Standard 6

Indigenous Peoples

SES Guidance Note

Additional Resources


Indigenous peoples, as distinct people, are equal to all other peoples. Indigenous individuals and indigenous peoples or communities are entitled to enjoy and exercise their human rights without discrimination. Indigenous peoples possess collective human rights which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and development as peoples. The special relationship that indigenous peoples have with their lands, territories, resources, and Cultural Heritage is integral to their physical, spiritual and cultural survival.

The promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially concerning their lands, territories, resources, traditional livelihoods, tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage, are necessary to achieve UNDP's goals of advancing human rights, respecting indigenous peoples identities and improving their well-being.


  • To recognize and foster full respect for indigenous peoples' human rights as recognized under Applicable Law, including but not limited to their rights to self-determination, their lands, resources and territories, traditional livelihoods and cultures. 
  • To support countries in their promotion and protection of indigenous peoples' rights, through implementation of domestic laws, policies, and project activities consistent with the State's human rights obligations. 
  • To ensure that UNDP projects that may impact indigenous peoples are designed in a spirit of partnership with them, with their full and effective participation, with the objective of securing their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) where their rights, lands, territories, resources, traditional livelihoods may be affected. 
  • To promote greater control and management by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them, including their lands, resources and territories, ensuring alignment of projects with indigenous peoples' distinct vision and self-identified development priorities. 
  • To avoid adverse impacts on the rights of indigenous peoples, their lands, territories, resources, to mitigate and remedy residual impacts, and to ensure provision of just and equitable benefits and opportunities for indigenous peoples in a culturally appropriate manner.


Scope of Application

The applicability of this Standard is established during the social and environmental screening, categorization and assessment process. This Standard applies to all projects that may affect the human rights, lands, natural resources, territories, Cultural Heritage and/or traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples regardless of whether (i) the project is located within or outside of the lands and territories inhabited by the indigenous peoples in question, (ii) a title is possessed by the affected indigenous peoples over the lands and territories in question, or (iii) the indigenous peoples are recognized as indigenous peoples by the country in question.



Respect for domestic and international law: UNDP does not participate in a project that violates the human rights of indigenous peoples as affirmed by Applicable Law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).1 UNDP ensures that social and environmental assessments for projects involving indigenous peoples include an assessment of their substantive rights, as affirmed in Applicable Law.

Identification of indigenous peoples: There is no one universally accepted definition of indigenous peoples. For purposes of this Standard, "indigenous peoples" refers to distinct collectives, regardless of the local, national and regional terms applied to them,2 who satisfy any of the more commonly accepted definitions of indigenous peoples.3 These definitions include, among other factors, consideration of whether the collective: has pursued its own concept and way of human development in a given socio-economic, political and historical context; has tried to maintain its distinct group identity, languages, traditional beliefs, customs, laws and institutions, worldviews and ways of life; has exercised control and management of the lands, territories and natural resources that it has historically used and occupied, with which it has a special connection, and upon which its physical and cultural survival as indigenous peoples typically depends; self-identifies as indigenous peoples; and/or pre-dates those who colonized the lands within which the collective was originally found or of which it was then dispossessed. When considering the factors above, no single one shall be dispositive. Indigenous peoples include those indigenous peoples who have lost access to lands, territories or resources because of forced severance, conflict, government resettlement, dispossession, natural disasters, or incorporation of lands into urban areas, but that still maintain collective attachment to those lands, territories and/or resources (regardless of their present physical location).

Land, territories and resources: UNDP projects recognize that indigenous peoples have collective rights to own, use, and develop and control the lands, resources and territories that they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired, including lands and territories for which they do not yet possess title. Project activities that may undermine or inadvertently weaken such rights are avoided. If the project involves activities that are contingent on establishing legally recognized rights to lands, resources, or territories that indigenous peoples have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired, then an action plan is developed to outline the steps and timetable for achieving legal recognition of such ownership, occupation, or usage (see paragraph 16 below).4 In such cases, UNDP, with the consent of the relevant authority or implementing partner, supports such activities aimed at delimiting, demarcating and titling such lands, resources, and territories with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.5

Legal personality:6 UNDP recognizes that indigenous peoples' right to legal personality is critical to the protection, respect and fulfillment of their human rights. If a UNDP project involves activities that are contingent on the recognition of such legal personality, and such legal personality is not provided for in national laws consistent with the norms, values and customary laws of the peoples concerned, the action plan (see paragraph 16 below) outlines the steps and timetables for securing such recognition. In such cases, UNDP, with the consent of the relevant agency or implementing partner, supports such activities aimed at achieving such recognition.

Involuntary resettlement: No project supported by UNDP will result in the forcible removal of indigenous peoples from their lands and territories.

Relocation: No relocation of indigenous peoples will take place without the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous peoples concerned and only after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return. Without prejudice to this requirement, for further guidance see the Standard 5: Displacement and Resettlement.

