Artícle X.  Spiritual and religious freedom  

1.     Indigenous peoples have the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and spiritual practice, and to exercise them both publicly and privately.  

2.     The states shall take necessary measures to prohibit attempts to forcibly convert indigenous peoples or to impose on them beliefs against their will.  

3.     In collaboration with the indigenous peoples concerned, the states shall adopt effective measures to ensure that their sacred sites, including burial sites, are preserved, respected and protected.  When sacred graves and relics have been appropriated by state institutions, they shall be returned.  

4.     The states shall encourage respect by all people for the integrity of indigenous spiritual symbols, practices, sacred ceremonies, expressions and protocols.



1.        Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN 1994)  

Article 13: "Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of human remains.

States shall take effective measures, in conjunction with the indigenous peoples concerned, to ensure that indigenous sacred places, including burial sites, be preserved, respected and protected."


Article 12: "Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature, as well as the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs."


Article 25: "Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual and material relationship with the lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard."  

2.        C 169, Convention on Indigenous and Tribal People (ILO Convention 1989)  

Article 5: "…In applying the provisions of this Convention:


(a)        the social, cultural, religious and spiritual values and practices of these peoples shall be recognized and protected, and due account shall be taken of the nature of the problems which face them both as groups and as individuals;


(b)        the integrity of the values, practices and institutions of these peoples shall be respected..."  

3.        American Convention on Human Rights (OAS 1969)  

Article 12(1): “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of conscience and of religion.  This right includes freedom to maintain or to change one’s religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess or disseminate one’s religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or private.  

Article 12(2): “No one shall be subject to restrictions that might impair his freedom to maintain or to change his religion or beliefs.”  


Article 13(1): “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression.”


Article 16(1): “Everyone has the right to associate freely for ideological, religious, political, economic, labor, social, cultural, sports, or other purposes."


            4.        American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (OAS 1948) 

Article III: “Every person has the right freely to profess a religious faith, and to manifest and practice it both in public and private.”  

5.        Convention on the Protection of the Archeological, Historical, and Artistic Heritage of the American Nations (Convention of San Salvador) (Santiago, Chile 1976)  

Article 2(a): defining "cultural property" as "[m]onuments, objects, fragments of ruined buildings, and archeological materials belonging to American cultures existing prior to contact with European culture, as well as remains of human beings, fauna, and flora related to such cultures.  

Article 9: "Each State Party shall prevent by all available means any unlawful excavation in its territory or any removal of cultural property therefrom".  

6.        International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN 1966)  

Article 18(1): “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. (2) No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”  

Article 18(3): “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. (4) The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”  

7.        International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN 1965)  

Article 5(d)(vii)(ix): “States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone freedom of  thought, conscience and religion...freedom of opinion and expression... [and] freedom of peaceful assembly and association."  

8.         Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN 1989)  

Article 14(1): “State Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”  

9.        Convention Against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO 1960)  

Article 5 1(b): “no person or group of persons should be compelled to receive religious instruction inconsistent with his or their conviction;”  

10.       Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948)  

Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”  

11.      Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious or Linguistic Minorities (UN 1990)  

Article 1(1): "States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”  

12.      Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (UN 1981)  

Article 1(1): ”Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in pubic or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”


Article 1(2): “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.”  

Article 4(1): “All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.”  

13.      Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO 1970)  

Article 13: "The States Parties to this Convention also undertake, consistent with the laws of each State: (a) To prevent by all appropriate means transfers of ownership of cultural property likely to promote the illicit import or export of such property; (b) to ensure that their competent services co-operate in facilitating the earliest possible restitution of illicitly exported cultural property to its rightful owner".  

14.      African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter 1981)  

Article 8: “Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms."  

15.      European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ROME 1950)  

Article 9(1): “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief,  in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”


Article 9(2): “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”  

16.      World Bank Operational Manual, "Description and Sample Outline of an Environmental Action Plan, Operational Directive 4.02 , (July 1992)  

Para. 4: "A Comprehensive EAP [Environmental Assessment Plan] normally covers a broad range of topics similar to those listed below.  The weight accorded to each item covered depends on local circumstances.

(b) An analysis of major cross-sectoral issues (e.g., demography, public health and safety, cultural and natural heritage) and socioeconomic factors important to the environment and resource use.  Basic information required for the cross sectoral analysis includes the following:

(iii) Cultural and natural heritage: Data on environmental or human induced risk to the preservation of specific major sites, structures, and remains of archeological, historical, cultural, religious, or aesthetic value; identification of natural resources of particular biological, ecological, medical, or touristic value." 

17.      Alliance for Sustainable Development documents signed by the Presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama and a Representative of the Prime Minister of Belize, at the Central American Ecological Summit for Sustainable Development in Managua, Nicaragua, (October 12, 1994)  

"Annex II: Commitments of the Alliance: Cultural Heritage - We hereby instruct the ministers of culture, or the pertinent authorities in the countries, to submit within a period of six months, draft agreements on the following topics to the respective ministries of foreign affairs:


-Central American Agreement for Exhibitions of Archaeological, Historical and Artistic Objects


-Central American Agreement for the Restitution and Return of Illegally Removed Cultural Assets."  

