Indigenous institutions and the strengthening of nations
The member states of the OAS (hereafter the states),
Recalling that the indigenous peoples of the Americas constitute
an organized, distinctive and integral segment of their population
and are entitled to be part of the national identities of the countries
of the Americas, and have a special role to play in strengthening
the institutions of the state and in establishing national unity based
on democratic principles; and,
Further recalling that some of the democratic institutions
and concepts embodied in the constitutions of American states originate
from institutions of the indigenous peoples, and that in many instances
their present participatory systems for decision-making and for authority
contribute to improving democracies in the Americas.
Recalling the need to develop their national juridical systems
to consolidate the pluricultural nature of our societies.
Eradication of poverty and the right to development
Concerned about the frequent deprivation afflicting indigenous
peoples of their human rights and fundamental freedoms; within and
outside their communities, as well as the dispossession of their lands,
territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in
particular, their right to development in accordance with their own
traditions, needs and interests.
Recognizing the severe impoverishment afflicting indigenous
peoples in several regions of the Hemisphere and that their living
conditions are generally deplorable.
And recalling that in the Declaration of Principles issued
by the Summit of the Americas in December 1994, the heads of state
and governments declared that in observance of the International Decade
of the World's Indigenous People, they will focus their energies on
improving the exercise of democratic rights and the access to social
services by indigenous peoples and their communities.
Indigenous culture and ecology
Recognizing the respect for the environment accorded by the
cultures of indigenous peoples of the Americas, and considering the
special relationship between the indigenous peoples and the environment,
lands, resources and territories on which they live and their natural
Harmonious relations, respect and the absence of discrimination
Reaffirming the responsibility of all states and peoples of
the Americas to end racism and racial discrimination, with a view
to establishing harmonious relations and respect among all peoples.
Territories and indigenous survival
Recognizing that in many indigenous cultures, traditional collective
systems for control and use of land, territory and resources, including
bodies of water and coastal areas, are a necessary condition for their
survival, social organization, development and their individual and
collective well-being; and that the form of such control and ownership
is varied and distinctive and does not necessarily coincide with the
systems protected by the domestic laws of the states in which they
Security and indigenous areas
Reaffirming that the armed forces in indigenous areas shall
restrict themselves to the performance of their functions and shall
not be the cause of abuses or violations of the rights of indigenous
Human rights instruments and other advances in international
Recognizing the paramouncy and applicability to the states
and peoples of the Americas of the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights and other
human rights instruments of inter-American and international law;
Recognizing that indigenous peoples are a subject of international
law, and mindful of the progress achieved by the states and indigenous
organizations, especially in the sphere of the United Nations and
the International Labor Organization, in several international instruments,
particularly in the ILO Convention 169.
Affirming the principle of the universality and indivisibility
of human rights, and the application of international human rights
to all individuals.
Enjoyment of Collective Rights
Recalling the international recognition of rights that can
only be enjoyed when exercised collectively.
Advances in the provisions of national instruments
Noting the constitutional, legislative and jurisprudential
advances achieved in
the Americas in guaranteeing the rights and institutions of indigenous
SECTION ONE. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Article I. Scope and definitions
This Declaration applies to indigenous peoples as well as peoples
whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from
other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated
wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special
laws or regulations.
Self identification as indigenous shall be regarded as a fundamental
criterion for determining the peoples to which the provisions of this
The use of the term "peoples" in this Instrument
shall not be construed as having any implication with respect to any
other rights that might be attached to that term in international
TWO. HUMAN RIGHTS
Article II. Full observance of human rights
Indigenous peoples have the right to the full and effective
enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized
in the Charter of the OAS, the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other
international human rights law; and nothing in this Declaration shall
be construed as in any way limiting or denying those rights or authorizing
any action not in accordance with the instruments of international
law including human rights law.
Indigenous peoples have the collective rights that are
indispensable to the enjoyment of the individual human rights
of their members. Accordingly
the states recognize inter alia the right of the indigenous
peoples to collective action, to their cultures, to profess and practice
their spiritual beliefs, and to use their languages.
The states shall ensure for indigenous peoples the full exercise
of all rights, and shall adopt in accordance with their constitutional
processes such legislative or other measures as may
be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in this
Article III. Right to belong to indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples and communities have the right to belong
to indigenous peoples, in accordance with the traditions and customs
of the peoples or nation concerned.
Article IV. Legal status of communities
Indigenous peoples have the right to have their legal personality
fully recognized by the states within their systems.
Article V. No forced assimilation
Indigenous peoples have the right to freely preserve, express
and develop their cultural identity in all its aspects, free of any
attempt at assimilation.
