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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2016

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated on August 9 each year, since 1995, to recognize the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva in 1982. This year the Day is devoted to the right to education of indigenous peoples.

Education is essential for the self-development of indigenous people and to empower them to fight domination and the consequences of such domination. Education is vital to the survival of indigenous groups. Hence the right to education for indigenous people is as important with respect to basic and early child education as it is to adult formal or informal and even technical education. To this end, access to primary education for children and especially the girl child, access to higher education including secondary, technical and tertiary education as well as literacy programs for adults are important components of the right of indigenous groups to education.

The right of indigenous peoples to education is recognized and protected by a number of international and regional human rights instruments. The ILO Convention 169 requires states to put in place educational programs and institutions tailored to meet the specific needs of indigenous peoples, and for them to be able to establish their own educational institutions and facilities. In the same vein, article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

Regionally, article 17 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights further to recognizing the right to education of individuals, it makes it the duty of the state to promote and protect the morals and traditional values recognized by communities. 

The right to education also enjoys a nearly universal legal recognition among African states.

Despite the ample protection afforded by these and several other international and regional human rights instruments, in reality the right to education of indigenous peoples in Africa is still a far cry. The enrolment rate for indigenous children especially the girl child is very low and there is a higher rate of school drop-outs among indigenous children. These are usually attributed to factors such as a lack of schools within vicinities of indigenous communities, prohibitive costs of education by the standards of indigenous people, a lack of or inadequate specialized infrastructure and teaching staff, discrimination and exclusion of indigenous interests in curricula. In general, there is an inadequacy within national schooling systems in terms of addressing the specific needs, ways of life and cultures of indigenous peoples in Africa.

This year’s celebration of World Indigenous Peoples’ Day also coincides with the celebration of 2016 as the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on Women’s Rights. Thus, it provides us with the opportune moment to remind African states about their obligations in fulfilling the right to education of indigenous communities in particular that of the girl-child and women, and to renew our commitment and redouble our efforts in pursuit of this goal.

                                                                                                                             9 August 2016


Commissioner Soyata Maiga

Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa