The International Law for Tribal People

Across the world, tribal peoples’ lands are being stolen and their communities devastated. ILO Convention 169 is the only international law designed to protect tribal peoples’ rights.
Most governments refuse to ratify it.

When tribal peoples lose their lands, their societies disintegrate and individuals often succumb to alcoholism and fatal diseases.

The only international law that can secure tribal peoples’ land rights is the International Labour Organization Convention 169. ILO 169 recognizes and protects tribal peoples’ land ownership rights, and sets a series of minimum UN standards regarding consultation and consent.

ILO 169 has been around since 1989, but only twenty-three countries have ratified it so far. At this rate, it will be another 170 years before every country has ratified the Convention. Every country that does so, strengthens its force, and gives tribal peoples a greater chance to survive and thrive.

What does ILO 169 say?

It protects tribal peoples’ right to:

  • Own the land they live on and use
  • Make decisions about projects that affect them
  • Equality and freedom

Take action


Please write to your MP asking him/her to support ILO 169

Please take a moment to send an online message through asking your MP to support the only international law for the world’s threatened tribes, ILO 169. The UK government has not ratified it, saying that it’s not relevant because no tribal peoples live there.

But of course UK companies do business in countries with tribal peoples; and, through Britain’s overseas development budget, your taxes fund many projects that affect them. Ratifying ILO 169 would help to stop abuses against some of the world’s most vulnerable peoples.

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Please urge the Bangladesh government to ratify ILO 169

Please send a letter to the Bangladeshi government, urging it to ratify ILO 169 as a matter of urgency. In 2008, Bangladesh said it would consider ratifying ILO 169, but it has still not done so.

In the meantime, the rights of the country’s Jumma tribes continue to be cast aside as they suffer displacement by settlers and violent repression by the Bangladesh military. Ratifying ILO 169 would protect the rights of the Jummas and help stop abuses against them.

Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Old Sangshad Bhaban
Dhaka – 1215

May 22, 2022

Dear Prime Minister

Will my letter make a difference?
Yes. Time and again, letters from Survival supporters have called governments and organisations to account. Policies have changed and lives have been saved.

Post or email?
We always provide an email address where we can get one, and where we think a message will get through. Sometimes we provide a postal address too. Posting a letter is always the most effective way of making your views known, by far. If you can, please post a letter.

ILO 169 is not just a law for tribal peoples, it is a law for everyone

ILO 169 is not just a law for tribal peoples; it is a law for everyone. It plays a key role in saving the world’s rainforests, putting control of the land back in the hands of the people who have looked after it for generations.

It is no coincidence that so much of the world’s remaining rainforests and biodiversity are on tribal peoples’ lands.

ILO 169 recognizes and protects tribal peoples’ land rights, allowing tribes to prosper, and the forests in which many live to flourish.


Map showing the countries that have ratified the ILO 169:

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Central African Republic
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Denmark
  • Dominica
  • Ecuador
  • Fiji
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Luxembourg
  • México
  • Nepal
  • Netherlands
  • Nicaragua
  • Norway
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Spain
  • Venezuela

Of those 23, only two are members of the Commonwealth; Fiji and the Dominica. Those that refuse to ratify ILO 169 are not bound by the law and undermine its principles. The best international mechanism for protecting tribal peoples’ rights is being weakened because governments refuse to ratify it.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is also an important international tool, setting a benchmark by which the treatment of tribal peoples can be judged. However, unlike ILO 169, the Declaration is not legally binding.

Only four countries voted against the Declaration when it was approved in 2007 – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. All four countries have since announced their support for the Declaration – but all still refuse to ratify ILO 169.