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The EU systemThe EU system presents its own specificities and possibilities for action compared to the United Nations system.

The EU system

The EU system presents its own specificities and possibilities for action compared to the United Nations system.

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The European institutional system

The EU has several services and institutions with their own competences and means of action. The following institutions are the main EU actors working on Indigenous Peoples-related issues. 

The European Parliament

The European Parliament has, with the Council of the EU, legislative authority in the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) can (1) decide to propose a modification of reports, directives or regulations so that these can take into account your issues or concerns, (2) adopt urgent resolutions to condemn human rights violations swiftly, and (3) have a moral authority and are likely to draw attention of the media regarding human rights violations, notably when going on mission on the ground.

MEPs divide their work by splitting into specific committees on the basis of thematic areas (eg. foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, development, women, environment, etc.). Here is a summary of the commissions which have an EU-internal and/or EU-external competence.

MEPs also divide their work by splitting into specific delegations of MEPs on the basis of geographical areas (eg. country, region or international body).

The European Commission

The European Commission is the executive body of the EU. It proposes legislation and implements EU policies. It also manages the budget of the EU, which is the biggest worldwide for human rights and democracy.

The European Commission is composed of 27 commissioners who manage Directorate-General (DGs) and services. Within DGs, European Commission' officials have a mandate that is either thematic or geographical. Here is a summary of DGs which have an EU-internal and/or EU-external competence.

The Council of the European Union

The Council of the EU represents the Member States' governments. It (1) negotiates and adopts EU laws, (2) coordinates member states' policies, (3) develops the EU's common foreign and security policy, (4) concludes international agreements, and (5) adopts the EU budget.

Regarding human rights, the Council of the EU has established the Working Party on Human rights (COHOM) which deals with human rights aspects of the EU external relations and supports the Council's decision-making process in this area. 

The European External Action Service (EEAS)

The European External Action Service (EEAS) is the EU's diplomatic service which supports de the work of the EU's foreign affairs chief - the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The EEAS is divided into both geographical and thematic directorates. Five large departments cover different areas of the world (Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and Central Asia, the Greater Middle East and the Americas). Other departments cover global and multilateral issues including human rights, democracy support, development, response to crises, etc.

The EEAS is represented through some 140 EU Delegations and Offices around the world, comparable to "EU embassies". Most of EU Delegations have a human rights focal point who is often the first contact with the EU for human rights defenders on the ground. He or she relays information of human rights violations on the ground to EEAS HQ in Brussels and manages small grants dedicated to human rights or development in the country. In most cases taking contact with the EU Delegation in your country should be the first step of an advocacy process with the EU.

EU main documents relating to Indigenous Peoples

Below you will find the main EU documents relating to the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples' rights. For more information please see our online resource centre. The EU, which represents 27 states, all of which are members of the United Nations, also recognises and applies the various legal instruments of the UN that protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Communication from the Commission to the European Council of 27 May 1998 on a partnership for integration: a strategy for integrating the environment into EU policies

The European Commission Working Document of May 1998 entitled "On support for Indigenous Peoples in the development co-operation of the Community and Member States" establishes the objectives of supporting Indigenous Peoples' rights and integrating the concern for Indigenous Peoples as a cross-cutting aspect of human empowerment and development cooperation. It advocates for the full and free participation of Indigenous Peoples in all stages of the project cycle and that their participation in development activities should include elements such as prior consultation, their consent to envisaged activities, their control over activities affecting their lives and land, and the identification of their own priorities for development.

November 1998 Council Resolution of Development Ministers of the European Union Member States

The ensuing November 1998 Council Resolution of Development Ministers of the European Union Member States welcomes the Working Document and recognises that "cooperation with and support for the establishment of partnerships with Indigenous Peoples is essential for the objectives of poverty elimination, sustainable development of natural resources, the observance of human rights and the development of democracy". The Council further acknowledges that development cooperation should contribute to enhancing the right and capacity of Indigenous Peoples to their "self-development". It equally confirms that this includes the right to object to projects, in particular in Indigenous Peoples' traditional areas, and compensation where projects negatively affect the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.