Full, effective and meaningful participation and FPIC: At the earliest stage of project conceptualization and design, and iteratively throughout implementation and closure, mechanisms are identified and implemented to guarantee the meaningful, effective and informed participation of indigenous peoples on all matters. Culturally appropriate consultation are carried out with the objective of achieving agreement and FPIC is ensured on any matters that may affect—positively or negatively—the indigenous peoples’ rights and interests, lands, territories (whether titled or untitled to the people in question), resources, traditional livelihoods, and/or tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage. This includes any potential relocation and activities proposing the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, forest, water or other resources on lands and territories traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired by indigenous peoples, including lands and territories for which they do not yet possess title. Project activities that may adversely affect the existence, value, use or enjoyment of indigenous lands, resources or territories are not conducted unless agreement has been achieved through the FPIC process.7 8

Documentation: Engagement processes with indigenous peoples require at a minimum documentation of (i) a mutually accepted process to carry out good faith negotiations, (ii) outcomes of good faith negotiations, including all agreements reached as well as disagreements and dissenting views, and (iii) efforts aimed at accommodating indigenous peoples' expressed interest and concerns in the final programming design.

Prior social and environmental impact study: All projects that may impact the rights, lands, resources and territories of indigenous peoples require prior review and/or assessment of potential impacts and benefits.9 Such reviews and assessments will be conducted transparently and with the full, effective and meaningful participation of the indigenous peoples concerned. The perspective of the indigenous peoples concerned is a critical starting point for impact assessment and the indigenous peoples concerned will have ample opportunities as early as possible to participate in the assessment and development of avoidance and mitigation measures. Indigenous and traditional knowledge is a valuable resource for identifying and addressing potential risks, including hazards and disaster risks, and should be incorporated throughout the project cycle. Projects with potentially significant adverse impacts require a full social and environmental assessment conducted by an independent and capable entity.10 Assess all potential direct, indirect, social, cultural, spiritual environmental impacts on indigenous peoples, including potential impacts on their rights, lands, territories, and resources.11 Review of all substantive rights, property interests, tenurial arrangements, and traditional resource usage may be required. Avoid adverse impacts on indigenous peoples to the maximum extent possible, including exploration of alternative programming strategies, designs and locations or consideration of not proceeding with the activities. Where avoidance of adverse impacts is not possible, minimize and mitigate residual impacts in a culturally appropriate manner per the mitigation hierarchy.

Appropriate benefits: UNDP ensures that arrangements, evidenced in a documented outcome, are concluded with indigenous peoples for the equitable sharing of benefits to be derived by the project in a manner that is culturally appropriate and inclusive giving full consideration to options preferred by the indigenous peoples concerned. The provision of compensation and benefits takes into account the institutions, rules, and customs of affected indigenous peoples and may occur on a collective basis with mechanisms for effective distribution of benefits to all members of affected groups, as far as practical. Indigenous peoples affected by project activities should share equitably in benefits derived from any commercial development of indigenous peoples' lands, territories or resources or from the use or development of indigenous peoples' Cultural Heritage.

Support rights implementation: UNDP projects are conducted in a manner consistent with UNDP's commitment to support countries to implement their duties and obligations under domestic and international law regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, including relevant treaty obligations. Without prejudice to paragraphs 6 and 7 above, whenever possible, and at the request of the relevant government, projects will include activities that support legal reform of domestic laws to strengthen compliance with the country's duties and obligations under international law with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples, and these steps and timetable are included in the Indigenous Peoples Plan.


Special considerations
  • Gender: While respecting the norms, values and customs of the indigenous peoples and communities concerned, UNDP ensures that projects which may affect or involve indigenous peoples pay particular attention to the rights and special needs of women and girls, do not discriminate against women and girls and ensure that women and girls have equal opportunities to participate and benefit.
  • Vulnerable and marginalized indigenous peoples: Particular attention is paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, youth, children, persons with disabilities, including consideration of special measures to improve their participation in decision-making and their general well-being.
  • Uncontacted and voluntarily isolated indigenous peoples: Where projects may directly or indirectly impact uncontacted or voluntarily isolated indigenous peoples, their lands, resources, territories or their way of life, this Standard requires that such projects respect and protect the right of these peoples to remain in isolation and to live freely in that condition according to their culture. Such projects include the appropriate necessary measures to (i) safeguard the collective and individual physical, territorial, and cultural integrity of these peoples, (ii) recognize, respect and protect their lands and territories, environment, health and culture, and (iii) prohibit and therefore avoid contact with them as a direct or indirect consequence of the project. Where relevant, UNDP supports countries to regularize the lands and territories of these peoples and establish buffer zones, to limit access to such territories, and to develop monitoring and emergency response measures, making avoidance of contact a priority.
  • Cultural Heritage: UNDP respects, protects, conserves and does not take or appropriate the cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent. If indigenous peoples affected by project activities hold the location, characteristics or traditional use of Cultural Heritage in secret, measures to maintain confidentiality are put in place.12 Without prejudice to this requirement, Standard 4: Cultural Heritage applies where Cultural Heritage of indigenous peoples may be affected by a project.

