The Indigenous World 2024: UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples is one of the 60 “special procedures” of the UN Human Rights Council. The special procedures are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The Special Rapporteur has a mandate to promote the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and relevant international human rights instruments; to examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; to promote best practices; to gather and exchange information from all relevant sources on violations of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples; and to formulate recommendations and proposals on measures and activities to prevent and remedy violations of those rights.[1]

On 1 May 2020, Mr. José Francisco Calí Tzay from Guatemala, a former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), assumed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

During 2023, the rapporteur continued to carry out work within the principal mandated areas: the promotion of good practices; responding to cases of alleged human rights violations; conducting thematic studies; undertaking country visits; and making recommendations to governments and other actors.

2023 thematic studies

Report on green financing

Each year, the Special Rapporteur presents two thematic reports, one to the UN Human Rights Council and one to the UN General Assembly. In addition to contributions received in May, the rapporteur organized virtual consultations with the support of the University of Arizona to inform both reports.

The thematic study submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2023 focused “on Green financing – a just transition to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples” (A/HRC/54/31).[2]

The report endeavours to champion a just transition towards a green economy, compelling governments and financial institutions to adopt comprehensive measures. This shift must not perpetuate the current violations tied to extractive and fossil fuel projects. Given the likelihood of green initiatives unfolding on Indigenous lands, irrespective of State recognition of their land rights, it is crucial for states and financial entities to initiate human rights due diligence from the outset, rooted in acknowledging Indigenous Peoples' collective rights to land and self-determination.

Renewable energy projects, including hydropower, wind farms, and lithium mining, are highlighted in the report as projects that often proceed in the absence of consultation, consent, and benefit sharing, leading to forced displacement and environmental degradation of Indigenous territories. The report also addresses challenges in emerging carbon markets and nature-based solutions, emphasizing the potential for land-grabbing, unequal benefit distribution, and new forms of colonization, exacerbated by inadequate national legislation. It advocates for recognizing Indigenous Peoples' land rights in carbon-offsetting agreements and adopting robust safeguards and grievance mechanisms. The report highlights a shortfall in climate finance and official development aid for climate-related issues, specifically in directing adequate funding towards initiatives led by Indigenous Peoples. Notably, there is a lack of progress in advancing the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ collective land rights, preserving their lifestyle, which allows nature to thrive, balancing global carbon emissions, and safeguarding them from encroachment, attacks, and other violence by third parties.

The report concludes that achieving a just green transition requires dismantling power asymmetries in aid and development financing. It emphasizes the importance of the involvement of Indigenous Peoples, particularly Indigenous women, as rights holders in the finance process. States and financial institutions are urged to integrate human rights due diligence throughout the design, funding, and implementation of green projects. This may involve allocating resources to secure Indigenous Peoples' land tenure or ensuring their direct access to funding. Investors should adapt their financing approach to be consistent with existing international standards on Indigenous Peoples’ human rights. In addressing the challenges in green finance and Indigenous Peoples' rights, the report provides a set of recommendations for consideration and implementation.

Report on tourism

The thematic report (A/78/162)[3] presented to the General Assembly in October 2023 focuses on the topic “Tourism and the rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

The report underscores the enduring adverse effects of tourism on Indigenous Peoples, encompassing issues such as land and resource expropriation, territorial militarization, violence against human rights defenders, commodification, cultural loss and misuse, unfair benefit distribution, violence towards Indigenous women and children, and inequitable working conditions for Indigenous workers.

In Africa, biodiversity conservation and safari projects offer limited employment opportunities for poorly paid Indigenous workers, with actual participation and co-management being rare. South-East Asia experiences overdevelopment due to leisure tourism, causing forced displacement, threatening fishing livelihoods, community cohesion, and escalating instances of sexual abuse. In North America, concerns arise over damage caused by campers and hikers leaving litter at sacred sites.

The report posits that sustainable tourism that respects Indigenous Peoples' human rights offers an opportunity for self-determination, land rights, social and economic empowerment, and protection of natural and cultural heritage. Examples of Indigenous-led tourism show that it can foster self-determined development, revitalize culture, generate revenue, counter youth migration through employment, and support Indigenous women's participation and entrepreneurship. These benefits require active Indigenous participation and a human rights-based approach.

