top of page

Human Rights Knowledge Center - Example


The Office of the High Commissioner of the UN developed a leaflet exploring in depth the rights issues faced by indigenous peoples with respect to their use, management and conservation of natural resources. An excerpt from the leaflet is reproduced here, with permission:

The world’s biological, cultural and linguistic diversity are imperiled. While the nature and extent of the threat to the Earth’s biological richness is much debated, there is no doubt about what is happening to humanity’s cultural and linguistic diversity.

Indigenous peoples account for most of the world’s cultural diversity. Their distinct ways of life vary considerably from one location to another.  Of the estimated 6,000 cultures in the world, between 4,000 and 5,000 are indigenous. Approximately three-quarters of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by indigenous peoples.

Many of the areas of highest biological diversity on the planet are inhabited by indigenous peoples. The “Biological 17”, the 17 nations that are home to more than two-thirds of the Earth’s biological resources, are also the traditional territories of most of the world’s indigenous peoples. (The countries that comprise the “Biological 17” are: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, the United States of America, and Venezuela).  When looking at the global distribution of indigenous peoples, there is a marked correlation between areas of high biological diversity and areas of high cultural diversity.  This link is particularly significant in rainforest areas, such as those found along the Amazon, and in Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Indonesia. Of the nine countries in which 60 per cent of human languages are spoken, six also host exceptional numbers of plant and animal species unique to those locations.

In November 2000, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF International), in collaboration with the international NGO Terralingua, published a report entitled, Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the World and Ecoregion Conservation: An Integrated Approach to Conserving the World’s Biological and Cultural Diversity. The report reveals that 4,635 ethno-linguistic groups, or 67 per cent of the total number of such groups, live in 225 regions of the highest biological importance. The study reports that languages spoken by indigenous and traditional peoples are rapidly disappearing. Since the ecological knowledge accumulated by indigenous peoples is contained in languages, and since in most traditional cultures this knowledge is passed on to other groups or new generations orally, language extinction is leading to loss of ecological knowledge.

It is widely accepted that biological diversity cannot be conserved without cultural diversity, that the longterm security of food and medicines depends on maintaining this intricate relationship. There is also a growing realization that cultural diversity is as important for the evolution of civilization as biodiversity is for biological evolution. The promotion of homogenous cultures poses a serious threat to human survival on both fronts.  A workshop on “Drug Development, Biological Diversity and Economic Growth,” convened by the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health in 1991, concluded that “Traditional knowledge is as threatened and is as valuable as biological diversity. Both resources deserve respect and must be conserved”.

... The link between culture and environment is clear among indigenous peoples. All indigenous peoples share a spiritual, cultural, social and economic relationship with their traditional lands. Traditional laws, customs and practices reflect both an attachment to land and a responsibility for preserving traditional lands for use by future generations. In Central America, the Amazon Basin, Asia, North America, Australia, Asia and North Africa, the physical and cultural survival of indigenous peoples is dependent upon the protection of their land and its resources.

Over centuries, the relationship between indigenous peoples and their environment has been eroded because of dispossession or forced removal from traditional lands and sacred sites.  Land rights, land use and resource management remain critical issues for indigenous peoples around the world. Development projects, mining and forestry activities, and agricultural programmes continue to displace indigenous peoples. Environmental damage has been substantial: flora and fauna species have become extinct or endangered, unique ecosystems have been destroyed, and rivers and other water catchments have been heavily polluted. Commercial plant varieties have replaced the many locally adapted varieties used in traditional farming systems, leading to an increase in industrialized farming methods.

In 1997, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations commissioned a study on indigenous peoples and land rights. The study confirmed that access to land and resources is crucial for the survival of indigenous peoples. It emphasized the need to recognize and secure indigenous land rights and urged governments to consult with indigenous peoples in the management of land and resources.

Yet, development projects in many countries continue to cause environmental damage to water and natural resources.  In some countries, governments and multinational corporations continue to construct hydroelectric dams and roads, and conduct mining and logging activities, that threaten to harm the land’s fragile ecosystems and damage large areas of land inhabited by indigenous peoples. The development of tourism, including cultural tourism and ecotourism, may also have a negative impact on the environment and welfare of indigenous peoples...

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, was an important development for indigenous peoples and their rights related to the environment.  The Conference, or Earth Summit as it is called, recognized that indigenous peoples and their communities have a critical role to play in managing and developing the environment.  The importance of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and practices was acknowledged, and the international community committed itself to promoting, strengthening and protecting the rights, knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and their communities.

During the Earth Summit, indigenous peoples and NGOs gathered in Kari-Oca, Brazil, to share their concerns about the environment. The Kari-Oca Declaration and the Indigenous Peoples’ Earth Charter adopted at this meeting expressed the values of the world’s indigenous peoples and recognized their distinct relationship with the Earth.  The united voice of indigenous peoples helped influence the outcome of the Earth Summit.

Diversity of species is important to the natural functioning of ecosystems, and the survival of species is an indicator of the health of the environment.  Indigenous peoples have already lost, or risk losing, ancestral lands and sacred sites, many of which contain the world’s richest biodiversity.  Governments that have adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity are obliged to introduce domestic legislation, or amend their constitutions, to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in the conservation and sustainable use of their environment.

The right of indigenous peoples to participate in the use, management and conservation of natural resources is also recognized in the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, and the UN draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The draft Declaration provides for the right of indigenous peoples to own traditional lands and manage their environment and its resources.


Civiliti is developing partnerships with organizations that focus on indigenous rights and indigenous peoples' relationship with the environment. Links to these organizations will be available to provide you with opportunities to get involved and support issues that are important to you.


Resources that allow you to learn even more are under development.

Exemplified here are Civiliti Champion EcoArtists utilizing music, photographs, sculptures, masks and jewelry creations that tie most directly to Indigenous peoples, their environments - our environment- and rights. Unfortunately their are many stories of abuse of indigenous rights throughout history and geography.


EcoArt, in all its forms, does a brilliant job of bringing to life the plights faced by  indigenous peoples and communities and traditional creativity and very often evoke emotions from just viewing the artwork.  Numerous human rights issues associated with indigenous peoples and the environment will be explored in the Knowledge Center of the Civiliti Catalog. 

Human Rights, Indigenous People & the Environment

Featured Advocacy & Resource Quick Check

The EcoArt, The Artists, The Stories
bottom of page