ILO Conventions 107 and 169: The first international laws to address Indigenous land ownership

Indigenous peoples’ territories are being stolen all around the world. When Indigenous or tribal groups lose their land, their societies disintegrate and individuals often fall victim to fatal diseases or alcoholism. Adopted by an agency of the United Nations in 1957 amidst growing concern for Indigenous rights, ILO 107 (International Labour Organization Convention 107) was the first international law dedicated to improving Indigenous peoples’ living conditions worldwide. In 1989, the law was revised and renamed ILO 169. It consists of a series of minimum requirements for consultation and consent to help tribal peoples gain ownership of the land they live on, make decisions about projects affecting them, and gain equality and freedom.

To date, only 22 countries, mostly in Latin America, have ratified the law. Like many attempts by non-Indigenous governments at developing international legislation to protect Aboriginal rights, the ILO 169 was met with some controversy. Experts and Indigenous organizations slated it as another form of paternalism that doesn’t address Indigenous issues directly enough. Indigenous representatives complain that their lack of veto power essentially limits Indigenous participation in political, social and economic matters. However, the ILO conventions still represent an important step in the fight to give tribal peoples a better chance to survive and thrive; they paved the way for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
Jun 23, 2015
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