Report from the Commission to the Council of 11 June 2002. Review of progress of working with Indigenous Peoples

In November 2002, Council Conclusions recalled the 1998 Council Resolution commitments and invited the European Union to pursue their implementation. The Commission and Member States were invited to ensure coherence, including through the establishment of dedicated focal points in the Commission and Member States, and coordination in multilateral fora as well as training of personnel on issues related to human rights and democratisation in general and to Indigenous Peoples in particular. Indigenous Peoples' issues were to be mainstreamed into the EU policies, practise and work methods. This includes a call for the inclusion of an analysis of their political, social, economic and cultural situation within partner countries in Country Strategy Papers and for impact assessments of EU development co-operation policies, programmes and projects on Indigenous Peoples. It further states that Indigenous Peoples should be able to fully and effectively participate at all stages of the project cycle (programming, identification, planning, implementation and evaluation) and provides for capacity building of organisations representing Indigenous Peoples. The Council also decides to integrate the concerns of Indigenous Peoples in political dialogues with partner countries as an integral part of the human rights clauses of the different co-operation and association agreements.

EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (2008)

The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action in relation to human rights defenders. The Guidelines can be used in contacts with third countries at all levels as well as in multilateral human rights fora, in order to support and strengthen ongoing efforts by the EU to promote and encourage respect for the right to defend human rights. The Guidelines also provide for interventions by the EU for human rights defenders at risk and suggest practical means to support and assist human rights defenders.

See also the European Parliament: Resolution "EU policies in favour of human rights defenders" (17 June 2010) and Briefing "EU support for human rights defenders around the world".

European Parliament Study "Indigenous Peoples, extractive industries and human rights" (2014)

The present in-depth analysis examines the human rights impacts of the extractive industries on Indigenous Peoples worldwide. It finds that there continue to be significant human rights risks associated with mining, oil and gas extraction falling disproportionately on Indigenous Peoples. It argues that the growing demand for non-renewable resources and the need to explore and exploit resources in ever more invasive ways suggest that such activities are likely to impinge even more on the lands of Indigenous communities living in countries with important resource reserves. The paper acknowledges the major efforts being made by industry associations to address these issues through voluntary guidelines but finds that, notwithstanding, conflicts and violence persist and that further measures are required to protect the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples. The universal acceptance of the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides impetus to renewed efforts to ensure implementation of the provisions in practice. The paper concludes by recommending, among other things, that the European Union as one of the regions championing the Declaration at the United Nations take the initiative to develop a region- wide framework for extractive industries that sanction companies and provide legal redress in cases where the human rights of Indigenous Peoples are violated.

UE Annual Reports on Human Rights and Democracy in the World

Although the EU has included Indigenous Peoples in its "EU Annual Reports on Human Rights and Democracy in the World", the Report of 2016 is a turning point as the EU increased its concern by referring massively to Indigenous Peoples issues, not only recognising them among vulnerable groups and the need for a stronger emphasis but also analysing their situation on the ground through the work of EU delegations worldwide. In its 2017 and 2018 Reports, the EU dedicates a specific part to the "Rights of Indigenous Peoples" and refers directly to Indigenous Peoples also in the part "Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders".

An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic (2016)

In 2014, the Council and European Parliament asked the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to develop an integrated policy on Arctic matters, and to develop a more coherent framework for EU action and funding programmes. This policy focuses on climate change, environmental protection, sustainable development, international cooperation and the participation of local stakeholders.

The Council Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples, 15 May 2017 and the Joint Staff Working Document - Implementing EU External Policy on Indigenous Peoples (2016)

The Council adopted conclusions on Indigenous Peoples, recalling that the EU is founded on values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

The Council underlines the importance of addressing discrimination and inequalities based on Indigenous origin or identity as well as the importance of actions taken to address the threats to and violence against Indigenous Peoples. The Council also highlights the crucial importance of further enhancing opportunities for dialogue with Indigenous Peoples at all levels of EU cooperation.

These conclusions follow the Joint Staff Working Document "Implementing EU external policy on Indigenous Peoples" published by the High Representative and the European Commission in October 2016. The Joint Staff Working Document identifies ways for the EU to strengthen its support to Indigenous Peoples through existing external policies and financing.

The new European Consensus on Development (2017)

The 2017 European Consensus for Development offers a common development vision for the EU and constitutes a comprehensive common framework for European development cooperation. It integrates the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. In doing so, it aligns European development action with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the international community in September 2015.

