Indigenous Peoples in the Netherlands Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation. Official Government Memorandum.
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I N F O R M A T I E                                Voorlichtingsdienst
ONTWIKKELINGSSAMENWERKING                           van het ministerie
                                                van Buitenlandse Zaken 

Nummer:  11(E)                                   Datum:  14 mei 1993




Not by accident, on 10 December 1992, Human Rights Day, the Secretary-
General of the United Nations inaugurated 1993 as the International 
Year for the World's Indigenous People, with the motto: "Indigenous 
people, a new partnership". In his speech he stated that indigenous 
peoples comprised over three hundred million individuals across the 
globe, individuals who were frequently the poorest of the poor, having 
scant if any access to essential facilities. Intrusion into their age-
old isolation had led to the loss of land and the undermining of their 

It was fortunate, Mr Boutros Ghali went on, that the governments of 
countries in which indigenous peoples lived were increasingly aware of 
this injustice, and that in a number of countries negotiations were 
under way concerning the return of land. The representation of 
indigenous peoples in relevant international fora had also increased. 
By dedicating 1993 to this theme, according to Mr Boutros Ghali, the 
UN is committing itself to a more specific focus on the situation and 
needs of indigenous peoples. Emphasis is to be placed on practical 
undertakings in the form of projects which will benefit these 
populations. Their participation in the planning, implementation and 
evaluation of these projects should play a crucial role. 

On 18 June 1991, having in mind the impending designation of 1993 as 
the International Year for the World's Indigenous People, the 
Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs requested his Advisory 
Committee on Human Rights and Foreign Policy (ACM) to draw up an 
advisory report on the specific rights of indigenous peoples and 
members of these population groups. On 12 November 1992, in the same 
context, the Netherlands Minister for Development Cooperation 
requested the National Advisory Council on Development Cooperation 
(NAR) to submit in the short term a brief report on the problems of 
indigenous peoples within the framework of development cooperation.(1) 

This memorandum will look at the conclusions and recommendations of 
the said reports, hereinafter referred to as the ACM and NAR reports. 
Where relevant, reference will also be made to other texts, such as 
Agenda 21 (Chapter 26). Discussion of the conclusions and 
recommendations of the said reports will for the sake of clarity be 
divided into themes: a. Indigenous peoples and human rights (Chapter 
III); b. Identity and cultural rights (Chapter IV); c. Representation 
and participation (Chapter V); d. Indigenous peoples and development 
cooperation (Chapter VI). These chapters will be preceded by a brief 
chapter defining relevant terms and looking in particular at the 
African context (Chapter II). Chapter VII will contain an analysis of 
the way in which the theme is currently dealt with within development 
cooperation, including programmes set up by the Netherlands so-called 
co-financing organisations. 

The fact that 1993 provides a special focus on indigenous peoples was 
not the sole rationale for this memorandum. One reason is the great 
need for protection of this large and vulnerable section of the 
world's population. Such protection should comprise guarantees for 
sustainable means of survival. Among the characteristics of 
international justice should be the power to protect vulnerable 
peoples against encroachment upon their means of survival, and against 
decimation or annihilation, the frequent lot of such populations up to 
now. A further important reason for focusing on indigenous peoples is 
the individual and original contribution which they make to cultural 
and social diversity throughout the world, thus providing a welcome 
counterbalance to the trend of increasing uniformity. 



In the course of the debate on this issue, indigenous groups have been 
referred to as indigenous populations, peoples, and people. In the 
designation of 1993 as the year of "indigenous people" the latter term 
is used. The ACM and NAR reports alternately speak about indigenous 
peoples and indigenous people. Since indigenous peoples is a term 
preferred by the groups in question, it will be used in this 
memorandum, sometimes supplemented by the term indigenous communities. 
The relevant literature also contains terms such as Indians, INDIGENAS 
and aboriginals, which all refer to specific categories of indigenous 

The typology adopted by UN Rapporteur Jose Martinez Cobo, which is 
used in both the ACM and NAR reports, refers to "indigenous 
communities, peoples and nations". Martinez Cobo defines them as 

     "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, 
     having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial 
     societies that developed on their territories, consider 
     themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now 
     prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at 
     present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to 
     preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their 
     ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of 
     their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their 
     own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems." 

1.   These two reports were appended to the memorandum sent to 
     Parliament in the form of annexes. 

Martinez Cobo's circumscription contains both subjective and objective 
elements. The objective elements are: a. material and spiritual ties 
with at least part of a population's ancestral territory; b. distinct 
identity and culture, and traditional social and judicial systems 
which a people seeks to preserve; c. a subordinate position in modern, 
post-colonial society and within the national state, often leading to 
denial of indigenous peoples' identity and discrimination against 
them. A more detailed analysis of these points is given in the ACM and 
NAR reports. Chapter III of the former report discusses the problem of 
definition at some length. Pages 2 to 4 of the NAR report examine the 
nature of the processes of marginalisation which have contributed to 
the vulnerability of many indigenous peoples.(2) Chapter II of the ACM 
report outlines the problem and discusses the factors which perpetuate 
the marginalisation of indigenous peoples. 

In various countries indigenous peoples are also referred to as tribal 
peoples, i.e. are defined with the emphasis on their way of life, 
because they are clans or tribes organised in small local communities, 
subsisting from hunting, gathering or animal husbandry. In India 
indigenous peoples are collectively referred to as ADIVASI, meaning 
"oldest inhabitants". In Indian policy documents the term "scheduled 
tribes" is used. 

A subjective element in Martinez Cobo's circumscription of indigenous 
peoples is that of self-identification and the desire of such peoples 
actively to preserve their own identity. The example of the Masai 
(Tanzania, Kenya) illustrates the importance of this subjective 
approach. Although the Masai are certainly not among the poorest 
sections of the population in those areas where they still possess 
large herds of cattle, they themselves seek to be designated an 
indigenous people, and to this end they have approached the UN Centre 
for Human Rights in Geneva. The Masai claim that their pastures are 
being systematically encroached upon, thus undermining not only their 
means of subsistence but also the basis of their pastoral culture. 

