The 32nd edition of THE INDIGENOUS WORLD, published by the Copenhagen-based INTERNATIONAL WORKING GROUP FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS [IWGIA] is one of those publications I have difficulty getting my head around. Simply stated, sitting with the 640 pages large volume of the 2018 edition in my hands, I have to ask myself: How is it possible in this time and age of superficial and quickly digested news to publish such a document? How is it possible to do it year after year? And how is it possible to do it without compromising on quality?

The answer is probably rather simple: For 50 years, IWGIA has been run by people who are genuinely dedicated to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, and over the years, IWGIA has been able to establish a highly qualified and dedicated network of indigenous people’s organisations and individuals, who all contribute to the amazing knowledge printed on every one of the hundreds of pages forming the annual report. This year, the report presents 56 country reports and 13 reports on international processes. It is indeed, as stated by IWGIA:

“The Indigenous World is a one-of-a-kind documentation tool, that offers a comprehensive yearly overview of the developments indigenous peoples experience around the world. The book also serves as inspiration to raise global awareness of the rights of indigenous peoples, their struggles, their worldviews and their resilience. In this edition, 83 authors from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Arctic, Middle East and the Pacific line-up the main events impacting the lives of indigenous communities in 2017, making the book a go-to reference for everyone who wishes to be updated on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Download the report here: IWGIA-Indigenous-world-2018


Few readers will ever get through al of the pages. Probably most will do like I do – read the reports on the countries you know about in particular. I my case, Botswana is of interest, because I used to work for the UN in the country, and the many issues of violation of human rights of the San people by the government was certainly on my agenda. The report states:

“During 2017, indigenous peoples in Botswana continued to face difficulties in their efforts to remain on their land and to access to sufficient natural resources to sustain themselves. Freedom House noted in 2017 that the San continue to face discrimination and mistreatment. While communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) made some apparent progress in regaining their rights, San groups in other parts of Botswana were told by government or district councils that they had to leave their land and move to other places. The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Slumber Tsogwane, has reaffirmed the Botswana government’s position that it does not recognize any specific ethnic group as indigenous to the country.”


I have followed developments for indigenous groups in Myanmar ever since I edited a book by the Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner decades ago, about his travel on foot through the border areas of the country. Later I got involved with the development of democracy in Myanmar through my work with the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, and there is no way denying that the treatment of ethnic minorities is a critical part of democratic values and the protection of minorities in a democracy. The report states:

Myanmar’s diversity encompasses over 100 different ethnic groups. The Burmans make up an estimated 68% of Myanmar’s 51.5 million people. The country is divided into seven mainly Burman-dominated regions and seven ethnic states. The Burmese government refers to those groups generallyconsidered to be indigenous peoples as “ethnic nationalities”. This includes the Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Karenni, Chin, Kachin and Mon. However, there are more ethnic groups that are considered or see themselves as indigenous peoples, such as the Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Mru and many others.

“Myanmar has been ruled by a succession of Burman-dominated military regimes since the popularly-elected government was toppled in 1962. The general election held on 8 November 2015 saw Aung SanSuu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) unseat theUnion Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a landslide.The subsequent transfer of power took place peacefully and,after half a century of military-dominated rule, the new administration took office with a formal handover ceremony on 30 March 2016. The NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi as State Counsellor, has begun the process of “national reconciliation” in a delicate coexistence with the military, which retains 25% percent of unelected seats in the Hluttaw (House of Representatives), allowing it a veto over constitutional change. Myanmar voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, but has not signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and nor has it ratified ILO Convention No. 169. It is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), although it has thus far failed to take into account many of the CEDAW and CRC committees’ respective recommendations.”


With such a diversity of situations and challenges, it is not easy to conclude what the global state of indineous people’s rights is right now. However, IWGIA points to the following among others:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. This legendary quote accurately describes the stages that movements and social conflicts often go through and indigenous peoples’ struggle and resilience is no exception. While the quote’s origin remains uncertain, it provides a good image with which to sum up the events that impacted on indigenous peoples during 2017. The collection of events compiled in this book shows that indigenous peoples are meeting the highest ever recorded levels of criminalisation and violence. Again and again, the local insights in the book illustrate that indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territories and resources remain at the core of social and environmental conflict, which is currently on the rise across the globe. As the world moves fast to explore and exploit new territories and meet increasing consumption demands, indigenous peoples are left largely unprotected on the frontline, defending their lands.”

“Within the UN context, the coordination of indigenous peoples’ engagement with the SDGs moved forward in 2017. The Global coordinating Committee (GCC) of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group on Sustainable Development (IPMG) was established in April, involving 63 organisations as affiliate members. The efforts made by IPMG in 2017 have resulted in improved cooperation, collaboration and participation of indigenous peoples in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The inclusion of indigenous peoples in the 2017 Ministerial Declaration significantly contributes to their further visibility and hopefully places more attention on them in the implementation of the SDGs. Additionally, the Ministerial Declaration also repeated the need for data disaggregation by ethnicity, which is critical for indigenous peoples to be visible in monitoring the achievements and gaps in the implementation of the SDGs.”

“First they ignore you. Overall, 2017 was shaped by the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), an endpoint of more than 20 years of discussion at the United Nations. The anniversary offered a window to take stock of and assess existing gaps in the implementation of the UNDRIP. Many of the articles in this edition showcase the different ways in which the anniversary was commemorated around the world. “In spite of the commitment to the UNDRIP, reiterated by UN Member States, the implementation situation of UNDRIP is one of limited progress,” concluded the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, in July 2017.”

“Then they fight you. Indigenous peoples are one of the marginalised groups that are most exposed to violence and suppression for asserting their rights. Rising tensions between States and indigenous peoples are reaching a tipping point and The Indigenous World 2018 adds to the documented records highlighting an increase in attacks on and killings of indigenous peoples while defending their lands. The escalation of violence recorded in 2017 and its increased visibility has placed indigenous peoples right at the centre of a global conversation, pushing for a paradigm shift based on the recognition of their rights. In this sense, last year can be read as the beginning of an era that offers substantial opportunities for the world to change its relationship with indigenous communities, and their ancestral land and identities.”

“Then you win. Some encouraging developments in this edition also show that the indigenous movement has placed itself at the core of a
paradigm shift, pushing for a more inclusive and sustainable development. Indigenous peoples, in partnership with civil society and other
human rights defenders, have strengthened their resilience on all fronts, increased their capacity to advocate for their demands and to lead a global wake-up call to respect and abide by indigenous traditional knowledge and worldviews.”