Article VIII.       Philosophy, outlook and language  

        1.     Indigenous peoples have the right to indigenous languages, philosophy and outlook as a component of national and universal culture, and as such, shall respect them and facilitate their dissemination.  

        2.     The states shall take measures and ensure that broadcast radio and television programs are broadcast in the indigenous languages in the regions where there is a strong indigenous presence, and to support the creation of indigenous radio stations and other media.  

        3.     The states shall take effective measures to enable indigenous peoples to understand administrative, legal and political rules and procedures, and to be understood in relation to these matters. In areas where indigenous languages are predominant, states shall endeavor to establish the pertinent languages as official languages and to give them the same status that is given to non-indigenous official languages.  

        4.     Indigenous peoples have the right to use their indigenous names, and to have the states recognize them as such.




1.        Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN 1994)  

Article 14: "Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.


States shall take effective measures, whenever any right of indigenous peoples may be threatened, to ensure this right is protected and also to ensure that they can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means."


Article 17: "Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own language. They also have the right to equal access to all forms of non-indigenous media.


States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity."  

2.        C 169, Convention on Indigenous and Tribal People (ILO Convention 1989)  

Article 12: "Measures shall be taken to ensure that members of these peoples can understand and be understood in legal proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other effective means."  

3.        American Convention on Human Rights (OAS 1969)  

Article 8(2): “During the proceedings, every person [accused of a criminal offense] is entitled, with full equality, .. (a): to...the right of the accused to be assisted without charge by a translation or interpreter, if he does not understand or does not speak the language of the tribunal or court.”  

4.        International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN 1966)  

Article 14(3) “In determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality...(f) To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”  

5.        Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN 1989)  

Article 7:  “The child...shall have the right from birth to a name.”


Article 17(d): “Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous.”

Article 17(a): “Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29.”


Article 40(2)(b): “...ensuring that: (vi) Every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law...” has the right (vi) “To have the free assistance of an interpreter if the child cannot understand or speak the language.”  

6.        Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious or Linguistic Minorities (UN 1990)  

Article 4(3): “States should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue.”  

7.        Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (UNESCO 1982)  

Article 5(3): "The mass media and those who control or serve them, as well as all organized groups within national communities, are urged-with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly the principle of freedom of expression-to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among individuals and groups and to contribute to the eradication of racism, racial discrimination and racial prejudice, in particular by refraining from presenting a stereotyped, partial, unilateral or tendentious picture of individuals and of various human groups. Communication between racial and ethnic groups must be a reciprocal process, enabling them to express themselves and to be fully heard without let or hindrance. The mass media should therefore be freely receptive to ideas of individuals and groups which facilitate such communication."  

8.        Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "General Recommendation XXIII (51) Concerning Indigenous Peoples" (August 1997)  

(4): The Committee calls in particular upon States parties to:


e.         Ensure that indigenous communities can exercise their rights to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs, to preserve and to practice their languages."  

9.        African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter 1981)  

Article 9(2): “Every individual shall the right to express and disseminate his opinion.”        

10.      European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  

Article 5 (2): “Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and of any charges against him.”


Article 6(3): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights: (a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; (e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”  

11.      European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, opened for signature 2 October 1992 

Article 7: Objectives and Principles


Article 7(1): “The Parties undertake, in respect of regional or minority languages, to base their policies, legislation and practice on the following objectives and principles: (a) the recognition of the existence of regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth; ...(c) the need for resolute action to promote regional or minority languages in order to safeguard them; (e) the facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of regional or minority languages, in speech and writing, in public and private life (g) the teaching and study of regional and minority languages at all appropriate stages.”


Article 7(2):  “In determining their policy with regard to regional or minority languages, the Parties shall take into consideration the needs and wishes expressed by the groups which use such languages.”


Article 10: Judicial Authorities and Legal Relations


Article 10(1)(a): In criminal proceedings “to guarantee the accused the right to use his/her regional or minority language; and/or...(iv) to produce, on request, documents connected with legal proceedings in the relevant regional or minority language; if necessary by the use of interpreters and translations involving no extra expense for the persons concerned.”


Article 10(1)(b): In civil proceedings, the same rights are provided including providing the option that the “the courts and legal authorities, at the request of one of the parties, shall use the regional or minority languages.”


Article 10(3): “the Parties undertake to make available in the regional or minority languages the most important national legal texts and those relating particularly to users of these languages, unless they are otherwise provided.”


