Alyawarr Ingkerr-wenh

ILO Convention No. 169

ILO Convention No. 169 (ILO 169) is the only international human rights treaty in relation to indigenous peoples that is available for ratification. It was adopted by the International Labour Conference of the ILO in 1989.

While much attention has been paid to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and by the Commonwealth Parliament in 2008, it is not a treaty (not yet at least).

ILO 169 provides a suitable base upon which a treaty to be negotiated by indigenous peoples and their colonisers. The right to consultation is emphasised, and while there was some ambiguity around the expression of indigenous peoples' right to self-determination at the time of its adoption, this has since been clarified when read in conjunction with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other human rights instruments and jurisprudence.

For more information about the ILO's indigenous program, click on the following link:

Australia has previously considered ratifying ILO 169, but has declined to date. Around the time that ILO 169 was adopted by the ILO, there was some opposition to it from a range of indigenous peoples. This opposition centred largely around the fact that indigenous peoples were excluded from the final deliberations and because of the qualifier within the Convention that 'the use of the term peoples in this Convention shall not be construed as having any implications as regards the rights which may attach to the term under international law' (Art.1(3)). Such concerns have since been addressed through the development and adoption by the United Nations of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which informs the interpretation of ILO 169.

At the time of Australia's first Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council (in January 2011), Bolivia and Norway recommended that Australia ratify ILO 169 and the Australian Government stated that the Convention had been identified as a priority for consideration. However, Australia did present ILO 169 to the then COAG Select Council on Workplace Relations or any other agency for consideration prior to its next review. During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Chile also recommended that Australia ratify ILO 169, to which Australia responded by saying that it 'notes but will not consider further at this time'.