The Right to Land under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: study

15 July 2020
The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
September 2020


Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 33/25, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples decided, at its twelfth session, held in July 2019, to prepare a study on the land rights of indigenous peoples.

The Expert Mechanism held an expert seminar on this theme in Pretoria, South Africa, from 30 September to 1 October 2019. It was co-hosted by the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, Pretoria University.

This draft study, which concludes with Expert Mechanism advice No. 13 on the right to land of indigenous peoples (see annex), was considered at the thirteenth session of the Expert Mechanism, in June 2020, and was submitted to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session in September 2020.


The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the only international human rights legal instrument with a specific focus on the all-encompassing significance of lands, territories and resources for Indigenous Peoples.

The explicit recognition in the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ right to their lands, territories and resources seeks to address a long history of illegal and unjust dispossession, which continues today. This study seeks to contribute to an understanding of the rights contained in the Declaration, the obligations of States arising therefrom and the practice of States in implementing those rights.

It was undertaken against a backdrop of a rise in conflict on indigenous lands due to destruction, encroachment and land-grabbing and a commensurate rise in the criminalization and harassment of and violence against defenders of indigenous lands.

The level of protection of land rights varies across the regions, with some States having established sophisticated, albeit often overly onerous and complex, means of granting land tenure to Indigenous Peoples while others have failed to recognize Indigenous Peoples at all, let alone their right to land. Yet other States continue to discriminate and persecute Indigenous Peoples. The implementation gap remains wide and failure to recognize land rights contributes to ongoing violence in many regions. The pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, several of which relate to land rights, gives States an opportunity to secure Indigenous Peoples’ control over their lands, territories and resources.

The international focus on climate change and climate justice is also an opportunity to recognize the critical role that Indigenous Peoples play in the protection of the environment and the maintenance of biodiversity.

Inputs received

The Expert Mechanism requested contributions from States, Indigenous Peoples, NHRIs and other stakeholders to the study. The views presented in these documents are those of the submitting organizations, and may not reflect the views of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.