The case of the Masai raises two problems concerning the application 
of the above definition, namely the questions of nomadic herdsmen and 
of the general applicability of this definition to Africa. In the case 
of nomadic herdsmen it would in the first instance seem inappropriate 
to speak of "historic links with and rights to the land on which they 
live" (NAR report, page 2). At issue in the case of these peoples is 
not only the land in which they live, but also the pasture they 
require for their herds, and the territorial area within which they 
migrate. Reference can be made in this context to the chapter on 
"Recognising and strengthening the role of indigenous people and their 
communities" in Agenda 21, a source not explicitly cited by the 
advisory reports. The definition of "lands" in this chapter extends to 
"the environment of the areas which the people concerned traditionally 
occupy".(3) A policy which forces nomadic peoples to settle within a 
restricted territory in fact violates their rights to land in the 
wider sense. An example here would be the way in which the Turkana 
became the victim of the Kenyan government's settlement policy. The 
nomadic Turkana traditionally keep large herds of cattle, and are 
unable to adjust their skills, customs and values to cope with the 
problems associated with a settled way of living. As a result of 
enforced settlement these people have become entirely dependent on 
state support, and cannot return to their former way of life. Their 
marginalised position derives from a confrontation with the Kenyan 
state - a clash which threatens the survival of their culture.(4) 

2.   Throughout this document page references refer to the original 
     Dutch texts of the NAR and ACM reports. 

3.   _Agenda 21_, Chapter 26, p. 16. 

4.   See also _Vice Versa_. December 1992. 

The ethnic map of Africa provides a colourful picture of countless 
large and small groups and peoples. In many cases the borders of the 
post-colonial states run right through their traditional lands. Within 
individual states various ethnic groups often form political alliances 
or compete for domination. The term indigenous peoples would not be 
appropriate in such cases. When using this concept in an African 
context the focus is on peoples who have been marginalised, whose 
identity is not acknowledged, and of whom no account is taken in 
national policy. In the most extreme cases these groups are 
systematically repressed, and their culture is annihilated. The Nuba, 
who live in the mountains of South Kordofan in the Sudan, provide a 
disheartening example of such repression. The Sudanese government 
pursues a policy of isolating Nuba villages from the outside world and 
from essential facilities, and of separating men from women. "The 
people will be dispersed. Thus, the culture and society of the Nuba 
will become obliterated".(5) 

The conclusion of this brief analysis of the concept "indigenous 
peoples" is that the definition drawn up by Martinez Cobo comprises 
all the essential elements for the identification of this category, 
but that in its practical application differing weight can be attached 
to the various elements, with self-definition as an important feature. 
The Netherlands Government proposes to adopt Martinez Cobo's 
definition, as this is seen to be in the interest of protective 
measures. However, it would note that its application does not 
invariably produce a satisfactory result. 

5.   See "Sudan: Eradicating the Nuba", _Africa Watch_ of 9 September 
     1992, and also Africa Watch of 10 December 1991: "Sudan: 
     Destroying Ethnic Identity, The Secret War Against the Nuba". 


In order to illustrate the concepts which have been defined above, an 
overview of indigenous peoples is given below. This listing - which is 
unavoidably not exhaustive - is confined to Africa, Asia and Latin 
America, as it is there that the focus of Dutch development 
cooperation activities lies. However, the issue of indigenous peoples 
is by no means confined to developing countries. There is general 
awareness of the position of the Indians and the Eskimos in the United 
Stares and Canada, Over the last two decades Australia and New Zealand 
have stepped up efforts to restore the dignity of the Aborigines and 
the Maori, and to enable them to preserve their way of life. Japan, 
too, has its indigenous peoples, notably the Ainu. In Western and 
Central Europe indigenous peoples are generally considered to be 
confined to the Lapps or Saami and the Greenland Eskimos, though some 
would claim that gypsies should also be classified under this 
category. Eastern Europe, particularly the Russian federation, is home 
to a wider variety of indigenous peoples, notably the Yakut and the 
Uighur of Eastern Siberia, and the Bashkir and the Tatar of Western 
Siberia. Experience has shown that even developed countries such as 
Canada and New Zealand encounter numerous obstacles in drafting a 
sound policy on the indigenous peoples living within their 
territories, despite a genuine wish to deal fairly with them. 


North Africa is home to several Berber tribes, whose members 
constitute greater or lesser proportions of the populations of 
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. These groups have their own language, 
culture (literature and music) and traditions. So far efforts by 
Berber leaders and political groups to establish their right both to 
their own identity and full participation in national politics and 
society have met with varying success. 

In Ethiopia there are many ethnic groups, each with their own language 
and culture. Some can be classified as indigenous peoples. These 
include the Oromo, the largest ethnic group, which has suffered the 
most from Amharic rule (despite being an ethnic minority, the Amharic 
people have been in power in Ethiopia almost continuously for the last 
century). Smaller groups, such as the Anuak, Barta and Komo have been 
driven from their lands. Others, such as the Danakil, have suffered 
less. The Falasha, Ethiopian Jews, have been oppressed for centuries, 
not because of their indigenous status, but primarily because of their 
religion. The Afar and the Issa in Djibouti are ethnic minorities, but 
are not persecuted as such. The Afar, who originated in Ethiopia, are 
discriminated against, but this falls outside the scope of the 
problems facing indigenous peoples. 

Various African nations have experienced bloody conflicts as the 
result of tribal and ethnic differences, especially where these are 
paired with great social inequality or the uneven distribution of 
power, as in Mauritania or Burundi. However, this again falls outside 
the scope of the issue of indigenous peoples in the sense of peoples 
who have become so marginalised in the course of history that their 
very physical and cultural existence is threatened. This would 
exclude, for instance, the nomadic inhabitants of the Sahel, such as 
the Tuareg and the, Fulani, who have managed to preserve themselves 
¬únd their culture, or a people such as the Hadendoa of East Sudan. It 
must be said, though, that adverse conditions, such as a protracted 
drought, can seriously threaten the precarious ecological balance on 
which nomadic peoples depend for their existence. 

Southern Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania are home to various tribes which 
could be categorised as indigenous peoples, such as the Dinka, the 
Nuer, the Azande, the Turkana and the Shilluk. The case of the Turkana 
shows that in certain situations these African peoples can be socially 
marginalised and lose their cultural identity. As long as they are 
able to pursue their traditional way of life in relative isolation and 
have access to adequate means of subsistence there are no grounds for 
devoting special attention to these groups, since protection is a 
basic element in policies towards indigenous peoples and these 
particular groups are under such circumstances not necessarily in need 
of protection. Problems arise when indigenous peoples are made to 
submit to another culture and the power which this culture represents. 

Various African peoples clearly qualify as indigenous: the Pygmies in 
the rainforests of the Central African Republic and Cameroon, the Tua 
in Rwanda, the San or Masarwa (Bushmen) of the Kalahari desert 
(Botswana, Namibia), and the various smaller peoples in Namibia 
(Herera, Nama) and Zimbabwe (Tonga, Venda, Shangaan), although 
strictly speaking the latter do not originate from that area. 