Concluding with recommendations, the report urges States and companies in Indigenous territories to respect Indigenous Peoples' rights, advocating for redress in cases of cultural misappropriation. Meaningful consultation and obtaining free, prior, and informed consent from impacted Indigenous Peoples are crucial. States should adopt legal frameworks recognizing and protecting Indigenous Peoples' rights in tourism, consulting them on legislation and project approval. The private sector must respect Indigenous Peoples' human rights, following the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. States and the private sector should allocate resources to support Indigenous entrepreneurship, especially for women, recognizing and encouraging their community-based tourism projects with full and effective participation.

Official country visits

Denmark and Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland)

From 1-10 February, the rapporteur visited Denmark and Kalaallit Nunaat. He commended Kalaallit Nunaat as an inspiring example of Indigenous self-determination worldwide and Denmark for its leading role in promoting Indigenous Peoples’ rights internationally.

However, during the visit, he witnessed how Inuit Greenlanders living in mainland Denmark continue to face structural racism and a lack of access to justice, political participation, education, health care, and formal employment. He expressed deep concerns about the overrepresentation of Inuit Greenlanders among the homeless and children placed in out-of-home care away from their parents.

During the visit to Kalaallit Nunaat, he observed that, since the formal end of the colonial era in 1953, Danish policies limiting the population growth of Kalaallit Nunaat and imposing Danish culture, language, and social and legal structures have threatened Inuit culture, identity and institutions and their presence in Kalaallit Nunaat. The rapporteur considers it a priority for the governments of Denmark and Kalaallit Nunaat to embrace a process to achieve truth and reconciliation, with the full participation of Inuit people in Denmark and Kalaallit Nunaat, in the design of effective remedies and policies. During the visit, he learned about the adverse environmental and social effects of military activities carried out in Kalaallit Nunaat without the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Inuit people and the negative effects of climate change on Inuit culture and their scientific knowledge of hunting, fishing, and agriculture.

The rapporteur noted as a particular concern the lack of established mechanisms by which to implement the Inuit people’s right to consultation and FPIC in relation to the Government of Greenland’s plans for expansion of mining activities, tourism, and infrastructure. Finally, the report addresses the particular challenges of Inuit persons with disabilities fully enjoying their rights.


The rapporteur visited Canada from 1-10 March noting the progress made since the previous visit of the mandate 10 years earlier. The rapporteur acknowledged the important steps taken by Canada to advance Indigenous Peoples' rights, including the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act and National Action Plan, serving as an example for other countries to address the historical and ongoing harm done to Indigenous Peoples and advance reconciliation.

During his visit, the rapporteur was informed of good practices for the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, such as the transference of governance responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Métis authorities in relation to criminal justice, child welfare, and health, the signing of self-government agreements and the establishment of self-government negotiation tables.

He also heard, however, from First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples about the obstacles and barriers in exercising their rights and the deep-set, systemic and structural racism they continue to face, including the legacy of residential schools, the removal of Indigenous children through the child welfare system, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the overrepresentation and mass incarceration of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system.

Canada was urged to immediately implement the calls issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to gain the trust of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and maintain constructive and collaborative dialogues. Other recommendations included fully respecting treaties and self-government agreements, ensuring Indigenous Peoples' full and equal participation in decisions that affect their rights, and recognizing extraterritorial human rights obligations to ensure that Canadian transnational companies are held accountable for human rights violations committed abroad.

The rapporteur will continue to seek country visits to Asia and Africa for the rest of his mandate term and urges UN Member States in these regions to accept requests for official visits.

Communications and press releases

During 2023, the rapporteur issued 105 communications to Member States and other entities in response to information received on alleged violations of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. These communications on cases are included in the special procedures’ joint communications report, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, and publicly available online in the special procedures communications database.[4] He also issued press releases on cases of urgency or special relevance.[5]

Regarding land-related matters, he publicly applauded the Vatican's rejection of the “Doctrine of Discovery”, historically employed to justify the appropriation of Indigenous lands by colonial powers.[6] He issued letters of concern about deforestation in the territory of Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation in the Peruvian Amazon, the absence of demarcation and titling of Indigenous lands in Suriname, the infringement of Indigenous land rights in Nepal and Indonesia resulting from tourism projects, and the adverse impact of the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project on Indigenous Peoples’ land rights in Canada.

Collaboration with UN specialized entities, regional human rights bodies and other activities

The rapporteur continued the mandate’s collaboration with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). He participated in the annual sessions and coordination meetings of both bodies. During the sessions, he held bilateral meetings with delegations of Indigenous Peoples and governments to discuss issues within the scope of his mandate.

