Human Rights at Work - Lee Swepston©

6 June 2008  

The Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples

"These lands are ours. No one has a right to remove us, because we were the first owners. The Great Spirit above has appointed this place for us, on which to light our fires, and here we will remain. As to boundaries, the Great Spirit knows no boundaries, nor will his red children acknowledge any."

- Tecumseh (1768 - 1813), 1810


Indigenous peoples
     & international law

ILO Convention 107, 1957

ILO Convention 169, 1989

Power Point slide show


Curriculum Vitae
Equality in the Workplace
Protection of children

Top of the page
The home page

I have been responsible for the ILO's work on indigenous and tribal peoples since 1973. South American Indian woman, ILO©There are some 350 million indigenous and tribal peoples in the world, living in most countries and in all parts of the world. They are almost always at the bottom of the social pile - least employed, worst health care, most illiterate, highest prison population. The ILO had adopted Convention No.107 in 1957 on behalf of the UN system, but it reflected the integrationist approach of its time. In 1988 and 1989, I led the ILO effort to adopt Convention No.169, now the only international Convention on this subject open to ratification. Both of them are on this site.

Beginning in 1973, the UN also began to work on the subject, and the indigenous peoples of the world have created a powerful and creative lobbying movement in international organizations to fight for their own cause - this is something unique in international law.

There are many places on the internet that you can learn about the situation of indigenous peoples, and links are provided to some of them. This collection reflects my own experience and viewpoints as someone who has had the good luck to be in a position to provide a place for indigenous peoples to defend their own interests. And I will progressively add an 'annotated' version of C169, making some of its provisions a little clearer.

International law, and development activities, are useless and can be damaging if they try to do more than help the people directly affected to speak and act for themselves. The time is past when non-indigenous people can speak for them - these pages are dedicated to the tools the international system has been able to put into their hands.

This page is maintained by Paula Swepston©
Last modified on 6 June 2008
Reproduction by permission, please.