Article XV.        Right to self government  

1.     Indigenous peoples have the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, spiritual and cultural development , and accordingly, they have the right to autonomy or self-government with regard to inter alia culture, religion, education, information, media, health, housing, employment, social welfare, economic activities, land and resource management, the environment and entry by nonmembers; and to determine ways and means for financing these autonomous functions.  

2.     Indigenous peoples have the right to participate without discrimination, if they so decide, in all decision-making, at all levels, with regard to matters that might affect their rights, lives and destiny.  They may do so directly or through representatives chosen by them in accordance with their own procedures.  They shall also have the right to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions, as well as equal opportunities to access and participate in all state institutions and fora.




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

Article 3: "Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."


Article 4: "Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State."


Article 19: "Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions."


Article 20: "Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, through procedures determined by them, in devising legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. States shall obtain the free and informed consent of the peoples concerned before adopting and implementing such measures."


Article 31: "Indigenous peoples, as a specific form of exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, including culture, religion, education, information, media, health, housing, employment, social welfare, economic activities, land and resources management, environment and entry by non-members, as well as ways and means for financing these autonomous functions."  

2.        American Convention on Human Rights (OAS 1969)  

Article 23(1): “Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities: (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections...(c) to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country.”  

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

B.         Principles and goals


-Para. 26(m): "Recognize and support indigenous people in their pursuit of economic and social development, with full respect for their identity, traditions, forms of social organization and cultural values;"

C.        Commitments


Commitment 4(f): "Recognize and respect the right of indigenous people to maintain and develop their identity, culture and interests, support their aspirations for social justice and provide an environment that enables them to participate in the social, economic and political life of their country;"


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


Chapter II. Eradication of Poverty.


-Para. C(35): "Governments, in partnership with all other development actors, in particular with people living in poverty and their organizations, should cooperate to meet the basic human needs of all, including people living in poverty and vulnerable groups, by:...(e) Taking particular actions to enhance the productive capacities of indigenous people, ensuring their full and equal access to social services and their participation in the elaboration and implementation of policies that affect their development, with full respect for their cultures, languages, traditions and forms of social organizations, as well as their own initiatives;"


Chapter IV. Social Integration  

-Para. D(75): "Governmental responses to special needs of social groups should include. (g) Promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous people, and empowering them to make choices that enable them to retain their cultural identity while participating in national, economic and social life, with full respect for their cultural values, languages, traditions and forms of social organization;"  

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

“...the State take the measures necessary to ensure the meaningful and effective participation of indigenous representatives in the decision-making processes about development and other issues which affect them and their cultural survival. "Meaningful" in this sense necessarily implies that indigenous representatives have full access to the information which will facilitate their participation.”  


5.         Argentina  

                    Ley Integral del Aborigen (Ley 426)  

Artículo 2: "El respeto a los modos de organización tradicional no obstará a que en forma voluntaria y ejerciendo su derecho a la autodeterminación, las comunidades aborígenes adopten las formas de organización establecidas por las leyes vigentes”.  

Artículo 4: "Las comunidades aborígenes podrán aplicar para regular su convivencia, sus normas consuetudinarias en todo aquello que no sea incompatible con los principios del orden público”.  

6.         Brazil  

                    Statuto do Indios (Ley No. 6.001 19-XII-1973)  

Artículo 57:  "La aplicación de sanciones penales o disciplinarias por parte del grupo indígena a sus miembros de acuerdo a sus propias instituciones deberá ser respetado, mientras las sanciones no sean crueles o degradantes. La pena de muerte sea prohibida en cualquier circunstancia”.  

7.        Canada  

                    - Charlottetown Constitutional Agreement  

"Constitutional commitment by the federal and provincial governments and the Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples in the various regions and communities of Canada to negotiate in good faith with the objective of concluding agreements elaborating the relationship between Aboriginal governments and the other orders of governments.  The negotiations would focus on the implementation of the rights of self government, including issues of jurisdiction, lands and resources, and economic and fiscal arrangements.  Self- government negotiations should take into consideration different circumstances of the various aboriginal people.”  

"The exercise of the rights of self-government includes the authority of the duly constituted legislative bodies of Aboriginal peoples, each within its own jurisdiction:


a)         to safeguard and develop their languages, cultures, economic identities, institutions and traditions; and


b)         to develop, maintain and strengthen their relationship with their lands, waters and environment."