Article 12: Media


Article 12(1): With respect to media, the Parties will undertake, to either “ensure”, “encourage” or “facilitate” the creation or maintenance of a television, newspaper or radio show in the "regional or minority languages", and “where the law provides for financial assistance in general for the media” the article provides for the coverage of "the additional costs of those media which use regional or minority languages."


Article 13: Cultural Activities and Facilities


1.         “the Parties undertake to the extent that the public authorities are competent, have power or play a role in this field, to” “encourage”, “foster”, “ensure”, and “promote” cultural activities, different types of expression, access to works involving regional or minority languages.  “[I]f necessary create and/or promote and finance translations and terminological research services.”


12.      Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, Denmark, March 6-12, 1995)  

Annex II:  Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development Content.


Chapter IV. Social Integration


Para. B(73): "Eliminating discrimination and promoting tolerance and mutual respect for and the value of diversity at the national and international levels requires:  (i) Recognizing that the languages spoken or used in the world should be respected and protected."  

13.      Declaration of Santiago (May 6, 1994) endorsed by the General Conference (UNESCO 2o. session 1995)  

-"We declare that...3. Respect for pluralism, cultural, language and gender diversity should be fundamental in our democratic societies and should be reflected through all the media.  

-The Plan of Action adopted by the Seminar proposes the following measures: 1. "Promotion of community media in rural, indigenous and marginal urban areas A. Taking into account the increasing importance of community media in the democratic process in the region, to request the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with the assistance of professional organizations and research institutions, to survey the current situation of community media concerning legislation, frequencies, power limitations and advertising restrictions, with a view to making recommendations for the consideration of the governments concerned.  B. To request the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) of UNESCO and donor agencies to support projects for the creation of new community media, both print and broadcast, and projects aimed at strengthening existing community media in accordance with international norms, especially those media serving women, youth, indigenous populations and minorities.  C. To call upon professional organizations and the regional and national representatives of international organizations involved in community development issues, to encourage community media to exchange information among themselves and with other media. In so doing, they will contribute to the development of communication networks."  

14.      Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador (1997)  

"A frequent complaint concerns the treatment of indigenous inhabitants within the judicial system. Indigenous representatives indicated that legal processes fail to respect or take into account indigenous legal systems and traditions. Representatives complained that processes against indigenous defendants were conducted in Spanish, and that translation was not provided for those who understood only their native language. Article 8 of the American Convention states that "the right of an accused to be assisted without charge by a translator or interpreter, if he does not understand or does not speak the language of the tribunal" is a minimum guarantee. The Commission expects that the recognition accorded to indigenous languages in their areas of use through the recent amendments to the Constitution will ensure that translation between Spanish and the indigenous language of the defendant is available in every case where it is required."  


15.      Brazil  

Indian Statute (Law No. 6.001 19-XII-1973)  

Article 49: “The Indians shall be taught to read and write in the language of the group to which they belong, and in Portuguese, safeguarding the use of the former tongue.”  

16.      Canada  

                   - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms  

Article 22: "Nothing in sections 16 to 20 [establishing French and English as the official languages of Canada] abrogates or derogates from any legal or customary right or privilege acquired or enjoyed either before or after the coming into force of this Charter with respect to any language that is not English or French."    

                   - Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples  

Volume 3 Recommendations


“Provincial and territorial ministries require school boards serving Aboriginal students to implement a comprehensive Aboriginal education strategy, developed with Aboriginal parents, elders and educators, including e) curriculum, in all subject areas, that includes the perspectives, traditions, beliefs and world view of Aboriginal peoples;”


Vol. 3 Recommendations, 3.6.7


“The federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, review its legislation on the protection of intellectual property to ensure that Aboriginal interests and perspectives, in particular collective interests, are adequately protected.”




“Federal, provincial and territorial governments recognize promptly that determining Aboriginal language status and use is a core power in Aboriginal self-government, and that these governments affirm and support Aboriginal nations and their communities in using and promoting their languages and declaring them official languages within their nations, territories and communities where they choose to do so.”




“The government of Canada recognize the special status of Aboriginal-language broadcasting explicitly in federal legislation.”




“Aboriginal language education be assigned priority in Aboriginal, provincial and territorial education systems to complement and support language preservation efforts in local communities”.  