The 66 million strong Adivasi in India (a collective term comprising 
over 200 different indigenous peoples) constitute some seven per cent 
of the population of India. They live in various regions, notably in 
the mountainous parts of Central India, as well as in the south 
(Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu), and in seven small states in the 
extreme northeast of India, of which Assam and Nagaland are the best 
known. Indigenous communities representing various tribal groups in 
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat gained news coverage through 
their opposition to the Sardar Sarovar Project. The controversial 
report by Bradfort Morse states that 117,575 tribal people will be 
directly affected by the project.(6) 

The indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman islands comprise four 
separate peoples, each with their own language and culture, who live 
from hunting and gathering. They are classified as "scheduled tribes" 
in Indian government policy. 

6.   _Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review_, p.62. Ottawa 

The ethnic map of southern Asia is so diverse that it would be 
impossible to give a complete survey. Various peoples have sought to 
draw international attention to their plight as an indigenous people, 
such as the Chakmas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. The 
Koochi, a pastoral people living in Afghanistan, are being 
increasingly forced to give up their nomadic existence. The Pathans, 
inhabitants of the mountainous region on the border of Pakistan and 
Afghanistan, have been able to preserve their culture in those areas 
in which the tribes are autonomous. Others have been integrated into 
the national societies of both countries. The Vedda are the oldest 
inhabitants of Sri Lanka. They are hunters and gatherers and 
constitute an extremely vulnerable group, having dwindled in number to 
perhaps no more than a few thousand. Accordingly, they are one of the 
peoples whose rights are being championed by the UN Working Group on 
Indigenous Peoples. 

East Asia counts among its population numerous different peoples, some 
of which are indigenous, marginalised and the victim of colonisation. 
Many of these are tribal groups living in mountainous regions, of whom 
little is known. Conversely, the Champa of Tibet are far from an 
obscure people, having enjoyed centuries of geographic and cultural 
autonomy in the inhospitable Himalayas, before finally being subjected 
to Chinese rule. 

A large number of peoples, some numerous, others less so, whose 
existence and way of life are under varying degrees of pressure, live 
in South-East Asia, in the hills and mountains of Thailand, Burma and 
Laos. The indigenous peoples of Thailand enjoy reasonable legal 
protection, thanks in part to the personal concern of the King of 
Thailand. The situation of indigenous peoples in Burma, on the other 
hand, gives cause for concern. The precarious position of the Karen 
people, for instance, is well known. In Vietnam various peoples live 
in the forests of the central plateaus. They are officially designated 
as minorities, and little is known of their position. The ORANG ASLI 
(original people) of Malaysia live in the rainforests of the 
peninsula. Their culture is under pressure as a result of the national 
promotion of Islam. They are also finding it increasingly difficult to 
maintain their traditional way of life as hunters and gatherers due to 
the erosion of their natural environment through logging, etc. There 
are no alternative means of subsistence. The same applies to the 
indigenous peoples of Luzon and Mindanao in the Philippines, and of 

Similar problems exist within the enormous ethnic diversity of the 
Indonesian archipelago, notably affecting the forest peoples of 
Kalimantan (Dayak peoples), Sumatra and Nias. The policy of the 
Indonesian government is geared to integrating the SUKU-SUKU TERASING, 
or isolated tribes, into Indonesian society. Understandably, this can 
cause problems. The languages and cultures of the Papuan population of 
the province of Irian Jaya not only differ markedly from those of the 
population of other parts of Indonesia, but are in themselves 
divergent. There are numerous Papua peoples, each with its own 
language and way of life. The extent to which the cultural identity of 
various peoples is threatened differs greatly from one people to 
another. The isolation of many of these peoples has only just been 

The Papuan peoples of Papua New Guinea are not defined as indigenous 
peoples because they do not confirm to the third element of the 
definition, i.e. belonging to the "non-dominant sectors of society". 
However, the peoples of Bougainville, an island administered by Papua 
New Guinea, who differ ethnically and linguistically from the Papuan 
peoples, may rightly be classified as indigenous peoples. 

With regard to Indonesia and the Philippines a study on indigenous 
peoples and the loss of their ancestral land concludes: "Both in 
Indonesia and in the Philippines, the loss of land is mainly the 
result of two major political decisions. On the one hand, to make land 
available for non-indigenous peoples, landless lowlanders in the 
Philippines and transmigrants in Indonesia; on the other, by imposing 
export-oriented economic development models, by providing logging and 
mining concessions or by opening the land for multinational-controlled 
agri-business projects in the Philippines, by developing nucleus 
estate schemes (NES) in Indonesia".(7) 

7.   "Indigenous People and Ancestral Lands: Two Case Studies 
     Compared". _Pro Mundi Vita: Dossiers_. No. 2. 1987. 


It is perhaps in this region that the problems facing indigenous 
peoples are most apparent. 

     "The minorities question in South and Central America is 
     dominated by the case of the Amerindians," [....] "The Spanish, 
     Portuguese, British, French and Dutch colonization of the area 
     destroyed the indigenous empires, and reduced the people to 
     powerlessness through conquest, annihilation, enslavement, 
     assimilation, evangelization, and social and political 
     domination. The States of Latin America do not reflect native 
     power, but the power of the colonizers and immigrants from 

8.   p. 40, _World Directory of Minorities_. Minority Rights Group. 
     London: Longman. 

Estimates of the number of indigenous peoples in Latin America vary. 
That they are numerous is beyond question, almost all representing a 
different linguistic group. Although many small peoples live in the 
rainforests bordering the Amazon, subsisting from hunting, gathering 
and cassava cultivation, the majority of Latin America's indigenous 
peoples live from subsistence farming on the high plains of the Andes 
mountains. The Aymara, Mapuche and Quechua are among the more numerous 
peoples, having local communities in various countries. Those peoples 
who live from hunting and gathering are smaller in number and until 
recently lived in isolation in tribal communities. Their traditional 
way of life is now being slowly but surely torn apart by logging 
companies, gold prospectors and government interference. This process 
can only be reversed by restoring the peoples' rights to their land, 
and by ensuring that these rights are actually recognised in practice. 
The indigenous peoples of Latin America occupy almost without 
exception a poor and marginalised position in the countries in which 
they live, even in Bolivia and Guatemala, where the Quechua and the 
Maya respectively form the largest population group. Even in Mexico, 
where the INDIGENAS are relatively better off compared to that of 
South America, they still form the lowest social strata. 


Of the two reports referred to above, the ACM report devotes most 
attention to the issue of human rights, an issue so crucial to 
indigenous peoples. Four main themes can be distinguished in the 
conclusions and recommendations. The first theme concerns 
recommendations geared to improved use of existing mechanisms to 
protect the rights of individuals who are members of indigenous 
peoples. The second is the right of self-determination. The third 
relates to the question of individual and collective rights. The last 
concerns new initiatives, such as the creation of new bodies, a higher 
profile for indigenous peoples in existing channels and reports, and 
the ratification by the Netherlands of the ILO Indigenous and Tribal 
Peoples Convention (no. 169). 