"A law passed by a government of Aboriginal peoples, or an assertion of its authority based on the inherent  right provision may not be inconsistent with those laws which are essential to the preservation of peace, order and good government of Canada.”  

           - Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,  Vol 12 Recommendations 1,  

“The right of self-determination is vested in all the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The right finds its foundation in emerging norms of international law and basic principles of public morality. By virtue of this right, Aboriginal peoples are entitled to negotiate freely the terms of their with Canada and to establish governmental structures that they consider appropriate for their needs.”




“All governments in Canada recognize that Aboriginal peoples are nations vested with the right of self-determination.”


“In addition, Aboriginal peoples possess the inherent right of self-government within Canada as a matter of Canadian constitutional law. This right is inherent in the sense that it finds its ultimate origins in the collective lives and traditions of Aboriginal peoples themselves rather than the Crown or Parliament.  More specifically, it stems from the original status of Aboriginal peoples as independent and sovereign nations in the territories they occupied, as this status was recognized and given effect in the numerous treaties, alliances and other relations maintained with the incoming French and British Crowns.”


Article 8


“The inherent right of Aboriginal self-government is recognized and affirmed in section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as an Aboriginal and treaty-protected right.  The inherent right is thus entrenched in the Canadian constitution, providing a basis for Aboriginal governments to function as one of three distinct orders of government in Canada.”


          Article 9


“The constitutional right of self-government does not supersede the right of self-determination or take precedence over it. Rather, it is available to Aboriginal peoples who wish to take advantage of it, in addition to their right of self-determination, treaty rights and any other rights that they enjoy now or negotiate in the future. In other words, the constitutional right of self-government is one of a range of voluntary options available to Aboriginal Peoples.”  

- Nunavut Agreement,  

Article 2 General Provisions, 2.12.2  

“Where there is any inconsistency or conflict between any federal, territorial and local government laws, and the Agreement, the Agreement shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency or conflict.”  

                    - Nisga’a Agreement  

“The Nisga'a Nation has the right to self-government, and the authority to make laws, as set out in this Agreement.”  

8.         Colombia  

                    Constitución Política de Colombia  

Artículo 171: "El Senado de la República estará integrado por cien miembros elegidos en circunscripción nacional.  

Habrá un número adicional de dos senadores elegidos en circunscripción nacional especial por comunidades indígenas.


Los ciudadanos colombianos que se encuentren o residan en el exterior podrán sufragar en las elecciones para Senado de la República.  La circunscripción especial para la elección de senadores por las comunidades indígenas se regirá por el sistema de cuociente electoral.


Los representantes de las comunidades indígenas que aspiren a integrar el Senado de la República, deberán haber ejercido un cargo de autoridad tradicional en su respectiva comunidad o haber sido líder de una organización indígena, calidad que se acreditará mediante certificado de la respectiva organización, refrendado por el ministro de gobierno."


Artículo 176: "La Cámara de Representantes se elegirá en circunscripciones territoriales y circunscripciones especiales.  Habrá dos representantes por cada circunscripción territorial y uno más por cada doscientos cincuenta mil habitantes o fracción mayor de ciento veinticinco mil que tengan en exceso sobre los primeros doscientos cincuenta mil.


Para la elección de representantes a la Cámara, cada departamento y el Distrito Capital de Bogotá conformarán una circunscripción territorial.  La ley podrá establecer una circunscripción especial para asegurar la participación en la Cámara de Representantes de los grupos étnicos y de las minorías políticas y de los colombianos residentes en el exterior. Mediante esta circunscripción se podrá elegir hasta cinco representantes”.


Artículo 285: "Son entidades territoriales los departamentos, los distritos, los municipios y los territorios indígenas”.


Artículo 287: "Las entidades territoriales gozan de autonomía para la gestión de sus intereses, y dentro los límites de la Constitución y de la ley.  En tal virtud tendrán los siguientes derechos: 1. Gobernarse por autoridades propias.  2. Ejercer las competencias que les correspondan.  3. Administrar sus recursos y establecer los tributos necesarios para el cumplimiento de sus funciones”.


Artículo 329: "La conformación de las entidades territoriales indígena se hará con sujeción a lo dispuesto un la Ley Orgánica de Ordenamiento Territorial, y su delimitación se hará por el Gobierno Nacional, con participación de los representantes de las comunidades indígenas, previo concepto de la Comisión de Ordenamiento Territorial.  Los resguardos son de propiedad colectiva y no enajenable".