In July 2023, in a public statement, the Special Rapporteur, EMRIP and UNPFII expressed concern at the conflation of Indigenous Peoples with non-Indigenous entities. They urged UN Member States to stop using “local communities” alongside “Indigenous Peoples” in environment, biodiversity, and climate treaties.[7]

Continuing his commitment to advancing Indigenous Peoples' rights and implementation of the UNDRIP, the rapporteur engaged with the broader UN system in various impactful ways. In July, he played a significant role at the WHO First Traditional Medicine Global Summit, contributing speeches and advocating for Indigenous human rights language in outcome documents. In 2023, he actively participated in the 75th Anniversary of the Regional Dialogue of the Americas, organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Chile, focusing on Indigenous Peoples and access to justice. Additionally, in Lima (Peru), he contributed to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Forum on Challenges in Implementing the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples No. 169, addressing key topics such as Indigenous Peoples’ participation and interpretation of the right to consultation and consent and sharing insights on Indigenous Peoples' human rights challenges in Latin America.

His involvement extended to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in November, where he discussed how to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights within the green economy framework. At the COP 28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai in December 2023, he advocated with relevant Member States and stakeholders for a human rights-based approach that encompasses the rights of Indigenous Peoples as recognized in international instruments, the direct participation of Indigenous Peoples in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes, and the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge in the definition of environmental solutions and effective grievance mechanisms. Finally, the rapporteur initiated a collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), embarking on a study focused on media and Indigenous Peoples' rights.

Other activities

In terms of cooperation with regional human rights mechanisms, in March the rapporteur submitted an amicus curiae brief in Case No. 11.754 U'wa Indigenous People v. Colombia before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.[8] The brief addressed Indigenous Peoples’ right to consultation and FPIC. In March, he submitted another amicus curiae brief in Case No. P-1138-22 Achuar People of Pastaza river basin represented by the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP) vs. Peru before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).[9] The brief addressed the legal concept of the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples. In May 2023, he submitted another amicus curiae brief in Case No. 21332-2022-00699 before the Constitutional Provincial Court of Sucumbíos in Ecuador. The brief addressed the legal concept of the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples and contributed to obtaining a definitive ruling in favour of the Indigenous community. On 25 August 2023, he delivered opening remarks at the “Continental Workshop on the Status of Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa”, organized by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities. He stressed the need to embrace a definition of Indigenous Peoples in line with existing human rights standards and expressed interest in collaborating closely with the Working Group.

He embarked on 10 academic visits encompassing Jamaica, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Nepal, engaging in meaningful exchanges with various Indigenous Peoples, government authorities, and representatives from the international community. Additionally, the rapporteur delivered speeches at 35 workshops and conferences organized by Indigenous groups, NGOs, and academic institutions across 13 different countries. Furthermore, he extended technical assistance to corporations, aiding them in aligning their policies with the UNDRIP and human rights standards.

The Special Rapporteur has established a website in addition to the OHCHR mandate page, which can be accessed at:



Seánna Howard and Elisa Marchi are based at the University of Arizona, Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program.


Francisco Alfonzo and Lilia Petrosyan work on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Email to contact the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] United Nations. OHCHR. “Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.”  

[2] United Nations. OHCHR. “A/HRC/54/31: Green financing – a just transition to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay.” 21 July 2023.

[3] United Nations. OHCHR. “A/78/162: Tourism and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay.” 12 July 2023.

[4] United Nations. OHCHR. “Communications reports of special procedures.”; full communications available online at:

[5] See all press releases: United Nations. OHCHR. “OHCHR Latest News.”

[6] United Nations. OHCHR. “UN expert hails Vatican rejection of ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, urges States to follow suit.” 6 April 2023.

[7] United Nations. OHCHR. “United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” July 2023.

[8] United Nations. OHCHR. “Amicus Curiae. Presentado por el Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas, José Francisco Calí Tzay, en el caso # 11.754 Pueblo Indígena U'wa y sus Miembros v. Colombia ante la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.” 27 March 2023.

[9] United Nations. OHCHR. “Amicus Curiae. Presentado por el Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, José Francisco Calí Tzay, en el caso del Pueblo Achuar del Pastaza, representado por la Federación de la Nacionalidad Achuar del Perú (FENAP), Petición No. P-1138-22 de fecha 17/06/22, ante la Comisión Interamericana

de Derechos Humanos (CIDH).” 27 March 2023.

Tags: Land rights, Business and Human Rights , Global governance, Human rights, International Processes



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