The Government considers legal protection or the protection of human 
rights as one of the most important priorities in its policy on 
indigenous peoples, together with reinforcing the identity of these 
peoples and increasing their participation and representation within 
national and international frameworks. In safeguarding human rights 
the Government sees the elimination of all forms of discrimination 
against members of indigenous peoples as its main objective, since 
discrimination is one of the major threats to the dignity and civil 
and political rights of members of indigenous peoples in societies 
dominated by others. 


The authors of this memorandum would endorse the ACM's view (ACM-
VII.7) that efforts must continually be made to determine whether the 
problems facing indigenous peoples can be tackled through existing 
legislation and jurisprudence. Note has been taken in this context of 
the recommendation that an attempt should be made to avoid trying to 
make too fine a distinction between indigenous peoples and minorities 
in general. It is indeed the case that certain mechanisms designed to 
protect minorities can equally well be applied to indigenous peoples 

The issue of legal protection centres on access to domestic remedies. 
The Government is prepared to encourage and support improvements in 
national judicial procedures in its cooperation with countries in 
which indigenous peoples live. However, improving and making more 
accessible legal protection procedures is not an easy task, and it 
would be unrealistic to expect short-term results. 

The ACM concludes quite rightly that the international scope for using 
existing procedures in respect both of the individual right of 
petition and the state complaint mechanisms is beset by legal and 
practical obstacles (ACM-VII.22, 21 ). Nevertheless, in certain cases 
the Committee feels that use of the petition mechanism provided by the 
First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights could benefit not only individuals but also the 
indigenous communities of which they are members (ACM-VII.22). The 
Netherlands Government is in favour of extending the scope for 
collective use of petition mechanisms. 

The ACM is also right in concluding that the use of state complaint 
mechanisms is a less realistic option than the individual right of 
petition (ACM-VII.21 ). The state complaint mechanism is a legal 
instrument which has not yet been used within the framework of UN 
convention mechanisms. Much use has on the other hand been made of 
supervision mechanisms developed within UN decision-making bodies, 
such as country resolutions and the appointment of special 
rapporteurs. This method has for instance been used to highlight the 
plight of indigenous peoples in Guatemala within the UN. The 
Netherlands and the other EC Member States play an active role in such 
procedures. Nor has use yet been made of CSCE mechanisms in cases 
involving indigenous peoples, despite the fact that such a possibility 
exists in the light of the contents of paragraph 29 of the Final 
Document of the Follow-up Conference at Helsinki (July 1992). 

The Government notes the points raised by the ACM concerning the 
possible use of the Genocide Convention as a protection mechanism (ACM 
report, p. 12). However, the scope for protection offered by this 
Convention is limited. Article II of the Convention defines genocide 
as "... acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a 
national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Intent is a crucial 
factor, and in practice the difficulty of proving intent constitutes a 
major obstacle when applying the Convention in this way. The ACM also 
rightly notes the lack of an international mechanism to monitor 
compliance with the Convention (ACM-VII.II). Its suggestion that an 
international criminal tribunal be established to try crimes against 
indigenous peoples should however be brought up in a more general 
framework. In this context the Netherlands support the work of the 
International Law Commission. 

The Netherlands will continue to focus on improving the effectiveness 
of UN treaty mechanisms, both within the framework of the World 
Conference on Human Rights and in other contexts. Efforts will be made 
to ensure that existing committees use optimal methods to monitor 
compliance with the conventions, including the protection of 

With regard to ACM-VII.20 it should be noted that, in anticipation of 
the ACM report, a request had been made by the Dutch delegation at the 
47th UN General Assembly for "general comments" on indigenous peoples 
and minorities. It transpired that the Human Rights Committee had been 
working on this latter issue since as far back as July 1991, but that 
texts are not yet available. In the debate in Committee III the 
Netherlands has also proposed investigation of the possibility of 
joint committee authorship of comments, with each committee 
contributing its own specialist angle. The chairman of the ICCPR 
Committee did not see this as a workable option in the light of each 
committee's need to be independent. 

The fact that existing mechanisms for the legal protection of 
indigenous peoples are not used to the full is however primarily 
attributable to the vulnerable position of the peoples concerned. 
Optimal use of existing mechanisms tends to be practically infeasible 
for indigenous peoples suffering from marginalisation and oppression. 
In the most extreme cases, denial of their human dignity and the near 
total lack of legal protection are two sides of the same coin. 

The Netherlands Government's basic principles in respect of the issue 
of self-determination, for both minorities and indigenous peoples, 
continue to be the interests of individual members of the community 
concerned, the preservation or development of identities and 
societies, (ACM report, page 20) and international justice. External 
self-determination for 5000 indigenous peoples would seem to be in the 
interests neither of the individual members of such peoples nor of the 
international legal order. The Netherlands Government is in favour of 
interpreting Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICCPR), 
referred to in ACM-VII.10, to mean that the right of internal self-
determination is recognised in the sense that it must be possible to 
hold national governments accountable. Article 27 of the ICCPR offers 
a certain amount of scope for distinctive identity within a state 

The right of self-determination does not imply a right of secession, 
as the ACM rightly notes. Nor would it be desirable to seek to achieve 
recognition under international law of such a right. Secession should 
only be a last resort. Whatever the rights and wrongs of historical 
developments, when dealing with issues of self-determination one of 
the main considerations should be where possible to respect the status 
quo. In this context states should on the one hand be required to take 
effective measures to protect the rights of minorities and indigenous 
peoples, while on the other minorities and indigenous peoples should 
be expected to show willingness to participate in negotiations and 
joint efforts to seek solutions. Examples of such dialogue - with the 
attendant trial and error - can be seen in practice. The Colombian 
government, for instance, has now restored 10% of the state's 
territory to the indigenous population. In Greenland, a dialogue 
between the Danish government and Siumut, an indigenous political 
movement, led to the development of a political structure within which 
the indigenous population enjoys a large measure of autonomy.(9) In 
Namibia, effective cooperation has been established between the 
regional government of Eastern Bushmanland and the Nyae Nyae Farmers 
Cooperative (NNFC), a Bushman organisation. Within the framework of 
regional development activities Bushmen are accorded full control of 
their own land and resources, and they preserve their own language and 

9.   Jens Dahl: "Groenland: de politieke structuur van zelfbestuur". 
     _Noord-Zuid Cahier_, vol. 17, no. 4, December 1992. 

