Human Rights, Livelihood, and Land
What is the Human Right to Livelihood and Land?
The Human Right to Livelihood and Land is the human right of all women, men, youth and children to a dignified and
productive livelihood which enables them to live in peace, security, justice and dignity. All people have the
fundamental human right to fulfilling, dignified work and livelihood, including equal access to land and productive
resources, and to basic labor protections.
The Human Rights at Issue
The Human Right to Livelihood and Land includes the following universal, indivisible, interconnected and
interdependent human rights:
The human right to livelihood and work that is freely chosen and that contributes to an adequate standard of living.
The human right to basic labor protections; freedom of association; freedom from forced labor; adequate, safe working
conditions; equal pay for equal work.
The human right to freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic identity, or any other status.
The human right to full equality before the law, including equality in rights to own land or to inherit.
The human right to equal access to productive resources, including land, credit, and technology.
The human right to equal access to education and training.
The human right of indigenous peoples to maintain their own ways of life, including the right to use lands to which
they have traditionally had access for subsistence.
The human right of indigenous peoples to maintain their distinctive spiritual and material relationship with the
lands, to own land individually and in community with others, and to transfer land rights according to their own
The human right of indigenous peoples to use, manage and safeguard the natural resources pertaining to their lands.
The human right to security of tenure and freedom from forced eviction.
The human right of all people and peoples to full and effective participation in shaping decisions and policies,
including policies of development and agrarian reform, concerning themselves and their community, at the local,
national and international levels.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Livelihood and Land
What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Right to Livelihood and Land?
Includes excerpts from the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
Convention (No. 169), the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, and the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- "Governments shall have the responsibility for ... Ensuring that [indigenous] peoples benefit on an equal footing from
the rights and opportunities which national laws and regulations grant to other members of the population....
Indigenous and tribal peoples shall enjoy ... human rights ... without ... discrimination.... Governments shall ...
Establish means by which [indigenous] peoples can freely participate ... at all levels of decision-making in ...
institutions and ... bodies responsible for policies and programmes which concern them.... The peoples ... shall have
the right to decide their own priorities for ... development as it affects their lives ... and the lands they occupy
... and to exercise control ... over their ... development.... [G]overnments shall respect the special importance ...
of their relationship with the lands....The rights of ownership and possession ... over the lands which they
traditionally occupy shall be recognized.... Measures shall be taken ... to safeguard the right of the peoples
concerned to use lands ... to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional
activities.... The rights of the peoples concerned to the natural resources pertaining to their lands shall be
specially safeguarded. These rights include the right of these peoples to participate in the use, management and
conservation of these resources.... Governments shall take steps ...to guarantee effective protection of their rights
of ownership and possession.... The peoples concerned shall not be removed from the lands which they occupy....
Procedures established by the peoples concerned for the transmission of land rights among members of these peoples
shall be respected.... National agrarian programs shall secure to the peoples concerned treatment equivalent to that
accorded to other sectors of the population with regard to: the provision of more land for these peoples when they
have not the area necessary for providing the essentials of a normal existence, or for any possible increase in their
numbers; the provision of the means required to promote the development of the lands which these peoples already
- --ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No.
169), Articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 19
- "Everyone is entitled to ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language...,
national or social origin ... or other status.... No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.... Everyone has the
right to work, to free choice of employment.... Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for
equal work.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles
2, 4, 23, and 25
- "The States Parties ... recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain
his living by work which he freely chooses.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just and
favourable conditions of work which ensure ... fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without
distinction of any kind...; a decent living ...; safe and healthy working conditions.... States Parties ... recognize
the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family...."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, Articles 6, 7, and 11
- "Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind.... No one shall be held
in slavery .... No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.... The right of peaceful assembly
shall be recognized.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association ..., including the right to form and
join trade unions.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to
such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own
culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."
- --International Covenant on Civil and Political
Articles 2, 8, 21, 22, and 27
- "The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide ... is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent
and to punish.... [Genocide] means any ... acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group...."
- --Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
Crime of Genocide, Articles 1 and 2
- "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, ... the
right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the
right to free choice of profession and employment...; the right to equal remuneration ... and to equal treatment in
respect of work of equal value...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including
the safeguarding of the function of reproduction. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of
marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall ... prohibit ... dismissal on
the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination ... on the basis of marital status;... introduce
maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment.... States Parties shall
ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular ... the right to bank loans, mortgages
and other forms of financial credit.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas
... to ensure ... the right ... to obtain all types of training and education ... in order to increase their technical
proficiency ...; to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and
equal treatment in land and agrarian reform ...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women,
Articles 11, 13, 14
- "States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means ... a policy of
eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial
discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour,
national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights ... civil
rights ... economic, social and cultural rights, in particular: the right to work, ... to just and favourable
conditions or work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favourable
remuneration; the right to form and join trade unions...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, Articles 2 and 5
- "States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child ... without discrimination of any kind
irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.... the
right ... to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social
development.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin
exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with
other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion,
or to use his or her own language. "
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2,
27, and 30
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Livelihood and Land
What commitmentshave governments made to ensure the realization of the Human Right to Livelihood and Land?
Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio,
the International Conference on Population and Development
in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in
Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and excerpts from the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"We ... commit ourselves to ... develop policies to support ... sustainable management of land resources, by not later
than 1996;... To create mechanisms to facilitate the ... participation of all concerned ... in decision-making on land
use ... by ... 1996.... In full partnership with indigenous people and their communities, Governments ... should aim
at ... Recognition that the lands of indigenous people and their communities should be protected from activities that
are environmentally unsound or that the indigenous people concerned consider to be socially and culturally
-- Agenda 21, Chapter 10, para. 5; Chapter 12, para. 28; and Chapter 26, para. 3
"Governments should ... enable [indigenous peoples] to have tenure and manage their lands, protect ... the natural
resources and ecosystems on which indigenous communities depend.... A
--Cairo Programme of
Action, para. 6.27
"We commit ourselves to eradicating poverty in the world through decisive national actions and international
cooperation.... To this end ... we will ... Focus our efforts and policies to address the root causes of poverty....
These efforts should include ... education, employment and livelihood, primary health-care services.... Special
priority will be given to the needs and rights of women and ... to the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups
and persons.... Ensure that people living in poverty have access to productive resources, including credit, land,
education and training, technology, knowledge and information, as well as to public services.... We commit ourselves
to ... enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive
employment and work. To this end ... we will ... Develop policies to expand work opportunities and productivity in
both rural and urban sectors...; Improve access to land, credit, information, infrastructure and other productive
resources for small ... enterprises, including those in the informal sector, with particular emphasis on the
disadvantaged sectors of society...; Pay particular attention to women's access to employment ... and the promotion of
equal treatment of women and men...."
--Copenhagen Declaration, Commitments
2 and 3
"We are determined to: ... promote women's economic independence, including employment, by ... ensuring equal access
for all women ... to productive resources, opportunities and public services...; ensure women's equal access to
economic resources, including land, credit, science and technology, vocational training, information, communication
and markets, as a means to further the advancement and empowerment of women and girls...."
--Beijing Declaration, paras. 26
" ... the productive capacity of women should be increased through access to capital, resources, credit, land,
technology, information, technical assistance and training.... The release of women's productive potential is pivotal
to breaking the cycles of poverty so that women can share fully in the benefits of development and in the products of
their own labour.... Actions to be taken by Governments:... Generate economic policies that have a positive impact on
the employment and income of women workers in both the formal and informal sectors and adopt specific measures to
address women's unemployment.... Introduce measures to integrate ... women living in poverty and socially
marginalized women into productive employment and the economic mainstream.... Enable women to obtain ... access to
land by ... removing all obstacles to access.... Undertake legislative ... reforms to give women ... equal access to
economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property, credit, natural
resources and appropriate technologies...."
--Beijing Platform for Action,
paras. 55, 58, and 60
"Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have
equal access to housing, infrastructure.... Such human settlements provide equal opportunity for a productive and
freely chosen livelihood; equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance, the ownership of
land and other property, credit, natural resources.... We...commit ourselves to... Providing ... security of tenure
and equal access to land to all people .... Protecting ... the legal traditional rights of indigenous people to land
and other resources, as well as strengthening of land management...."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 27 and 40
"Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide,
including prevention of and redress for ... any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their
lands, territories or resources.... Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or
territories.... Indigenous peoples have the right to ... be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence
and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.... Indigenous peoples
have the right to maintain ... their distinctive spiritual and material relationship with the lands ... and other
resources which they have traditionally owned ... occupied or used, and to uphold their responsibilities to future
generations.... Indigenous peoples have the right to ... full recognition of their laws, traditions and customs,
land-tenure systems and institutions for the development and management of resources, and the right to effective
measures by States to prevent any interference with, alienation of or encroachment upon these rights.... Indigenous
peoples have the right to the restitution of the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned
or otherwise occupied or used ... which have been confiscated, occupied, used or damaged.... Indigenous peoples have
the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands, territories
and other resources, including the right to require that States obtain their free and informed consent prior to the
approval of any project affecting their lands ... and other resources...."
--Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, Articles 7, 10, 21, 25, 26, 27, and 30
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;