The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the result of over a decade of work by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP), established by the Economic and Social Council in 1982. The mandate of the WGIP includes (1) the development of international standards for the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and (2) an annual examination of the status of human rights of indigenous peoples throughout the world. The WGIP makes annual reports on their work to the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. In connection with rights related to religion or belief, the draft declaration reflects the unique nature of indigenous religions and the significant history of contact between indigenous peoples and missionary groups. It declares such far-reaching rights as the right to protection against — and redress for — acts of ethnocide or cultural genocide (article 7) and the right to maintain the distinctive spiritual relationship of indigenous peoples with their lands and surrounding natural environment (article 25). The draft declaration was submitted to the Commission on Human Rights in 1995. The Commission has established a working group to consider and elaborate on the draft declaration.

Two international conventions on indigenous peoples have been concluded under the auspices of the International Labour Organization (ILO): ILO Convention No. 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1989), which generally superseded ILO Convention No. 107 Concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries (1957). A major study on the conditions of indigenous peoples, including efforts at assimilation, religious conversion and suppression of religious practices was prepared for the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities by Special Rapporteur José F. Martínez Cobo, Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1986/7 and Add. 1-4.