10.  See _Vice Versa_, December 1992. 


At the heart of many debates on the rights - particularly territorial 
and cultural rights - of indigenous peoples lies the problem of the 
relationship between individual and collective rights. A collective 
right, to say, land or culture cannot always easily be transposed into 
individual rights. In the case of the Aboriginals referred to below, 
the rights to ancestral land were expressively awarded on a collective 
rather than an individual basis. The ACM report devotes a chapter to 
this general issue (Chapter IV). It is important to promote 
consideration of this issue, and the government accordingly applauds 
the ACM's proposal to draw up a report on this subject at some future 
stage (ACM report pp. 16, 17, ACM-VII.8). 

There are various sides to the issue. On the one hand there are 
indications that "peoples' rights" are increasingly being incorporated 
in declarations and conventions. The "African Charter on Human and 
Peoples' Rights" or Banjul Charter, for instance, which was adopted by 
the OAU in 1981, contains a number of collective rights to which all 
peoples are entitled, such as the right to self-determination, to 
assistance in liberation struggles (political, economic or cultural), 
to their own resources, to economic, social and cultural development, 
to peace and security and to a general satisfactory environment. It is 
significant that the Charter is based on the African philosophy of 
law, according to an introductory paper published in Dakar in 1979. 
Indigenous peoples themselves also often express a desire for 
recognition of collective rights. 

On the other hand, the Netherlands Government, made wary by the 
terrible lessons to be drawn from past ideologies which placed the 
group above the individual, is reluctant to see collective rights 
accorded greater status. However, clarification of the scope for 
collective action in the interests of invoking or strengthening 
individual legal claims does fit in with the government's policy of 
improving individual petition mechanisms where possible. 

In the light of further consideration of this subject, more detailed 
analysis will at some stage have to be made of the distinction between 
on the one hand rights of an entirely collective nature, such as the 
right of self-determination, and on the other individual rights which 
can be collectively exercised or enjoyed. 

With regard to the protection of individual and/or collective rights, 
overriding importance must be attached to those rights which are 
important or essential to subsistence, continuity, sustainability and 
cultural identity, i.e. rights relating to land, hunting, property, 
etc. A recent development in Australia should be noted in this 
context. A court case on land rights which had been filed by an 
Aboriginal tribe eider ten years previously ended in a judgment by the 
High Court of Australia which will have the effect of restoring the 
greater part of the Aborigines' ancestral lands. The court rejected 
the doctrine of "terra nullius", a legal fiction according to which 
the original European colonial settlers took over an uninhabited 
country and thus took possession of it without negotiating agreements 
with the population. It recognised indigenous rights to land with 
which Aborigines have a demonstrable affinity and which is not subject 
to formal or modern property rights. 


Both the ACM and the NAR reports query the motives cited thus far by 
the Netherlands Government for failing to ratify the ILO Convention 
concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The ACM report refers to the 
universal nature of human rights and the shared responsibility of all 
states to respect such rights (ACM-VII.15). The NAR report also 
notes that, contrary to what is claimed, the Netherlands does in fact 
have a direct involvement in the interests of indigenous peoples (NAR 
report, page 5). 

In the light of the ACM and NAR recommendations, talks have begun with 
the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the first competent 
authority for matters relating to ILO, to establish whether 
ratification would be advisable, and, if so, when it should take 
place. Account will be taken of the following points: the importance 
of the principle of universality of rights (which the Netherlands 
would most strongly endorse); the degree of support for the convention 
among representatives of indigenous peoples; the fact that so few 
states have to date ratified the convention (four according to recent 
figures); and the Dutch practice or in principle ratifying only 
conventions which directly affect the Netherlands. Account will also 
be taken of certain objections voiced by experts concerning the 
substance of the convention. Criticism centres on the convention's 
failure to impose sufficient restrictions on the enforced relocation 
of indigenous peoples (Article 16), insufficient clarity on the scope 
for self-determination (Articles 6 and 7) and a tendency to imply that 
national law should take absolute precedence over indigenous customary 
law (Articles 8 and 9), whereas such precedence should be accorded, to 
the maximum extent possible, only to internationally recognised human 
rights standards. Despite these objections both the undersigned in 
theory favour ratification at an appropriate time. 

Many of the recommendations in the ACM report concern the tightening 
up or broadening of existing procedures to safeguard the rights and 
interests of indigenous peoples, or specific inclusion of indigenous 
peoples as a category to which provisions and procedures can apply 
(ACM-VII.18, 23, 24). The specific suggestions of this kind in the 
various recommendations will be individually assessed and where 
possible adopted. 

The ACM report refers to the scope for the use by indigenous peoples 
of the various petition mechanisms within the ILO system (ACM-VII.25). 
However, the onus will be on indigenous peoples to develop their own 
initiatives here - a sometimes risky process, as the ACM rightly 
notes. Some governments feel threatened even by the organisation of 
repressed groups. Where possible the Netherlands Government will 
attempt to support indigenous individuals and organisations in their 
legitimate struggle for equality before the law, though it recognises 
that in practice it is well-nigh impossible for third parties -however 
well-intentioned - to guarantee adequate legal protection for 
individuals and organisations in situations in which human rights are 
accorded little value anyway and retaliation is a possibility. 


     "The most pressing problem affecting us as indigenous peoples is 
     the loss of our dignity", Marcos Terena, Brazilian indigenous 
     representative, in an interview at the Ministry, 25 January 1993. 

The international debate on indigenous peoples now recognises the 
crucial importance for indigenous peoples of the right to maintain and 
develop their own identity and culture. In many countries, however, 
indigenous peoples suffer daily from discrimination which threatens 
their dignity and identity. They meet with contempt, and a failure to 
recognise the value of their culture and their traditional knowledge. 
The central role which affinity with land plays in indigenous peoples' 
identity and way of life is not infrequently dismissed and sacrificed 
to other interests - and yet acknowledgement of this fact should be an 
integral part of recognition of the right to a separate identity and 

In addition to the need to give precedence to the values and culture - 
including affinity with land - of indigenous communities in the 
context of development cooperation activities which directly affect 
such communities, it will be necessary to take measures to strengthen 
the culture and identity of indigenous peoples through education and 
support for specific cultural activities to be identified by the 
indigenous peoples themselves. Some scope is provided for initiatives 
of the latter type under the Cultural Programme set up by the 
Netherlands Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS). 

Education, particularly primary education, does much to shape 
individuals, and thus significantly affects their future lives. Many 
indigenous children have no choice but to be educated according to a 
system which takes no account of their particular culture and 
background. This can be confusing and alienating, and such schooling 
does not train as it should for full future participation in society. 
It is in the very places where education should provide a bridge 
between indigenous knowledge and culture on the one hand and more 
universal knowledge systems and national cultures on the other that 
the existing divide is actually widened. The Government would 
therefore wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments expressed on this 
subject in the ACM report (ACM-VII.16). The NAR report, too, looks at 
the problems of children brought up between two cultures and the 
interpretive role which educational establishments should play in this 
respect (page 8). The educational policy pursued in the context of 
Dutch development cooperation devotes attention to the educational 
problems experienced by children from cultural minorities, not only in 
connection with the language of instruction, but also as regards 
differences in cultural concepts and underlying values.(11) An example 
of this would be the support given by the Netherlands in Guatemala to 
measures to adapt the curriculum for primary schools in line with 
indigenous languages and cultures. 