Artículo 330: "De conformidad con las leyes, los territorios indígenas estarán gobernados por consejos conformados y reglamentados según los usos y costumbres de sus comunidades y ejerecerán las siguientes funciones:


1.         Velar por la aplicación de las normas legales sobre usos del suelo y poblamiento de sus territorios;


2.         Diseñar las políticas y los planes y programas de desarrollo económico y social dentro de su territorio, en armonía con el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo.


3.         Proveer las inversiones públicas en sus territorios y velar por su debida ejecución.


4.         Percibir y distribuir recursos naturales.


5.         Velear por los recursos naturales. 


6.         Coordinar los programas y proyectos promovidos por las diferentes comunidades en su territorio.


7.         Colaborar con el mantenimiento del orden público dentro de su territorio de acuerdo con las instrucciones y disposiciones del Gobierno Nacional


8.         Representar a los territorios ante el Gobierno Nacional y las demás entidades a las cuales se integren; y


9.         Las que les señales la Constitución y la ley”.  

                   - Ley 31 de 1967  

Artículo 7: “En los juicios penales a miembros de comunidades indígenas se deben tomar en consideración las costumbres y normas de estos grupos en materia penal”.  

9.        Costa Rica  

                    Ley No. 6.172  

Artículo 2: "Las comunidades indígenas tienen plena capacidad jurídica para adquirir derechos y contraer obligaciones de toda clase.  No son entidades estatales.


Artículo 4: "Las reservas serán regidas por los indígenas en sus estructuras comunitarias tradicionales o de las leyes de la República que los rijan, bajo la coordinación y asesoría de CONAI”.  

10.      Ecuador  

         Anteproyecto Ley de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (1988)  

Artículo 36: "En las nacionalidades o en los diversos pueblos de la nacionalidad quichua podrá establecerse una Gobernación Indígena, sí así lo demandan la mayoría de las comunas o centros indígenas que la componen”.  

Artículo 37: "Los Gobernadores serán designados, en ejércicio de la autodeterminación, de acuerdo al procedimiento adoptado en cada caso específico, por los propios pueblos indígenas, observando sus costumbres y tradicional forma comunitaria en la toma de decisiones. EI Estado garantizará el proceso de designación y respetará el resultado. Una reglamentación formulada por la nacionalidad respectiva, ratificada por la Función Ejecutiva mediante Acuerdo Ministerial, regulará el procedimiento de designación, los períodos y atribuciones de los Gobernadores”.  

11.       United States  

- Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25, USC §450a(a)  

Declaring it to be the policy of the United States to assure "maximum Indian participation in the direction of educational as well as other federal services to Indian communities so as to render such services more responsive to the needs of those communities."  

- Memorandum for the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on the Subject of Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, William J. Clinton, 1994, Book 1 at 800-803:  


”The Department [of Justice] is committed to strengthening and assisting Indian tribal governments in their development and to promoting Indian self-governance.  In every relationship between our people, our first principle must be to respect your right to remain who you are and to live the way you wish to live.  And I believe the best way to do that is to acknowledge the unique government-to government relationship we have enjoyed over time.  Today I reaffirm our commitment to self-determination for tribal governments.”  

         - Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. (5 Pet. 1,2,16 (1831)  

declaring that Cherokee Nation is a "distinct political society, separated from others, capable of managing its own affairs and governing itself”);  

- United States v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375 (1886)  

finding inherent tribal sovereignty includes the power to “regulat[e]  their internal and social relations”;  

- Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martínez, 436 U.S. 49, 54-55 (1978)  

finding inherent tribal sovereignty includes the power to prescribe laws for their community and enforce these laws against their members;  

- United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 323-24 (1978)  

holding that right to create tribal law and hold tribal members accountable to it is inherent to all sovereign tribal communities.  


Presidential Memo of January 18, 2001. “Guidance for U.S. to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Commission’s Working Group on the UN Draft Declaration on Indigenous Rights and to the OAS Working Group on the similar OAS Draft Declaration, and the Preparatory Meetings on the UN World Conference Against Racism…”  U.S. Secretary of State, Washington D.C.