17.      Chile  

Ley No. 19.253  

Artículo 28: "El reconocimiento, respeto y protección de las culturas e idiomas indígenas contemplará: a) El uso y conservación de los idiomas indígenas, junto al español en las áreas de alta densidad indígena; c) El fomento a la difusión en las radioemisoras y canales de televisión de las regiones de alta presencia indígena de programas en idioma indígena y apoyo a la creación de radioemisoras y medios de comunicación indígenas; e) La obligatoriedad del Registro Civil de anotar los nombres y apellidos de las personas indígenas en la forma como lo expresen sus padres y con las normas de transcripción fonética que ellos indiquen, y f) La promoción de las expresiones artísticas y culturales y la protección del patrimonio arquitectónico, arqueológico, cultural e histórico indígena.  Para el cumplimiento de lo señalado en el inciso anterior, la Corporación, en coordinación con el Ministerio de Educación, promoverá planes y programas de fomento de las culturas indígenas. Se deberá considerar convenios con organismos públicos o privados de carácter nacional, regional o comunal, que tengan objetivos coincidentes con los señalados en este artículo.  Asimismo deberá involucrarse para el cumplimiento de dichas finalidades a los gobiernos regionales y municipalidades”.  

18.      Ecuador  

- Constitución Política del Estado Ecuatoriano  

Artículo 1: “...La soberanía radica en el pueblo, cuya voluntad es la base de la autoridad, que ejerce a través de los órganos del poder público y de los medios democráticos previstos en esta Constitución. “  

                   - Anteproyecto Ley de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador  

Artículo 7: “ Se reconoce también como oficiales, la lengua quichua en todo el territorio nacional y las demás lenguas indígenas en los territorios en que están asentados los pueblos indígenas.  EI Estado garantizará los recursos y medios para la preservación de desarrollo de las lengua, que podrán ser usadas de acuerdo a las necesidades, en la educación, administración de justicia, seguridad social, información pública, servicios y más actividades públicas.  Se garantizará el pleno derecho a utilizar nombres y apellidos en las propias lenguas indígenas. EI Estado facilitará los respectivos trámites de inscripción y de rectificación cuando estos fueran solicitadas”.  

19.      El Salvador  

Constitución de la República de El Salvador


Artículo  62: El idioma oficial de El Salvador es el castellano. El gobierno está obligado a velar por su conservación y enseñanza.


Las lenguas autóctonas que se hablan en el territorio nacional forman parte del patrimonio cultural y serán objeto de preservación, difusión y respeto.  

20.      United States  

                   - Native American Languages Act, 25 U.S.C. § 2901- 04  

§ 2901: "It is the policy of United States to - (1) preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom for Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages;  (3) encourage and support the use of Native American languages as a medium instruction in order to encourage and support - (A) Native American language survival, (B) educational opportunity, (C) increased student success and performance, (D) increased student awareness and knowledge of their culture and history, and (E) increased student and community pride."


§ 2904: "The right of the Native American to express themselves through the use of Native American languages shall not be restricted in any public proceeding, including publicly supported educational programs."  

21.      Guatemala  

- Constitución Política de la República de Guatemala  

Artículo 143: “Idioma Oficial. El idioma oficial de Guatemala es el español. Las lenguas vernáculas forman parte del patrimonio cultural de la Nación.”  

- Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples  

III. A. Language


1.         Language is one of the mainstays of culture since, in particular, it is the vehicle for learning and passing on the indigenous view of the world, and indigenous knowledge and cultural values. Thus, all the languages spoken in Guatemala deserve equal respect. In that context provision must be made to recover and protect indigenous languages and to promote the development and use of those languages.


2.         To that end, the Government shall take the following measures:


(a)        Promote a constitutional reform calling for the listing of all languages existing in Guatemala which the State is constitutionally required to recognize, respect and promote;


(b)        Promote the use of all indigenous languages in the educational system, to enable children to read and write in their own tongue or in the language most commonly spoken in the community to which they belong and, in particular, protect bilingual and intercultural education and institutions such as the Mayan Schools and other indigenous educational projects;


(c)        Promote the use of the languages of the indigenous people when providing State social services at the community level;  

(d)        Inform indigenous communities, in their own languages in keeping with the traditions of the indigenous peoples and by adequate means, of their rights, obligations and opportunities in various areas of national life. Recourse shall be had, if necessary, to written translations and the use of mass communications media in the languages of those peoples;  

(e)        Promote programmes for the training of bilingual judges and court interpreters from and into indigenous languages;

(f)         Enhance the status of indigenous languages, opening up new opportunities for them in the mass communications and cultural transmission media, strengthening such organizations as the Academy of Mayan Languages and other similar institutions; and


(g)        Promote the granting of official status to indigenous languages.  To that end an officialization commission will be set up with the participation of representatives of the linguistic communities and the Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala, which shall study arrangements for granting official status, taking account of linguistic and territorial criteria.  The Government shall promote, in the Guatemalan Congress, a reform of article 143 of the Constitution to reflect the results of the officialization commission's work.