11.  Page 34, policy document _Ontwikkelingssamenwerking en onderwiis 
     in de iaren negentig_. 

Both the ACM (VII.16) and NAR (pages 8-9) reports consider the 
question of the restitution of cultural artefacts to indigenous 
peoples. This issue has already been raised in UN resolutions, in 
draft conventions and within the framework of UNESCO. The 
International Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property 
to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit 
Appropriation, a UNESCO agency, has been working in this area since it 
was set up in 1979. A request for restitution can also be made in a 
bilateral context. A transaction of this kind requires careful 
preparation, with account being taken of the interests of all the 
parties involved and the importance of conserving cultural objects. In 
the context of the said Cultural Programme certain important 
ceremonial materials known as TEJIDOS were restored to the Indian 
population of Coroma in Bolivia. 

The issue of restitution is frequently on the agenda of organisations 
such as the International Council for Museums (ICOM). The latter body 
also provides a forum for talks on the registration of the world's 
cultural heritage, and on improving the worldwide accessibility of 
collections and important items through the exchange of information, 
standardisation of description and the loan of collection items for 
exhibitions. The question of restitution would primarily centre on 
items of major symbolic significance. The debate is one which greatly 
concerns indigenous peoples, and their representation in a forum of 
this type should accordingly be encouraged. However, the 
representatives of indigenous peoples, and of developing countries in 
general, usually lack the resources, experience and policy back-up to 
make their voice heard in the international debate. In the light of 
this, courses on collection management and the mounting of exhibitions 
designed for the staff of museums in developing countries have already 
been set up under the DGIS Cultural Programme. The course for the 
staff of a Bedouin museum in North Sinai, Egypt, funded by this 
programme, is an example of the way in which indigenous peoples can 
receive assistance in their efforts to preserve and make accessible 
their cultural heritage. 

The specific suggestions listed on pages 8 and 9 of the NAR report for 
the preservation of significant indigenous cultural heritage in all 
its aspects, such as nature lore, language, oral literature, 
manuscripts and artefacts will certainly be taken into account in 
policy making and implementation. Activities of the type proposed by 
the NAR are already incorporated in the DGIS Cultural Programme, 
though the Programme as such is not specifically or exclusively geared 
to indigenous peoples. 

In conclusion it should be noted that recognition of the separate 
identity and cultural rights of indigenous peoples presupposes a 
greater awareness and a change of attitude on the part of dominant 
cultures. In the dialogue with indigenous peoples, members of dominant 
cultures must be prepared to be open towards other cultures and, where 
necessary, to question their own values and adjust their priorities. 


It should be noted that when Martinez Cobo refers to social 
institutions and legal systems in his typology of indigenous peoples, 
he is speaking of cultures and societies which are highly 
decentralised, and whose laws are uncodified. This significantly 
affects the question of the representation of indigenous peoples in 
modern national states or in an international context. Representation 
at such levels of the interests of groups organised in local 
communities and enjoying only local leadership must inevitably present 
a problem. Even where some form of central leadership exists, the 
question of the legitimacy of representation remains. Representation 
and participation are issues which the Government feels deserve 

The first point of focus should be participation within the national 
state. Agenda 21, too, stresses the importance of strengthening the 
participation of indigenous peoples in legislation, policy and 
implementation of programmes relating to development cooperation and 
other administrative measures which concern them. The question which 
then arises is: who should participate, and on whose behalf? 

The ACM report looks at the issue of representation. Who is a 
legitimate representative? The straightforward imposition of a 
"democratic model" of election on indigenous communities does not 
necessarily accord with the views of indigenous peoples concerning 
legitimate leadership. However, considerable interests can be at stake 
in talks with indigenous peoples, and in such cases the question both 
of the legitimacy and the adequacy of representation is crucial. The 
authors of this memorandum, like those of the NAR report, would 
endorse the solution proposed in the ACM report to this dilemma "A 
minimum requirement might be that the position of a representative 
should not be controversial, or should not be contested by the people 
in question. In case of reasonable doubt it should also be possible to 
require a representative to make plausible his claim to represent an 
indigenous people" (ACM report, page 24). Unfortunately this solution 
is not foolproof, as the ACM report rightly goes on to state, in view 
of the fact that it is sometimes practically impossible to sound out 
an indigenous people without going through those selfsame 
representatives. On this issue politicians will have to learn from the 
experience gained by specialist organisations (e.g. NGOs, IGOs). 

Given the complexity of the issue, the government will for the time 
being adopt the approach suggested by the ACM. This would not rule out 
assessment on an ad hoc basis. An example would be the correspondence 
which took place in 1980 between the Human Rights Committee and the 
tribal elders of the Miqmaq Tribal Society (Canada) concerning the 
mandate of their SOI-DISANT representative. A certain degree of 
standardisation of the criteria to be met by representatives should 
perhaps be a future aim (see ACM VII.12), but it would be unrealistic 
to hope for hard and unequivocal criteria for the time being. 

The question of representation also has an international dimension. 
Logistically speaking, it would be unworkable for representatives of 
all the 5000 or so indigenous peoples to attend the meetings of the UN 
Working Group on Indigenous Peoples - leaving aside the fact that 
their largely decentralised organisational structures might mean that 
a single people might deputise a number of representatives. The 
increase in the number of representatives is creating a need for more 
umbrella organisations, which again raises the whole question of 
representativeness, albeit at another level. 

Both the ACM and NAR reports pronounce on the need to increase the 
accessibility of national and international legal procedures and other 
relevant fora for indigenous peoples (ACM-VII. 9, 12, 17, 26 and NAR, 
pp.5-7). Proposals include the provision of translating and 
interpreting facilities, direct financial support to enable indigenous 
delegates to travel to relevant conferences, seminars and other 
events, and the provision of training (e.g. legal training) aimed at 
members of indigenous population groups. Following on from this last 
point is the NAR's proposal to establish a scholarship quota for 
members of indigenous population groups (NAR report, p.7). In 
practice, however, this proposal meets with difficulties. The 
international education establishments in the Netherlands have been 
assigned responsibility for implementing the Netherlands Fellowships 
Programme. However, they are obliged, when awarding scholarships, to 
take account of the policy of the Minister for Development 
Cooperation, which is geared inter alia to redressing the 
disadvantaged situation of certain population groups in developing 

The UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, in which founding the 
Netherlands had an initiating role, and the Special Fund for the Year 
of the World's Indigenous People are largely geared to facilitating 
the representation of indigenous peoples at fora and events of 
relevance to them. In view of the importance of this work the 
Netherlands Government will comply with the ACM's request (ACM-VII.26) 
that it continue contributing to the Voluntary Fund and also 
contribute to the UN fund set up to finance activities during the 



     "We only want development which does not threaten our planet", 
     Marcos Terena, Brazilian indigenous representative, in an 
     interview at the Ministry, 25 January 1993. 