The Us Delegation should support use of the term “internal self-determination” in both the UN and OAS declarations on Indigenous Right, defined as follows:


“Indigenous peoples have a right of internal self-determination by virtue of that right, they may negotiate their political statue within the framework of the existing nation-state and are free to puersue their economic, social, and cultural development.  Indigenous People, in exercising their right of internal self-determination have the internal right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their local affairs, including determination of membership, culture, language, religion, education, information, media, helath, housing, employment, social welfare, maintenance of community safety, family relations, economic activities, lands and resources management, environment and entry by non-members, as well as ways and means for financing these autonomous functions.”


This language combines aspects fo articles 3 and 31 of the current draft of the UN declaration.


Because the term “internal self-determination” is carefully defined in the text, it is not necessary to include language in the text stating what the term does not mean.  Instead, the US delegation to both the UN and OAS working groups on the indigenous declarations will read a prefared statement that expresses the US understanding of the term “internal se;f-determination” and indicates that it does not include a right of independence or permanent sovereignty over natural resources.


This statement enable the US to state its undertanding of the article on internal self-determination.  The statement is intended to be read by the delegation, and is not for inclusion in the declaration or any related document.  The text of the statement is a follow:


Under United States domestic law, the US recognizes indian tribes as political entities with inherent powers of self-government.  In this domestic context, self-determination means promoting tribal self-government and autonomy over a broad range of internal and local affairs similar to those rights articulated in article 31 of the current draft of the United Nations (article 31 of the current draft of the United Nations (article 15 of the Organization of American States) draft declaration on indigenous rights.  While the US domestic concept of self-determination is similar to the rights articulated in the draft declaration.  It is not necessarily synonymous with more general understandings of self-determination under international law.


Generally, under international law, self-determination means the full enjoyment and free exercise of civil and political rights in a representative, democratic government.  More espicifically, however the United States has historically understood this term, as enunciated in the United Nations charter and common articles 1(1) of the covenants, to mean the right of all “peoples” to choose their political status, including the right to choose independence, among other possibilities; and to exercise permanent sovereignty over natural resources.


In an effort to harmonize US domestic and foreign policy on the right of self-determination for indigenous groups, we have considered the views of our indigenous representatives, other governments, and scholars, including the views that 1) self-determination is an evolving concept, 2) self-determination includes both and external and internal aspect and that the latter would apply to groups within existing states, 3) self-determination is limited by the principle of territorial integrity and therefore must be exercised within the existing state, 4) self-determination as articulated in the draft declaration is specifically limited by article 45 (article 26) protecting the territorial integrity of existing nation states.


Although self-determination may be and evolving concept under international law and although the draft declaration may contain limitations on the exercise of self-determination to protect the territorial integrity of the existing state, it is the position of the United States that the draft declaration should be more explicit with regard to the civil and political rights enjoyed by indigenous peoples, thus, the united States would be able to endores the concept of self-determination in the declartation if the declaration itself specifically characterized the right as one of “internal self-determination”.  The term “internal self-determination” would include those rights articulated in article 31 (article 15) and thus be consistent with US domestic law but would not include the rights of independence or permanent sovereignty over natural resources with the understanding that this declartation sets forth the civil and political rights enjoyed by indigenous groups, the US can also support the use of the term “indigenous peoples” in this declaration.  

12.      Guatemala  

- Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (1995)  

Article IV:”A.Constitutional framework  


The Government of Guatemala undertakes to promote a reform of the Constitution in order to define and characterize the Guatemalan nation as being of national unity, multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual.


B. Local indigenous communities and authorities


1.         Recognition is accorded to the importance the Maya and other indigenous communities have had and continue to have in the political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual spheres. Their cohesion and dynamism have enabled the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples to preserve and develop their culture and way of life, despite the discrimination to which they have been subjected.


2.         Bearing in mind the constitutional commitment of the State to recognize, respect and promote these forms of organization which are peculiar to the indigenous communities, recognition is accorded to the role of the community authorities that were constituted in accordance with the customary norms of the communities, in the management of their affairs.  

3.         Recognizing the role of the communities, within the framework of municipal autonomy, in exercising the right of indigenous peoples to determine their own development priorities, particularly in the fields of education, health, culture and the infrastructure, the Government undertakes to strengthen the capacity of such communities in this area.  

4.         To this end, and in order to promote the participation of the indigenous communities in the decision-making process in all matters which affect them the Government shall promote a reform of the Municipal Code.


