to engage in constructive dialogue on how best to support Indigenous Peoples during the pandemic. It is important to stand together in solidarity in this crisis.

Further, in most countries, COVID-19 data related to, for example, health and economic impacts, has not been disaggregated, either at all or for Indigenous Peoples in particular, meaning it has been nearly impossible to get a clear picture of how the virus has affected Indigenous populations in individual countries. We have therefore relied closely on information from our partners. Within the Indigenous Navigator Initiative, we were also able to publish a report “The impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities - Insights from the Indigenous Navigator”, which has served as a vital insight into the pre-existing challenges Indigenous Peoples faced before the pandemic, and how these have been exacerbated by the global health crisis.

Indigenous communities have, for generations, experienced human rights violations, including violations of their right to health and proper protection from viral infections. They have learned how to protect themselves to survive and thus be strong and resilient communities. Indigenous Peoples’ communities in all regions of the world have already responded to the pandemic through their self-determined protection mechanisms. Around the globe, Indigenous Peoples rose to the challenge by limiting access to their communities and providing COVID-19 information. Indigenous Peoples furthermore came together to support each other by exchanging goods and sharing information and by strengthening their livelihood practices. There is ample evidence of the incredible resilience of Indigenous Peoples.

In addition to the struggles Indigenous Peoples have faced due to the virus, they have continued to fight discrimination and targeted violence, a shrinking civic space, lack of recognition of their rights as peoples, land dispossession, evictions and the negative impact of climate change as well as top-down decisions in the conservation industry. IWGIA has continued to support Indigenous Peoples in their daily fight against discrimination, racism and injustices and for respect for their rights. IWGIA continues to focus on supporting our partners in defending and promoting their rights and, as many of the examples in this report show, there is evidence that it is possible to find solutions founded on
a human rights-based approach. This Annual Report presents our main achievements for the year 2020. In all cases, Indigenous Peoples have acted as agents of sustainable change and self-development.

Going online

As the pandemic spread, IWGIA and international and regional mechanisms and agencies, such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, were quick to cancel physical meetings and find ways to continue their important work. Adjustments to online and virtual platforms in order to bridge the digital divide between these mechanisms and Indigenous Peoples were needed but virtual meetings soon became an integral and widely-used solution.

We would also like to hereby acknowledge the great efforts and adjustments that have been made by international UN mechanisms, particularly those dealing with Indigenous Peoples’ rights, in order to continue a close and much-needed dialogue with Indigenous Peoples.

While Indigenous Peoples did their very best to proactively engage via digital platforms, however, states and other relevant stakeholders participated less actively. Indigenous representatives found it harder to engage directly with states and promote their views and demands without physical sessions. In building back better, physical meetings will therefore be crucial to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have access to relevant mechanisms and decision-makers.
As the world embraces the benefits of technology, the voices of Indigenous Peoples must not be silenced through the cancelling of crucial physical and community-driven meetings between Indigenous Peoples and states.

IWGIA has been involved in numerous online meetings and events throughout 2020 and we have learned a great deal about how we can communicate with our partners and other stakeholders in a timelier and more direct manner by virtual means. We invite you to read further about our virtual engagement on page 30 of this report.

Setting the path for IWGIA in the coming years

2020 has been an exciting year in terms of our organisational development. In the spring, IWGIA underwent a comprehensive Organisational Capacity Assessment, commissioned by the Danish Development Cooperation Agency
(DANIDA). The conclusion was very positive and the assessment team stated: “IWGIA has adequate strategic, organisational, programmatic and financial management capacities to deliver quality outcomes”. IWGIA would like to thank
the Organisational Capacity Assessment Team once again for good cooperation despite the difficult circumstances as COVID-19 closed down our society. Following the assessment, IWGIA developed a new agreement with DANIDA for a three-year period. We are happy that we have reached a constructive model and look forward to our continued strategic cooperation.

IWGIA developed its new Institutional Strategy (2021 – 2025) over the year, through a comprehensive and consultative process. The new strategy was approved by IWGIA’s Board in October and we are very much looking forward to its implementation. IWGIA will focus on the overall ambition of ensuring that Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources and to self-determined development are promoted, respected and protected. We will continue to put our partners at the very heart of our work. Together with partners, we will implement our Triangle of Change through four programmes and three cross-cutting areas. We have an ambition to expand our strength as a knowledge centre and provide strong, professional and trustworthy analysis of Indigenous issues. We will focus on harnessing the ingenuity and energy of Indigenous youth. We will deepen and increase our engagement with Nordic countries and continue to build cooperation with Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic region. At the organisational level, we will shape and adapt our procedures to ensure that we are an agile and flexible organisational that can adjust and respond to changing circumstances and realities.


A number of changes have taken place in IWGIA’s management and staff. At the start of 2021, we welcomed Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger to IWGIA’s Board. As a communication officer, Maria has been engaged mainly in international development, Indigenous Peoples’ rights and human rights. She has worked for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, first serving as an intern at the Danish Mission to the UN in Geneva and later working at the former Centre of Culture and Development based in Copenhagen. She has spent time working at the Danish media outlet Altinget as an opinions editor and, most recently, as head of proofreading. In 2016, Maria had the pleasure of working at the IWGIA secretariat as a communications and press officer. She is currently at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

From the Secretariat, we said goodbye to Lærke Marie Lund Petersen who was Policy Advisor focusing on climate change for three years. Lærke has also been instrumental in enhancing IWGIA’s engagement in Denmark. We are deeply grateful for her contribution to IWGIA’s work and wish her the best in her new endeavours. 

In 2020, the pandemic magnified the inequalities that Indigenous Peoples have faced for generations but also sharpened the focus on their strength and resilience as well as that of their communities. If we are to build back better then Indigenous Peoples’ solutions need to be heard. They hold knowledge that is essential for the design of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Future initiatives must take advantage of their capacity for resilience, their knowledge and their practices.

As national governments focus on economic recovery to upend the damage of the global pandemic, many are opting for traditional forms of economic development, with a focus on extractive industries and large infrastructural projects, which will further impact Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their land, territories and resources. Building back better initiatives therefore need to fully respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and particularly the right to land, territories and natural resources, which are essential for their livelihoods and for sustainable and regenerative practices. Indigenous Peoples’ own aspirations, initiatives and businesses must be prioritised.

Indigenous Peoples are at the heart of the struggle for self-determination, rights, equality, participation and a more sustainable and just world. IWGIA is proud to stand by and behind Indigenous Peoples. We thank all those who support us to do so.

Kathrin Wessendorf, Executive Director

Ida Theilade, Chair of the Board

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About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
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