The states shall not undertake, support or favour any policy
of artificial or enforced assimilation of indigenous peoples, destruction
of a culture or the possibility of the extermination of any indigenous
Article VI. Special guarantees against discrimination
Indigenous peoples have the right to special guarantees against
discrimination that may have to be instituted to fully enjoy internationally
and nationally-recognized human rights; as well as measures necessary
to enable indigenous women, men and children to exercise, without
any discrimination, civil, political, economic, social, cultural and
spiritual rights. The
states recognize that violence exerted against persons because of
their gender and age prevents and nullifies the exercise of those
Indigenous peoples have the right to fully participate in the
prescription of such guarantees.
SECTION THREE. CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
Article VII. Right to Cultural integrity
Indigenous peoples have the right to their cultural integrity,
and their historical and archeological heritage, which are important
both for their survival as well as for the identity of their members.
Indigenous peoples are entitled to restitution in respect of
the property of which they have been dispossessed, and where that
is not possible, compensation on a basis not less favorable than the
standard of international law.
The states shall recognize and respect indigenous ways of life,
customs, traditions, forms of social, economic and political organization,
institutions, practices, beliefs and values, use of dress, and languages.
Article VIII. Philosophy, outlook and language
Indigenous peoples have the right to indigenous languages,
philosophy and outlook as a component of national and universal culture,
and as such, shall respect them and facilitate their dissemination.
The states shall take measures and ensure that broadcast radio
and television programs are broadcast in the indigenous languages
in the regions where there is a strong indigenous presence, and to
support the creation of indigenous radio stations and other media.
The states shall take effective measures to enable indigenous
peoples to understand administrative, legal and political rules and
procedures, and to be understood in relation to these matters. In
areas where indigenous languages are predominant, states shall endeavor
to establish the pertinent languages as official languages and to
give them the same status that is given to non-indigenous official
Indigenous peoples have the right to use their indigenous names,
and to have the states recognize them as such.
Article IX. Education
Indigenous peoples shall be entitled: a) to establish and set
in motion their own educational programs, institutions and facilities;
b) to prepare and implement their own educational plans, programs,
curricula and materials; c) to train, educate and accredit their teachers
and administrators. The
states shall endeavor to ensure that such systems guarantee equal
educational and teaching opportunities for the entire population and
complementarity with national educational systems.
When indigenous peoples so decide, educational systems shall
be conducted in the indigenous languages and incorporate indigenous
content, and they shall also be provided with the necessary training
and means for complete mastery of the official language or languages.
The states shall ensure that those educational systems are
equal in quality, efficiency, accessibility and in all other ways
to that provided to the general population.
The states shall take measures to guarantee to the members
of indigenous peoples the possibility to obtain education at all levels,
at least of equal quality with the general population.
The states shall include in their general educational systems,
content reflecting the pluricultural nature of their societies.
The states shall provide financial and any other type of assistance
needed for the implementation of the provisions of this article.
Article X. Spiritual and religious freedom
Indigenous peoples have the right to freedom of conscience,
freedom of religion and spiritual practice, and to exercise them both
publicly and privately.
The states shall take necessary measures to prohibit attempts
to forcibly convert indigenous peoples or to impose on them
beliefs against their will.
In collaboration with the indigenous peoples concerned, the
states shall adopt effective measures to ensure that their sacred
sites, including burial sites, are preserved, respected and protected.
When sacred graves and relics have been appropriated by state
institutions, they shall be returned.
The states shall encourage respect by all people for the integrity
of indigenous spiritual symbols, practices, sacred ceremonies, expressions
Article XI. Family relations and family ties
The family is the natural and basic unit of societies and must
be respected and protected by the state.
Consequently the state shall recognize and respect the various
forms of indigenous family, marriage, family name and filiation.
In determining the child's best interest in matters relating
to the protection and adoption of children of members of indigenous
peoples, and in matters of breaking of ties and other similar circumstances,
consideration shall be given by courts and other relevant institutions
to the views of the peoples, including individual, family and community
Article XII. Health and well-being
Indigenous peoples have the right to legal recognition and
practice of their traditional medicine, treatment, pharmacology, health
practices and promotion, including preventive and rehabilitative practices.
Indigenous peoples have the right to the protection of vital
medicinal plants, animal and mineral in their traditional territories.
Indigenous peoples shall be entitled to use, maintain, develop
and manage their own health services, and they shall also have access,
on an equal basis, to all health institutions and services and medical
care accessible to the general population.
The states shall provide the necessary means to enable the
indigenous peoples to eliminate such health conditions in their communities
which fall below international accepted standards for the general
Article XIII. Right to environmental protection
Indigenous peoples have the right to a safe and healthy environment,
which is an essential condition for the enjoyment of the right to
life and collective well-being.
