© Zoë Tryon

Indigenous Peoples

  • Issue

Overview

Around the world there are more than 5,000 different Indigenous Peoples, speaking more than 4,000 languages.

They have different customs and cultures, but they do share some unpleasant realities: removal of their lands, denial of their culture, physical attacks and being treated as second-class citizens.

Indigenous Peoples are often marginalized and face discrimination in countries’ legal systems. This leaves them at further risk of violence and abuse. Indigenous human rights defenders who speak out face intimidation and violence, often supported by the state.

Peaceful efforts of Indigenous Peoples to maintain their own cultural identity or exercise control over their traditional lands and resources can be branded treason or “terrorism”.

Amnesty works with Indigenous Peoples to develop urgently needed laws to protect their lands, cultures and livelihoods. At the international level, Indigenous Peoples have made their voices heard and effectively lobbied governments. Amnesty has supported them, for example, on the development of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).

We also work to get people home. After more than 20 years living in deplorable conditions beside a main road, the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous community in Paraguay won their legal battle to return to their ancestral land. “We Indigenous People cry only when we have achieved our freedom, says community leader Carlos Marecos. “Today, it is like we are coming out of a prison, so many of us are crying because it is so emotional.”

A local woman from the La Puya resistance camp requests police to retreat after they were sent to clear the road so that mining equipment could enter the site of a gold mine, Guatemala, May 2014. © James a. Rodriguez/mimundo.org

The problem

Dispossessed and in danger

Indigenous people often share a key value – the close association between their identity, their way of life and their land. They act as “guardians” or “custodians” of the land for the next generation. Losing it means a loss of identity.

The lands on which Indigenous Peoples live are often rich in resources and have been appropriated, sold, leased or simply plundered and polluted by governments and private companies. Many have been uprooted from their land through discriminatory government policies or armed conflict. Indigenous rights activists face violence and even murder when they seek to defend their communities and their lands.

In many countries more than 50% of Indigenous people live in cities. Over the last three decades Indigenous people have moved from their traditional lands towards urban areas. Some seeking opportunities for education and employment. While others are escaping human rights abuses, particularly related to their land rights and the survival of their culture.

Cut off from resources and traditions vital to their welfare and survival, many Indigenous Peoples are unable to fully enjoy their human rights. Instead they face marginalization, poverty, disease and violence – in some instances extinction as a people.

Amnesty is calling for

Governments must implement laws and policies that bring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to life, particularly around:

• Ensuring that Indigenous Peoples have a say in decisions that affect them.
• Maintaining their distinct cultural identities.
• Living free from discrimination and the threat of genocide.
• Having secure access to the lands and resources essential to their wellbeing and ways of life.

The issue in detail

Indigenous Peoples face discrimination and marginalization. Across the Americas, for example, compared with other citizens, Indigenous women and men are more likely to be underpaid, have lower levels of education and have a lower life expectancy. Globally, Indigenous people suffer higher rates of poverty, landlessness, malnutrition and internal displacement, and they have lower levels of literacy and less access to health services.

Indigenous women face multiple forms of discrimination because of their culture, class and gender. They are more like to die in child-birth and discrimination results in abuse by the authorities and people from other communities. More than 2000 poor indigenous and campesino women in Peru were sterilized by state authorities in the 1990s without their full consent. On 22 January 2014, the Public Prosecutors office in Lima closed their case. Justice simply denied.

Domestic violence can occur in all communities. But with the disruption of traditional ways of life, Indigenous women may lose status in their own society or find that the frustration, resulting from racial and sexual discrimination affecting the wider community tips over into violence in their household.

Such discrimination, marginalization and violence occurs again and again across the globe. From southern Africa where the children of the San, Ovahimba people and other Indigenous Peoples find it very hard to access education to south-east Asia, where the majority of women and girls trafficked across state borders are from Indigenous communities.

Key Facts

370M

370 million people in more than 70 countries identify themselves as Indigenous Peoples

5K

5000 different Indigenous People’s in the world

1/3

1/3 of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people are Indigenous Peoples

70%

70% of them live in Asia