"In view of the interrelationship between the natural environment and 
its sustainable development and the cultural, social, economic and 
physical well-being of indigenous people, national and international 
efforts to implement environmentally sound and sustainable development 
should recognize, accommodate, promote and strengthen the role of 
indigenous people and their communities".(12) 

12.  Agenda 21, Chapter 26, p. 26. 

Both reports acknowledge the important and special relationship which 
indigenous peoples have with their ancestral lands. The ACM report 
"considers it essential that the specific nature of these rights and 
of the relationship between indigenous peoples and their land or water 
be recognised" (ACM-VII.13). The NAR report states: "The significance 
of 'land' to indigenous peoples is frequently completely different 
from the meaning we attach to it. Land has not only economic 
significance, but also a social and spiritual importance. The way in 
which some indigenous peoples venerate the land means that it cannot 
be regarded or treated as the commodity it is largely regarded as by 
the majority of the world community" (NAR report, p. 9). The respect 
that indigenous peoples feel for the earth means that in general they 
are careful not to disturb the ecological balance of their natural 

Serious disruption of this balance can nearly always be attributed to 
external processes and intervention initiated by the dominant society 
which cannot be controlled or reversed by indigenous peoples. The 
resultant situation tends to be irreversible, with disastrous effects 
for the culture and the environment of the indigenous populations 

The "natural" link which is often made between indigenous peoples and 
sustainable development can result in indigenous peoples being used to 
carry out environmental projects which are not directly in their own 
interests, as the NAR rightly observes (NAR report, p. 10). 
Environmental measures can also go so far that "indigenous people are 
hit disproportionately hard" (ACM-VII.14). This should be remedied by 
involving indigenous peoples in decision-making on measures and 
activities which affect the area in which they live (ACM-VII.13), and 
by integrating their views on development in an operational concept of 
sustainable development which is acceptable to all parties. An 
interesting example of specific attention for indigenous communities 
in an environmental agreement is the allocation of a separate quota 
for "aboriginal subsistence whaling" in the International Convention 
for the Regulation of Whaling (1946). 

The increase in interest in indigenous peoples' knowledge of their own 
natural environment is a positive development. "Indigenous knowledge" 
can make a significant contribution to the sustainability of 
agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity. However, such 
interest also has a negative side, as the NAR report points out. 
Agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry are already annexing such 
information for their own purposes, and this trend looks set to 
continue. This constitutes alienation of commercially valuable 
intellectual heritage. Indeed, scientists and scientific bodies are 
themselves not above exploiting indigenous peoples' lack of awareness 
of the value of their knowledge of the natural world. The NAR report 
discusses this question at length and puts forward constructive 
recommendations (NAR report, pp. 10-11). 

Increasing international attention is being paid, notably since UNCED, 
to the protection of the intellectual property of indigenous peoples 
in line with the preservation of biodiversity and with developments in 
biotechnology. The indigenous peoples themselves have stated: "Since 
we highly value our traditional technologies and believe that our 
biotechnologies can make important contributions to humanity, 
including 'developed' countries, we demand guaranteed rights to our 
intellectual property, and control over the development and 
manipulation of this knowledge".(13) The Netherlands supports the work 
of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, 
which is looking into this problem. 

13.  _Charter of the Indigenous-Tribal Peoples of the Tropical 
     Forest_, point 44. 


     "Our greatest fear is of being developed without first being 
     consulted", Marcos Terena, Brazilian indigenous representative, 
     25 January 1993. 

There are two main points at issue here. The first issue is the need 
of indigenous peoples for development activities or, to put it another 
way, "who formulates the request for aid?" The second issue concerns 
taking account of and protecting the interests of indigenous peoples 
in development projects. 

"Current policy on development cooperation views culture as a basis 
for sustainable development".(14) This principle also extends to 
indigenous peoples, embracing as it does participatory and culturally-
oriented approaches. In concrete terms, development activities must be 
welcomed by the indigenous community for which they are intended, they 
must dovetail with the needs formulated by that community, they must 
be compatible in substance and structure with the community culture, 
and the community or its representatives must be allowed to 
participate in the decision-making on activities and their 
implementation and evaluation. If care is taken to adhere to these 
guidelines - which also form the basis of the recommendations made by 
the ACM and the NAR -then the fears expressed by Marcos Terena (see 
above) should be groundless. 

14.  Policy document _A World of Difference_, page 205. 

In actual fact adherence to the guidelines is beset by a number of 
obstacles, and there are very real grounds for concern. The first 
obstacle is that often little is known of the indigenous communities 
in areas in which development organisations operate. The NAR rightly 
underlines the importance of freeing resources and time to increase 
knowledge of indigenous peoples (NAR report, page 13). The ACM, too, 
states that aid programmes must be set up solely on the basis of 
"detailed knowledge of the indigenous peoples concerned" (ACM-VII.29). 
The Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) has now 
taken steps to foster the collection and transfer of knowledge on this 

A second group of obstacles consists of the problems referred to in 
the chapter on representation and participation. There is much to be 
said for the view expressed by the ACM that indigenous peoples often 
"first need assistance to become organised to a greater extent and to 
acquire the funds to enable them to undertake initiatives of their 
own" (ACM-VII.28). It is true that a greater degree of organisation is 
often the first step needed if indigenous peoples are to become fully 
involved in activities designed to further their own development. The 
NAR makes a number of suggestions on this point, under the heading of 
"institutional support", which will be examined to see if they are 
practicable. It should be noted in this connection that the 
decentralised organisational structure so characteristic of indigenous 
peoples is not always amenable to organisational forms imposed from 
outside. There are no straightforward solutions to this problem, 
although the recommendation made by both the NAR and the ACM (ACM-VII, 
26 and 30) that higher priority and structural support should be given 
to this issue in international and multilateral frameworks may provide 
an answer. 