Indigenous peoples have the right to be informed of measures
which will affect their environment, including information that ensures
their effective participation in actions and policies that might affect
Indigenous peoples shall have the right to conserve, restore
and protect their environment, and the productive capacity of their
lands, territories and resources.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully in formulating,
planning, managing and applying governmental programmes of conservation
of their lands, territories and resources.
Indigenous peoples have the right to assistance from their
states for purposes of environmental protection, and may receive assistance
from international organizations.
The states shall prohibit and punish, and shall impede jointly
with the indigenous peoples, the introduction, abandonment, or deposit
of radioactive materials or residues, toxic substances and garbage
in contravention of legal provisions; as well as the production, introduction,
transportation, possession or use of chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons in indigenous areas.
When a state declares an indigenous territory as protected
area, any lands, territories and resources under potential or actual
claim by indigenous peoples, conservation areas shall not be subject
to any natural resource
development without the informed consent and participation of the
SECTION FOUR. ORGANIZATIONAL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS
Article XIV. Rights of association, assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of thought
Indigenous peoples have the right of association, assembly
and expression in accordance with their values, usages, customs, ancestral
traditions, beliefs and religions.
Indigenous peoples have the right of assembly and to the use
of their sacred and ceremonial areas, as well as the right to full
contact and common activities with their members living in the territory
of neighboring states.
XV. Right to self government
Indigenous peoples have the right to freely determine their
political status and freely pursue their economic, social, spiritual
and cultural development, and accordingly, they have the right to
autonomy or self-government with regard to inter alia culture,
religion, education, information, media, health, housing, employment,
social welfare, economic activities, land and resource management,
the environment and entry by nonmembers; and to determine ways and
means for financing these autonomous functions.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate without discrimination,
if they so decide, in all decision-making, at all levels, with regard
to matters that might affect their rights, lives and destiny.
They may do so directly or through representatives chosen by
them in accordance with their own procedures.
They shall also have the right to maintain and develop their
own indigenous decision-making institutions, as well as equal opportunities
to access and participate in all state institutions and fora.
Article XVI. Indigenous Law
Indigenous law shall be recognized as a part of the states'
legal system and of the framework in which the social and economic
development of the states takes place.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and reinforce
their indigenous legal systems and also to apply them to matters within
their communities, including systems related to such
matters as conflict resolution, crime prevention and maintenance
of peace and harmony.
In the jurisdiction of any state, procedures concerning indigenous
peoples or their interests shall be conducted in such a way as to
ensure the right of indigenous peoples to full representation with
dignity and equality before the law.
This shall include observance of indigenous law and custom
and, where necessary, use of their language.
Article XVII. National incorporation of indigenous legal and organizational systems
The states shall facilitate the inclusion in their organizational
structures, the institutions and traditional practices of indigenous
peoples, and in consultation
and with consent of the peoples
State institutions relevant to and serving indigenous peoples
shall be designed in consultation and with the participation of the
peoples concerned so as to reinforce and promote the identity, cultures,
traditions, organization and values of those peoples.
SECTION FIVE. SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND PROPERTY RIGHTS
XVIII. Traditional forms
of ownership and cultural survival.
Indigenous peoples have the right to the legal recognition
of their varied and specific forms and modalities of their control,
ownership, use and enjoyment of territories and property.
Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition of their
property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and
resources they have historically
occupied, as well as to the use of those to which they have historically
had access for their traditional activities and livelihood.
Subject to 3.ii.), where property and user rights of indigenous
peoples arise from rights existing prior to the creation of those
states, the states shall recognize the titles of indigenous peoples
relative thereto as permanent, exclusive, inalienable, imprescriptible
Such titles may only be changed by mutual consent between the
state and respective indigenous peoples when they have full knowledge
and appreciation of the nature or attributes of such property.
Nothing in 3.i.) shall be construed as limiting the right of
indigenous peoples to attribute ownership within the community in
accordance with their customs, traditions, uses and traditional practices,
nor shall it affect any collective community rights over them.
Indigenous peoples have the right
to an effective legal framework for the protection of their
rights with respect to the natural resources on their lands, including
the ability to use, manage, and conserve such resources; and with
respect to traditional uses of their lands, interests in lands, and
resources, such as subsistence.
In the event that ownership of the minerals or resources of
the subsoil pertains to the state or that the state has rights over
other resources on the lands, the governments must establish or maintain
procedures for the participation of the peoples concerned in determining
whether the interests of these people would be adversely affected
and to what extent, before undertaking or authorizing any program
for planning, prospecting or exploiting existing resources on their
lands. The peoples concerned
shall participate in the benefits of such activities, and shall receive
compensation, on a basis not less favorable than the standard of international
law for any loss which they may sustain as a result of such activities.