Indigenous Peoples Plan: If it is determined that the proposed project may affect the rights, lands, resources or territories of indigenous peoples, an "Indigenous Peoples Plan" (IPP) or "Indigenous Peoples Plan Framework" is elaborated and included in the project documentation.13 This plan is developed in accordance with the effective and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and in accordance with UNDP Guidelines.14 The IPP is integrated into the design and implementation of the project. It must have a level of detail proportional to the complexity of the nature and scale of the proposed project and its potential impacts on indigenous peoples and their lands, territories, resources, traditional livelihoods, and/or Cultural Heritage. The IPP identifies potential risks and impacts, risk avoidance and mitigation measures, and specifies measures for provision of culturally appropriate benefits, continued consultation and participation processes, grievance procedures, monitoring and evaluation procedures, and a budget and financial plan for implementing agreed measures. Where programming activities are designed solely to benefit indigenous peoples, a separate action plan may not be required, provided that programming documentation addresses the above elements. In no case shall project activities that may adversely affect indigenous peoples, including the existence, value, use or enjoyment of their lands, resources or territories take place before the action plan is carried out.

Monitoring: With the meaningful collaboration and contributions of indigenous peoples, methods are developed and implemented for verifying and reporting that the project has been designed and implemented in a manner consistent with this Standard. Transparent participatory monitoring arrangements are put in place wherein indigenous peoples will jointly monitor project implementation with the implementing partner.



(1) This requirement is consistent with UNDP's obligations as per Article 42 of UNDRIP, which provides that the "United Nations, its bodies, including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and specialized agencies, including at the country level, and States shall promote respect for and full application of the provisions of this Declaration and follow up the effectiveness of this Declaration." See UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, available at:

(2) For example, "tribal people", "first peoples", "scheduled tribes", "pastoralist", "hill people."

(3) Including but not limited to those provided for in the Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO Convention No. 169), the Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations (the "Martínez Cobo Study"), and the Working Paper on the Concept of "Indigenous People" prepared by the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

(4) Legal recognition as discussed in paragraphs 6 and 7 is not a pre-requisite to the approval or implementation of all project activities. However, the term “contingent" in these two paragraphs is to be understood to mean where in the absence of such recognition and as a result of implementation of project activities there is a likelihood of adverse impacts to the rights, lands, resources and territories of indigenous peoples.

(5) See the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT)

(6) Legal personality of an indigenous people is not to be confused with the identification of indigenous peoples in paragraph 5. Legal personality refers to whether an individual or an entity that is legally formed and recognized under Applicable Law has the rights to sue, be sued and to contract. The lack of legal personality of indigenous peoples may prevent them from entering into binding agreements or holding title to lands. A group may be recognized by a State as an indigenous people, but still lack formal recognition of its 'legal personality' under the laws of that State.

(7) UNDP seeks to provide technical and financial support to the indigenous peoples concerned in order to increase the awareness of their rights and strengthen their participation in accordance with their own norms, values and customs and through representatives designated by them.

(8) To guide in the implementation of this requirement, UNDP will encourage Implementing Partners and relevant authorities to refer to the SES Guidance Note Standard 6 Indigenous Peoples. 

(9) For projects without adverse impacts on rights, lands, resources and territories of indigenous peoples but which still affect indigenous peoples, UNDP ensures that such projects are reviewed to identify any potential other impacts. Reviews may take the form of a limited social and environmental impact assessment, social assessment, or mitigation and management plan.

(10) Where the American Convention on Human Rights is applicable, such study will be conducted by an independent and capable entity as per the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This requirement is consistent with the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights interpreting the American Convention. See Saramaka People v. Suriname. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of 28 November 2007, Series C No. 172, at para. 129, available at:

(11) See Convention on Biological Diversity: The Akwé: Kon Voluntary Guidelines for the Conduct of Cultural, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments Regarding Developments Proposed to Take Place on, or which are Likely to Impact on, Sacred Sites and on Lands and Waters Traditionally Occupied or Used by Indigenous and Local Communities (CBD Decision VII/16). The Guidelines provide advice on how to incorporate cultural, environmental (including biodiversity-related), and social considerations of indigenous and local communities into new or existing impact-assessment procedures, to ensure appropriate development. They support the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities in screening, scoping and development planning exercises, taking into account their traditional knowledge, innovations and practices.

(12) See Convention on Biological Diversity: The Tkarihwaié:ri Code of Ethical Conduct to Ensure Respect for the Cultural and Intellectual Heritage of Indigenous and Local Communities (CBD Decision X/42).

(13) An Indigenous Peoples Planning Framework may be required in cases where specific activities and locations have not yet been determined.

(14) See the UNDP SES Guidance Note Standard 6 Indigenous Peoples.