B.         Names, surnames and place names


The Government reaffirms the full right to register indigenous names, surnames and place names.  It also reaffirms the right of communities to change the names of places in which they reside, when a majority of members so decide. The Government shall take the measures provided for in part II, section A, of this agreement to combat any de facto discrimination in the exercise of this right.”


Article III. "H:Mass media


1.         Like the educational system, the communications media play a paramount role in the defence, development and transmittal of cultural values and knowledge. It is the responsibility not only of the Government but also of all those working in and involved with the news media to promote respect for indigenous cultures, the dissemination of such cultures, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and to help all Guatemalans to take full possession of their multicultural heritage.


2.         For its part, in order to promote the broadest possible access to the communications media by the Maya communities and institutions and those of the other indigenous peoples, the widest possible dissemination in indigenous languages of the indigenous, and especially Mayan, cultural heritage, as well as of the universal cultural heritage, the Government shall, in particular, take the following measures:


(a)        Create opportunities in the official media for the dissemination of expressions of indigenous culture and promote a similar opening in the private media;


(b)        Promote, in the Guatemalan Congress, the reforms of the existing Act on radio communications that are required in order to make frequencies available for indigenous projects and to ensure respect for the principle of non-discrimination in the use of the communications media. Furthermore, promote the abolition of any provision in the national legislation which is an obstacle to the right of indigenous peoples to have their own communications media for the development of their identity; and

(c)        Regulate and support a system of informational, scientific, artistic and educational programmes on indigenous cultures in their languages, through the national radio, television and the written media."  

         - Ley de la Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (Decreto 65-90)  

Artículo 1: "Creación. Se crea la Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, con una entidad estatal autónoma, con personalidad jurídica y capacidad para adquirir derechos y contraer obligaciones, patrimonio propio y jurisdicción administrativa en toda la República en materia de su competencia.


La Academia coordinará sus acciones políticas, lingüísticas y culturales de las comunidades mayas con los Ministerios, entidades autónomas y descentralizadas del Estado y demás instituciones con ella relacionadas.


Artículo 2: "Fines. La Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, tiene por finalidad promover el conocimiento y difusión de las lenguas mayas e investigar, planificar, programar y ejecutar proyectos lingüísticos literarios, educativos, culturales y dar orientación y servicio sobre la materia”.


Artículo 3: "Ámbito de la autonomía. La Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala es la máxima autoridad rectora para la promoción y desarrollo de las lenguas mayas en el país, y como tal podrá darse sus propias autoridades, ejercer por medio de ellas la administración de sus intereses, y emitir sus reglamentos, resoluciones, acuerdos y demás disposiciones sobre la materia de su competencia”.


Artículo 4: "Objetivos. Son objetivos de la Academia:


a)         Promover y realizar investigaciones científicas para estimular y apoyar acciones dirigidas al desarrollo de las lenguas mayas del país, dentro del marco integral de la cultura nacional.


b)         Planificar y ejecutar programas de desarrollo educativo y cultural basados en los resultados de las investigaciones antropológicas, lingüísticas e históricas que se realicen.


c)         Crear, implementar e incentivar programas de publicaciones bilingües y monoligües para promover el conocimiento y uso de los idiomas mayas y para fortalecer los valores culturales Guatemaltecos.


d)         Normalizar el uso y aplicación de los idiomas mayas de Guatemala en todos sus campos.


e)         Velar por el reconocimiento, respeto y promoción de las lenguas mayas y demás valores culturales gualtemaltecos.


f)          Prestar asesoría técnica y científica al Gobierno e instituciones en las ramas de su competencia."


Artículo 5: "Atribuciones: La Academia tendrá a su cargo:


a)         Fomentar investigaciones científicas, históricas y culturales con el propósito de conocer, fortalecer y divulgar al identidad de cada comunidad lingüística.


b)         Estudiar y proponer procedimientos y estrategias que favorezcan y fortalezcan el uso, promoción, oficialización y unificación de cada uno de los idiomas mayas.


c)         Crear y promover centros de enseñanza de los idiomas mayas en las comunidades lingüísticas y promover la enseñanza de tales idiomas en los demás centros educativos de la República.


d)         Traducir y publicar, previo cumplimiento de las leyes de la materia, códigos, leyes, reglamentos y otros textos legales o de cualquier otra naturaleza que se juzgue necesario a los idiomas mayas.