That the interests of indigenous peoples can be damaged by development 
activities is apparent in particular from large-scale infrastructural 
projects, many of which deprive indigenous peoples of all or some of 
their land, encroach upon their traditional means of subsistence or 
force them to move elsewhere. While it is not always possible to spare 
them, a proper balance should be struck between the conflicting 
interests, and the indigenous peoples should have the right of appeal. 
In addition, every effort should be made to minimise the damage and to 
provide prompt, adequate compensation. World Bank directives on this 
point refer to the far-reaching impact on the means of subsistence, 
cultural identity and social structure of communities which fall 
victim to unavoidable involuntary resettlement. The directive goes on 
to discuss all manner of measures that should be taken right from the 
start to minimise the damage and to compensate the communities in 
question.(15) However, indigenous peoples usually lack the 
organisational capacity, knowledge of the law and political clout to 
compel such measures to be taken. Responsibility in this area clearly 
lies with the donor agency. 

15.  _The World Bank Operational Manual. Operational Directive 4.30: 
     Involuntary Resettlement_. Washington, June 1990. 

In any event, the interests at stake in large-scale infrastructural 
projects involve more than simply indigenous communities and the 
government, while indigenous communities frequently do not form a 
homogenous group as regards the decisions to be taken (see also the 
NAR report, p. 3). The complexity of the debate on the Narmada (Sardar 
Sarovar) project in India, the largest irrigation project in Asia, is 
a case in point. A number of the indigenous tribal communities, to 
whom the woodland threatened by the project is of great material and 
cultural significance, oppose enforced resettlement, with the support 
of environmental activists. However, many farmers in the region are 
becoming increasingly convinced of the potential blessings of the 
project, namely higher agricultural yields, and they have the Indian 
government on their side. 

Smaller development projects can also damage indigenous peoples if 
their interests are not identified and taken into account at an early 
stage. Indigenous peoples are often placed at a disadvantage, even 
vis-a-vis their own government, by the weakness of their legal 
position, their lack of organisation, their inadequate access to 
government and judicial authorities and the media, with the result 
that they often lose out to the interests of the dominant party. 

Social and economic change is occurring in many forms. Most indigenous 
communities no longer live in self-sufficient isolation; rather they 
are faced with the market economy and structures of power and 
ownership that are new to them. The various sections of indigenous 
communities (men, women, young people, the elderly) are often affected 
in different ways and to an unequal extent. Young people may suffer an 
identity crisis, since neither the community from which they come nor 
the wider society to which they migrate but where they cannot maintain 
themselves offers prospects for the future. Women are comparatively 
hard hit if the means of subsistence and the environment of the 
indigenous community are undermined, for they are responsible for 
feeding the family and for the care of young children. As the men 
leave, more and more women have to face these problems alone. 
Indigenous women who leave their community, for example to earn money 
in a town, are highly vulnerable and are often abused. Accordingly, 
the government has taken careful note of the observations in both 
reports on the position of indigenous women, with the comment that the 
scope for aid to such women should be examined specifically from the 
point of view of their own situation. 

Information is of crucial importance to promoting the rights and 
interests of indigenous peoples. The NAR report rightly devotes a good 
deal of attention to this question (p. 6). The Development Cooperation 
Information Department will develop activities this year in an effort 
to foster understanding of the cultures and situations of indigenous 
peoples. In consultation with the Netherlands co-financing 
organisations (MFOs) and certain non-governmental organisations 
concerned with improving the lot of indigenous peoples, a plan is 
being developed to draw public attention in the Netherlands to the 
problems of indigenous peoples. This will include a series of events 
to be held in the autumn of 1993. 


Current development cooperation policy involves numerous activities 
which benefit indigenous peoples. An internal survey showed that 
indigenous peoples are actually major target groups of the Netherlands 
bilateral development cooperation programmes in Latin America and, to 
a lesser extent, in Asia. Indigenous and tribal communities in Latin 
America and Asia are also target groups of programmes aimed at 
alleviating poverty, the central objective of Netherlands development 
cooperation policy. The majority of projects in India are targeted at 
the outcastes and tribal peoples, the two groups representing the 
lowest social strata. The general question of whether this approach 
adequately addresses the specific cultural problems of India's tribal 
communities is a difficult one to answer. Much depends on the 
sensitivity and knowledge of those implementing the projects in the 
field. Development cooperation policy will endeavour to foster these 
two qualities in the future. 

A similar question may be raised with regard to poverty alleviation 
projects in Latin America. To date, the problems of the indigenous 
communities in that continent have largely been seen in a socio-
economic context, an approach which is legitimate enough in itself, 
though too restricted. In recent years, however, the focus has widened 
to embrace cultural identity and cultural rights, one example being 
the project which is in preparation for a cultural and educational 
centre in La Paz for the benefit of the indigenous population of the 
region (primarily the Aymara and Quechua Indians). One of the main 
objectives of this centre will be to enhance the cultural identity of 
the indigenous peoples concerned. 

An internal survey proved the importance of the Small Embassy Projects 
Programme as a means of responding to the specific needs and wishes of 
indigenous peoples in a rapid, targeted way. Diplomatic missions in 
countries where indigenous peoples' problems are on the agenda are 
made aware of the scope for using this programme, to make better use 
of it for the benefit of indigenous peoples. 

The Development Cooperation Special Programme on the Environment and 
the Cultural Programme also afford scope to enhance the position of 
indigenous peoples within the framework of development cooperation. 
Some examples have already been mentioned above. 

The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) has been debating this 
issue for some time. It is hoped that this debate will give rise to a 
policy memorandum to be issued this year, containing recommendations 
on the ways in which the SNV, at local (project), national and 
international level, can help to improve the position of indigenous 
peoples. The debate centres on the question of the causes and 
consequences of discrimination against indigenous peoples. A number of 
country programmes have formulated specific objectives with regard to 
indigenous peoples. Within the Honduras programme, for example, it has 
been decided to adopt an approach for two out of the three target 
regions which will focus directly on indigenous communities as target 
groups and partners, and in which the priorities for action will be 
determined in direct consultation with grassroots indigenous 

Talks with the co-financing organisations (MFOs) have brought to light 
their intention to involve representatives of indigenous peoples more 
closely with development activities which concern them. If this is put 
into practice, it could greatly help the MFOs to respond to the wishes 
and needs of indigenous communities. The policies of all the MFOs 
emphasise the importance of raising consciousness and improving 
organisation among indigenous peoples. The MFOs are also concerned 
with the problem that the areas occupied by indigenous peoples often 
do not fall within the borders of any one state. In 1992, Columbus 
year, the MFOs appropriately focused on improving the lot of the 
Indians of Central and South America. 

One of the MFOs, CEBEMO, has been discussing policy on indigenous 
peoples for some years now. They are a focus of policy because of 
their subjection to a different, dominant, social, political and 
cultural structure, which not only marginalises them in socioeconomic 
terms but threatens the continued existence of their distinctive group 
identity. The aim of CEBEMO's activities is to reduce socio-economic 
disadvantage and increase the resilience of indigenous peoples. 

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