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One of the founding values of the EU is respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.[1] The European Commission guarantees the compliance with fundamental rights and has in place a set of policy measures including guidance to tackle discrimination or creating specific fora to exchange good practices and discuss common concerns. However,

[b]eyond those instruments and policies, the Commission has no general power as regards minorities, in particular over issues relating to the recognition of the status of minorities, their self-determination and autonomy or the regime governing the use of regional or minority languages. It is for Member States to ensure compliance with their constitutional order and their obligations under international law.[2]

Promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and establishing a strengthened policy on indigenous issues are among the European Union (EU) priorities to advance human rights.[3] The main documents on indigenous peoples are the Council Resolution of November 30, 1998, on Indigenous Peoples within the Framework of the Development Cooperation of the Community and Members States,[4] and the Council Conclusions of November 18, 2002, on Indigenous Peoples.[5]

The 1998 Council Resolution provides that the concern for indigenous peoples should be integrated “as a cross-cutting aspect at all levels of development cooperation, including policy dialogue with partner countries” and that the “capacities of indigenous peoples’ organisations to take an effective part in the planning and implementation of development programmes” must be enhanced. The Resolution proposes a review of existing procedures, guidelines, and manuals to ensure indigenous peoples are able to offer an informed view on EU activities that might affect them. The 2002 Council Conclusions provide a similar approach. In 2017, the Council again published Council Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples and reiterated the importance of full participation and free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for EU projects.[6]

Furthermore, the EU supported the adoption of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which, among other things, provides for the “right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, [and] artefacts.”[7]

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Prepared by Jenny Gesley
Foreign Law Specialist
March 2019


[1] Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), art. 2, 2016 O.J. (C 202) 13, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12016M/TXT&from=EN, archived at http://perma.cc/7CDB-CH8A.

[2] European Parliament, Parliamentary Questions. Answer Given by Ms Jourová on Behalf of the European Commission (Aug. 28, 2018), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-8-2018-003699-ASW_EN.html, archived at http://perma.cc/255U-XBRU.

[3] Council of the European Union, EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, at 2 & 21 (June 2012), https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/file/13464/download?token=aUOs-5sz, archived at http://perma.cc/ACA6-TS6E.

[4] Council Resolution, Indigenous Peoples within the Framework of the Development Cooperation of the Community and Members States, Nov. 30, 1998, https://cendoc.docip.org/collect/cendocdo/index/ assoc/HASH0193.dir/Council%20Resolution%20Nov%201998.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/M8TJ-SRCV.

[5] Council of the European Union, 2463rd Council Meeting, General Affairs, Indigenous Peoples. Council Conclusions, Doc. No. 13466/02 (Nov. 18, 2002), at IX, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_ Data/docs/pressData/en/gena/73248.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/6K9B-39W4.

[6] Council of the European Union, Council Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples (May 17, 2017), at 4, No. 8, http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-8814-2017-INIT/en/pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/WUG3-525S.

[7] Rights of Indigenous Peoples, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sectors/human-rights-and-governance/democracy-and-human-rights/anti-discrimination-movements-1_en (last updated Jan. 10, 2019), archived at http://perma.cc/B9FK-H7HP; United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, G.A. Res. 61/295, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/1 (2007), art. 11, https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/ unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/N3K8-HE88.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020