Indigenous Peoples Rights

This project seeks to promote the collaboration between the Center for Latin American Studies and the Program on Human Rights in conducting an interdisciplinary faculty/graduate student research that seeks to better understand the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Latin America. The 2012, the PHR organized the Conference, Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, addressing some of the challenges faced by indigenous populations in Latin America including: poverty, discrimination, indigenous women’s rights, cultural rights, environmental and property rights, and the effectiveness of international legal human rights institutions in promoting and protecting indigenous rights.


Indigenous peoples around the world have often been dispossessed of their land, leading to ongoing conflict over control and usage of land and resources. Indigenous peoples in Latin America are no exception, and are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable peoples in the region. Indigenous peoples in Latin America rank highest on underdevelopment indicators such as incarceration, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and disease. They face discrimination in schools and are exploited in the workplace. Their sacred lands and artifacts are plundered from them. In many Latin American countries, indigenous peoples are not even permitted to study their own language.

National governments often actively oppose claims to indigenous rights as well as routinely being the worst rights violators. More recently, though, multinational and global actors have exacerbated these factors, posing a direct threat to indigenous peoples and their way of living,  i ncluding:

  • economic development and globalization: logging, dam projects, climate change and other activities threaten indigenous ways of life, sometimes leading to conflict;
  • biopiracy: multinational companies have been accused of patenting biological resources used by indigenous communities for generations, leaving local people unable to use their own local plants and other resources;
  • cultural rights: indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, their cultures and ways of relating to other people and to the environment;
  • poverty and discrimination: economic hierarchies are created as indigenous people are off their lands.  Indigenous peoples are treated as second class citizens, or even worse, are not granted any citizenship status at all;
  • lack of justice: laws often disregarded, or deny that indigenous peoples have legal rights. An important element of indigenous rights is the “collective” right of indigenous peoples, for they are seen by many indigenous communities as essential for the integrity, survival and well-being of our distinct nations and communities.