e)         Apoyar plenamente la educación bilingüe aditiva que realiza el Estado en cumplimiento de sus funciones.


f)          Aprovechar las invetigaciones científicas sobre lenguas mayas, para su depuración, unificación y elaboración de gramáticas, diccionarios, libros de texto y métodos para su enseñanza y difusión.


g)         Formar y capacitar personal técnico de las comunidades lingüísticas para las tareas de investigación y enseñanza de idiomas mayas.


h)         Establecer, promover y mantener centros de información, documentación, bibliotecas y otros de enseñanza-aprendizaje de las lenguas y cultura maya y coordinar programas de trabajo, con las universidades del país e instituciones especializadas en lingüística y ciencias sociales vinculadas a la materia.


i)          Rescatar los idiomas mayas enproceso de extinción


j)          Las demás que sean inherentes a su naturaleza”.  

         - Ley de Alfabetización (Decreto 43-86)  

Artículo 5. "Aspectos relevantes que contiene el proyecto de la nueva ley de alfabetización. Con base en lo anterior y para poder cumplir con los propósitos de esta nueva acción de alfabetización, se ha elaborado el presente proyecto de ley que someto a la consideración y aprobación del Organismo Legislativo y cuyos aspectos sustantivos son los siguientes:  (c) La responsabilidad compartida que tienen los diferentes sectores de la sociedad en el proceso de alfabetización nacional.  (d) La obligación que tiene el Ministro de Educación de ejecutar los programas que conduzcan a resolver los problemas de baja cobertura poblacional y deficiente calidad del sistema educativo. (e) La configuración en una estructura específica, tanto a nivel nacional como local, de la organización que tenga la responsabilidad de conducir a la alfabetización nacional, siguiendo los lineamientos que traza el artículo 75 de la Constitución Política de la república”.  

22.      Nicaragua  

         Constitución de Nicaragua

Article 11: “Spanish is the official language of the state.  The languages of the Communities of the Atlantic Coast shall also have official use in the cases established by law.”


Article 180: “Furthermore, it [the state] guarantees the preservation of their culture, languages, religion, and customs.”  

23.      Panama  

- Regimen Especial de la Comarca Kuna Yala (Ley 2 de 1938 -modificada por la Ley 99/98)  

Artículo 9: "Se entiende por cultura Kuna, sistema integrado y coherente de los valores, instituciones, historia, religión, lengua, costumbres y tradiciones que constituyen el fundamento identidad del pueblo Kuna, y que se manifiesta a  través de la filosofía, el arte y sistema socio político. Son creados y desarrollados por el hombre kuna a través de siglos y que forman parte de la cultura nacional y la enriquecen."


Artículo 40: "El Estado guarantiza el uso de nombres, apellidos en lenguas propias indígenas, para el cual facilitará los trámites correspondientes de inscripción, rectificación y cambios de nombres apellidos cuando soliciten los interesados en el Registro Civil”.  

- Constitución Política de la República de Panamá  

Artículo 84: “Las lenguas aborígenes serán objeto de especial estudio, conservación y divulgación y el Estado promoverá programas de alfabetización bilingüe en las comunidades indígenas”.  

24.      Paraguay  

Constitución Nacional de Paraguay  

Artículo 140: “De los idiomas. El Paraguay es un país pluricultural y bilingüe.  

Son idiomas oficiales el castellano y el guaraní.  La ley establecerá las modalidades de utilización de uno y otro.


Las lenguas indígenas, así como las de otras minorías, forman parte del patrimonio cultural de la Nación. “  

25.      Perú  

                   - Constitución Política del Perú  

Artículo 48: “Son idiomas oficiales el castellano y, en las zonas donde predominen, también lo son el quechua, el aimará y las demás lenguas aborígenes, según la ley”.  

Artículo 2(19): “Toda peruano tiene el derecho a usar su propio idioma ante cualquier autoridad mediante un intérprete”.  

                   - Resolución Ministerial No. 1218-85-ED  

Artículo 1(1): “Oficializar el alfabeto quechua y aimara, así como las normas ortografía y puntuación para la escritura quechua y aimara”.  

26.      Venezuela  

Constitución Política de la República de Venezuela  

Artículo 9: “El idioma oficial es el castellano. Los idiomas indígenas también son de uso oficial para los pueblos indígenas y deben ser respetados en todo el territorio de la República, por constituir patrimonio cultural de la Nación y de la humanidad”.


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