5.         That reform shall be promoted in accordance with the conclusions adopted by the commission on reform and participation, established in section D, paragraph 4, of this part in the following areas, within the framework of municipal autonomy and the legal provisions granting indigenous communities the right to manage their internal affairs in accordance with their customary norms, as mentioned in section E, paragraph 3, of this part:


(a) Definition of the status and legal capacity of indigenous communities and their authorities constituted in accordance with traditional norms;


(b) Definition of the modalities concerning respect for customary law and all matters related to the habitat in the discharge of municipal functions, taking into consideration, where necessary, the situation of linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity of the municipalities;


(c) Definition of the modalities for promoting the equitable distribution of government expenditure, including the percentage of the State's general budget of regular revenue which is transferred annually to the municipalities, among the communities, indigenous or non-indigenous, that make up the municipality, strengthening the capacity of those communities to manage resources and to be the instruments of their own development; and


(d) Definition of the modalities for communities to join together in the defence of their rights and interests and the conclusion of agreements for the design and implementation of communal and regional development projects.


C.        Regionalization


Taking account of the advisability of having a regional administration based on far-reaching decentralization and deconcentration, the pattern of which reflects economic, social, cultural, linguistic and environmental criteria, the Government undertakes to regionalize the administration of the educational, health and cultural services of the indigenous peoples on the basis of linguistic criteria; in addition, it undertakes to facilitate the effective participation of community representatives in the management of education and culture at the local level in order to guarantee efficiency and relevance.”  

13.      Mexico  

                    - Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos  

Artículo 4: “En los juicios y procedimientos agrarios en que aquellos sean parte, se tomarán en cuenta sus prácticas y costumbres jurídicas en los términos que establezca la ley”.  

         - Constitución Política del Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca  

Artículo 138 Bis A: ”La jurisdicción indígena se ejercerá por las autoridades comunitarias de acuerdo con los usos y costumbres de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas, dentro del marco del orden jurídico vigente y en los términos que determine la ley reglamentaria del artículo 16”.     

- Ley de derechos de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas del Estado de Oaxaca  

Artículo 8: “En el marco del orden jurídico vigente el Estado respetará los límites de los territorios de los pueblos y las comunidades indígenas dentro de los cuales ejercerán la autonomía que esta ley les reconoce. La autonomia de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas se ejercerá a nivel del municipio, de las agencias municipales, agencias de policía o de las asociaciones integradas por varios municipios entre sí, comunidades entre sí o comunidades municipales”.  

Artículo 9: “En materia de conflictos agrarios en tierras de pueblos y comunidades indígenas, el Estado por conducto de la Junta de Conciliación Agraria del Estado de Oaxaca en consenso con las autoridades municipales y comunitarias y las asociaciones de comunidades y pueblos indígenas, promoverá la conciliación en los términos del artículo 16 sexto párrafo y 90 bis de la Constitución Política local y de la Ley Orgánica de la junta mencionada”


Artículo 10: “Cada pueblo o comunidad indígena tiene el derecho social a darse con autonomía la organización social y política acorde con sus sistemas normativos internos en los términos de la Constitución Política del  Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca; la Ley Orgánica Municipal, los artículo 17, 109 a 125 del Código de Instituciones Políticas y Procesos Electorales del Estado de Oaxaca, y de esta Ley”.


Artículo 12: “Las autoridades municipales respetarán la autonomía de las  comunidades indígenas que formen parte de municipios no indígenas. En caso de disenso el Estado, por conducto de la Procuraduría para la Defensa del Indígena, buscará la concertación y la convivencia plural”.


Artículo 28: “El Estado de Oaxaca reconoce la existencia de sistemas normativos internos de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas con características propias y específicas en cada pueblo, comunidad y municipio del Estado, basados en sus tradiciones ancestrales y que se han transmitido oralmente por generaciones, enriqueciéndose y adaptándose con el paso del tiempo a diversas circunstancias. Por tanto en el Estado dichos sistemas se consideran actualmente vigentes y en uso”.  

Artículo 34: “Las decisiones tomadas por las autoridades de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas con base en sus sistemas normativos internos y dentro de sus ámbitos jurisdiccionales, serán compatibilizados y convalidadas por las autoridades estatales respectivas, cuando se sometan a su consideración, siempre y cuando no contravengan la Constitución General de la República”


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