European Parliament Study "The situation of Indigenous children with disabilities"(2017)

Indigenous children with disabilities (ICwD) have received little attention in academic research and development policies. However, they face discrimination at many levels, based on ethnicity, age, ability and gender and this often leads to serious human rights violations. The lack of data, both on the prevalence of disabilities among Indigenous children and young people and on specific violations of their human rights, is a serious constraint to any policy intended to respect, protect and promote their human rights. This study seeks to identify these gaps, point to certain patterns and recommend ways of improving data collection and the situation of ICwD in future.

The European Parliament Resolution on violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the world (3 July 2018)

This legislative evolution, alongside specific human rights and development budgets for Indigenous Peoples, show the EU's increasing involvement and protection for Indigenous Peoples' rights. In this sense, the EU has shown its commitment to become a key-player in the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples, and the EP has strengthen this commitment by adopting its last resolution specifically on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in July 2018.

On the 3th of July 2018, the European Parliament adopted by 534 votes to 71, with 73 abstentions, a resolution "on violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the world, including land grabbing". The European Parliament called upon the European Union and Member States to:

  • adopt all necessary measures for the full recognition, protection and promotion of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including to their lands, territories and resources;
  • make sure that all its development, investment and trade policies respect the human rights of Indigenous Peoples as enshrined in human rights treaties and conventions;
  • follow all the necessary steps to effectively comply with the provisions contained in International Labour Organisation Convention No 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples;
  • create conditions for the fulfilment of the objectives set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to encourage its international partners to adopt and implement it fully;
  • ensuring universal access for Indigenous Peoples to their national population registers;
  • conducting mandatory human rights impact assessments of any new activity in the mining and oil and gas extraction sectors prior to the commencement of these activities;
  • including Indigenous Peoples and rural communities in the decision-making process with regard to strategies for tackling climate change, and consulting them in all deliberations on issues that could affect them;
  • ensuring physical integrity and legal assistance for Indigenous, environmental, intellectual property and land rights defenders, and fully respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities;
  • support Indigenous Peoples' requests for international repatriation and the establishment of an international mechanism to fight the sale of Indigenous artefacts taken from them illegally, including through financial assistance under the EIDHR.
  • place greater emphasis on the issue of land grabbing;
  • request disclosure of land acquisitions involving EU-based corporations and actors or EU-funded development projects in order to increase the transparency and accountability of those acquisitions;
  • adopt the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and support their implementation.
  • ensure that the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights are fully integrated into the national programmes of Member States and incorporated into the practices and operations of transnational corporations and business enterprises with European ties;
  • engage in constructive negotiations on a UN treaty on transnational corporations that guarantees respect for the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, and of women and girls in particular;
  • develop a European regional action plan for business and human rights, guided by the principles enshrined in the UNDRIP;
  • hold multinational corporations and international financial institutions to account for their impact on Indigenous communities' human and environmental rights;

Finally, the European Parliament calls for the establishment of three different mechanisms to strengthen the protection of Indigenous Peoples:

  • a grievance mechanism to lodge complaints regarding violations and abuses of their rights resulting from EU-based business activities [art. 45];
  • a mechanism to carry out independent impact assessment studies prior to the conclusion of trade and cooperation agreements [art. 72];
  • an effective administrative complaint mechanism for victims of human rights violations [art. 81];
  • a standing rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples within the EP with the objective of monitoring the human rights situation, and in particular the implementation of the UNDRIP and ILO Convention No 169 [art. 85].

European Parliament Resolution on transparent and accountable management of natural resources in developing countries: the case of forests (11 September 2018)

This Resolution pays a particular attention to Indigenous Peoples by recalling that 80 % of the forests are the traditional lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, recognising that Indigenous communities have been among those most affected notably by expansion of palm oil plantations has led to massive forest destruction and social conflicts that pit plantation companies against Indigenous groups and local communities. The European Parliament is alarmed that human rights violations, land grabs and the seizure of Indigenous land have intensified. It also stresses the vital role of Indigenous Peoples, notably Indigenous women, in the sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation

This Resolution requests also to guarantee the protection of forests in partner countries, including the possibility of setting up a complaint mechanism which must give special consideration to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.