Unless exceptional and justified circumstances so warrant in
the public interest, the states shall not transfer or relocate indigenous
peoples without the free, genuine, public and informed consent of
those peoples, but in all cases with prior compensation and prompt
replacement of lands taken, which must be of similar or better quality
and which must have the same legal status; and with guarantee of the
right to return if the causes that gave rise to the displacement cease
Indigenous peoples have the right to the restitution of the
lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned
or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, occupied,
used or damaged, or when restitution is not possible, the right to
compensation on a basis not less favorable than the standard of international
The states shall take all measures, including the use of law
enforcement mechanisms, to avert, prevent and punish, if applicable,
any intrusion or use of those lands by unauthorized persons to take
possession or make use of them. The states shall give maximum priority
to the demarcation and recognition of properties and areas of indigenous
Article XIX. Workers rights
Indigenous peoples shall have the right to full enjoyment of
the rights and guarantees recognized under international labor law
and domestic labor law; they shall also have the right to special measures to correct,
redress and prevent the discrimination to which they have historically
To the extent that they are not effectively protected
by laws applicable to workers in general, the states shall
take such special measures as may be necessary to:
a. effectively protect the workers and employees who are members of indigenous communities in respect of fair and equal hiring and terms of employment;
to improve the labor inspection and enforcement service in
regions, companies or paid activities involving indigenous workers
ensure that indigenous workers:
i. enjoy equal opportunity and treatment as regards all conditions of employment, job promotion and advancement; and other conditions as stipulated under international law;
enjoy the right to association and freedom for all lawful trade
union activities, and the right to conclude collective agreements
with employers or employers' organizations;
are not subjected to racial, sexual or other forms of harassment;
are not subjected to coercive hiring practices, including servitude
for debts or any other form of servitude, even if they have their
origin in law, custom or a personal or collective arrangement, which
shall be deemed absolutely null and void in each instance;
are not subjected to working conditions that endanger their
health and safety;
receive special protection when they serve as seasonal, casual
or migrant workers and also when they are hired by labor contractors
in order that they benefit from national legislation and practice
which must itself be in accordance with established international
human rights standards in respect of this type of workers, and,
as well as their
employers are made fully aware of the rights of indigenous workers,
under such national legislation and international standards, and of
the recourses available to them in order to protect those rights.
XX. Intellectual property
Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition and the
full ownership, control and protection of their cultural, artistic,
spiritual, technological and scientific heritage, and legal protection
for their intellectual property through trademarks, patents,
copyright and other such procedures as established under domestic
law; as well as to special
measures to ensure them legal status and institutional capacity to
develop, use, share, market and bequeath that heritage to future generations.
Indigenous peoples have the right to control, develop and protect
their sciences and technologies, including their human and genetic
resources in general, seed, medicine, knowledge of plant and animal
life, original designs and procedure.
The states shall take appropriate measures to ensure participation
of the indigenous peoples in the determination of the conditions for
the utilization, both public
and private, of the rights listed in the previous paragraphs 1. and
XXI. Right to development
The states recognize the right of indigenous peoples to decide
democratically what values, objectives, priorities and strategies
will govern and steer their development course, even where
they are different from those adopted by the national government or
by other segments of society.
Indigenous peoples shall be entitled to obtain on a non-discriminatory
basis appropriate means for their own development according to their
preferences and values, and to contribute by their own means, as distinct
societies, to national development and international cooperation.
Unless exceptional circumstances so warrant in the public interest,
the states shall take necessary measures to ensure that decisions
regarding any plan, program or proposal affecting the rights or living
conditions of indigenous peoples are not made without the free and
informed consent and participation of those peoples, that their preferences
are recognized and that no such plan, program or proposal that could
have harmful effects on those peoples is adopted.
Indigenous peoples have the right to restitution or compensation
no less favorable than the standards of international law, for any
loss which, despite the foregoing precautions, the execution of those
plans or proposals may have caused them; and measures taken to mitigate
adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
Article XXII. Treaties, Acts, agreements and constructive arrangements
Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance
and enforcement of treaties, agreements and constructive arrangements, that may have been concluded with states or their successors,
as well as historical Acts in that respect, according to their spirit
and intent, and to have states honor and respect such treaties, agreements
and constructive arrangements as well as the rights emanating from
those historical instruments.
Conflicts and disputes which cannot otherwise be settled should
be submitted to competent bodies.
Nothing in this instrument shall be construed as diminishing
or extinguishing existing or future rights indigenous peoples may
have or acquire.
The rights recognized herein constitute the minimum standards
for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples
of the Americas.
Nothing in this instrument shall be construed as granting any
rights to ignore boundaries between states.
Nothing in this Declaration may be construed as permitting
any activity contrary to the purposes and principles of the OAS, including
sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence
The Organization of American States and its organs, organisms and entities, in particular the Inter-American Indian Institute and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights shall promote respect for and full application of the provisions in this Declaration.