18.      Informe de la relatora Especial de la Subcomisión de Prevención de Discriminaciones y Protección a las Minorías sobre la “Protección del patrimonio de los pueblos indígenas" (UN 1986)  

159.  Los pueblos indígenas han sido vulnerables a la pérdida de su patrimonio como entidades diferentes. Como por lo general  los gobiernos los consideran “atrasados”, han sido objeto de políticas agresivas de asimilación cultural. Con frecuencia sus artes y conocimientos no se consideraron como tesoros mundiales sino que simplemente se destruyeron durante el proceso de colonización.  A menudo se dio más valor a sus cuerpos que a su cultura, que fue coleccionada por museos.  El turismo, una creciente demanda de arte “primitivo” por los consumidores y el desarrollo de la biotechnología amenazan ahora la capacidad de los pueblos indígenas para proteger lo que queda de su patrimonio.  


19.      Canada  

                   - Canadian Constitution Act, 1982            

Part I: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms                        

Section 2 Fundamental Freedoms  

2. "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:


(a) freedom of conscience and religion

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other means of communication.

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association."  

                    - Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Vol. 4 Ch 7 s.1.4 to s. 2.1  

“It is important that Aboriginal spirituality be recognized and affirmed by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal institutions.”



“The Commission urges reconciliation to ensure that Aboriginal people have the freedom to practice their traditional spirituality.”  

20.      Colombia  

                   Constitución Política de Colombia  

Artículo 68. ...”En los establecimientos del Estado ninguna persona podrá ser obligada a recibir educación religiosa”…  

21.      Chile  

                    Ley No. 19.253  

Artículo 19: "Los indígenas gozarán del derecho a ejercer comunitariamente actividades en los sitios sagrados o ceremoniales, cementerios, canchas de guillatún, apachetas, campos deportivos y otros espacios territoriales de uso cultural o recreativo, que sean de propiedad fiscal”.  

22.      Ecuador  

Constitución Política del Estado Ecuatorio  

Art 23: Sin perjuicio de los derechos establecidos en esta Constitución y en los instrumentos internacionales vigentes, el Estado reconocerá y garantizará a las personas los siguientes: (11) La libertad de conciencia; la libertad de religión, expresada en forma individual o colectiva, en público o en privado. Las personas practicarán libremente el culto que profesen, con las únicas limitaciones que la ley prescriba para proteger y respetar la diversidad, la pluralidad, la seguridad y los derechos de los demás.  

23.      United States  

                   - Executive Order to Protect American Indian Sacred Sites (May 24, 1996)  

Section 1: US executive branch agencies “shall to the extent practicable, permitted by law, and not clearly inconsistent with essential agency functions” “(1) accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and (2) avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites.  Where appropriate, agencies shall maintain the confidentiality of sacred sites.”  

Section 2(b): agencies with management responsibilities over federal land will report on “procedures implemented or proposed to facilitate consultation with appropriate Indian tribes and religious leaders”.      

                   - National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), 16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.  

Under this Act, the US government took a more aggressive role in preserving its “historical and cultural foundations” by “accelerat[ing] its historic preservation programs and activities” and “assist[ing] State and local governments, Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organization” in their own preservation programs through increased consultation, and exchanges of financial assistance. § 470.  A National Register of Historic Places was established, §470(a), whereby sites on this list can include “[p]roperties of traditional religious and cultural importance to an Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization” §470(d)(6).  Consultations with Indian tribes or Native Hawaiians are required where they may “attach[] religious and cultural significance to properties...” §470(d)(6). Once on the list, the effect on the site must be considered during any planning or execution of any “proposed federal or federally assisted undertaking.” §470(f). Tribes must be consulted during this process as well. 36 C.F.R. §800.  Moreover, a "tribe may assume all of any part of the functions of a State Historic Preservation Officer...with respect to tribal lands..." §470(d)(2).  Lastly, the Act provides that the federal agency may keep the location of these sites confidential where there is fear that disclosure could cause “(1) significant invasion of privacy; (2) risk harm to the historic resource; or (3) impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners.” §470(w)(3).  

                    - Archeological Resource Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. (470aa-470mm)  

The Act’s purpose is to “[s]ecure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands” and requires a permit before any person can excavate or removal any archeological resource.” § 470cc(a). Where the permit issued “may result in harm to or destruction of any religious or cultural site...the Federal land manger shall notify any Indian tribe which may consider the site as having religious or cultural importance.” §470cc(c). “In the case of any permits for the excavation or removal of any archaeological resource located on Indian lands, the permit may be granted [by the Federal land manager] only after obtaining the consent of the Indian or Indian tribe owning or having jurisdiction over such lands.  The permit shall include such terms and conditions as may be requested by such Indian or Indian tribe.”§ 470cc(g)(2).  

- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, 25 USC 3001 et seq. 

Provides for the repatriation to Indian tribes of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony that are excavated or discovered on federal or tribal lands or that are currently in the control of federal agencies or museums receiving federal funding.  


24.      Guatemala  

- Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples  

Article III. C. Spirituality


1.         Recognition is accorded to the importance and special nature of Mayan spirituality as an essential component in the Mayan vision of the world and in the transmittal of its values, as well as those of the other indigenous peoples.


2.         The Government undertakes to secure respect for the exercise of this spirituality in all its manifestations, and particularly for the right to practice it, both in public and in private by means of education, worship and observance. Recognition is also given to the importance of the respect due to indigenous spiritual guides and to sacred ceremonies and holy places.


3.         The Government shall promote, in the Guatemalan Congress, the reform of article 66 of the Constitution to stipulate that the State recognizes, respects and protects the various forms of spirituality practised by the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples.


D.         Temples, ceremonial centres and holy places


1.         Recognition is accorded to the historical value and current importance of temples and ceremonial centres as part of the cultural, historical and spiritual heritage of the Maya and other indigenous peoples.

Temples and ceremonial centres situated in areas protected by the State as archaeological sites.


2.         According to the Guatemalan Constitution, temples and ceremonial centres of archaeological value constitute part of the national cultural heritage. As such, they are the property of the State and must be protected. In that context, measures must be taken to ensure that this principle is not violated in the case of temples and ceremonial centres of archaeological value situated or found on private property.


3.         The right of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples to participate in the conservation and administration of such places is recognized. To guarantee this right the Government undertakes to promote, with the participation of indigenous peoples, legal measures to ensure redefinition of State entities responsible for this function in order to make this right effective.


4.         Changes shall be made in the regulations for the protection of ceremonial centres in archaeological areas to ensure that such regulations permit the practice of spirituality and cannot be made an impediment to the exercise of spiritual values. The Government shall promote, in cooperation with indigenous spiritual organizations, regulations governing access to ceremonial centres to guarantee the free practice of indigenous spirituality in conditions of respect laid down by spiritual guides.

Holy places


5.         It is recognized that there are other holy places in which indigenous spirituality and, in particular, Mayan spirituality, is traditionally practised and which need to be preserved. A commission formed of representatives of the Government and indigenous organizations and of indigenous spiritual guides shall be set up to identify these places and establish rules for their preservation."  

25.      Mexico  

Ley de derechos de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas del Estado de Oaxaca 

Artículo 27: "Los pueblos y las comunidades indígenas tienen derecho a practicar sus propias ceremonias religiosas, tanto en las áreas indígenas como en las que no tienen predominio indígena, respetando la Ley de Asociaciones Religiosas y Culto Públiico”.  

26.      Nicaragua  

                   Constitución de Nicaragua  

Artículo 128: “El Estado protege el patrimonio arqueológico, histórico, lingüístico, cultural y artístico de la nación”.  

Artículo 180: “Las Comunidades de la Costa Atlántica tienen el derecho de vivir y desarrollarse bajo las formas de organización social que corresponden a sus tradiciones históricas y culturales.  El Estado garantiza a esta comunidades el disfrute de sus recursos naturales, la efectividad de sus formas de propiedad comunal y la libre elección de sus autoridades y representantes.  Asimismo garantiza la preservación de sus culturas y lenguas, religiones y costumbres”.  


  27.    Panama  

Regimen Especial de la Comarca Kuna Yala (Ley 2 de 1938 -modificada por la Ley 99 de 1998)  

Artículo 13: "El Congreso General de la Cultura Kuna es el organismo de expresión religioso de protección, conservación y divulgación del patrimonio histórico cultural del pueblo Kuna..."  

Artículo 37: "El Estado reconoce, garantiza y respeta que la Religión Ibeorgum es de la Comarca Kuna Yala”.


Artículo 38: "Los sitios y objectos arqueológicos, documentos, monumentos históricos y cualquier otro bien mueble e inmueble que sean testimonio del pasado pueblo Kuna, son del Patrimonio de la Comarca y las cuales estarán bajo la custodia del Congreso.  Para tales efectos, el Congreso, a través de la Comisión del Centro de Investigación Kuna buscará los mecanísmos adecuados para custodio y conservación, conjuntamente con la Dirección Nacional del Patrimonio  Histórico del Instituto Nacional de Cultura”.  

28.      St. Kitts and Nevis  

                   Constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis (1983)  

Article 11(1): "Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance."  

29.      Trinidad and Tobago  

                    Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (1980)  

Article 4(h): "It is hereby recognized and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely: ... freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance"  

30.      Vincent and St. Grenadines            

                   Constitution of St. Vincent and St. Grenadines  

Article 9(1): "Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. "(4) A person shall not be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his religion or belief or to take any oath in a manner that is contrary to his religion or belief. (5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision which is reasonably required- b. for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons including the right to observe and practice any religion without the unsolicited intervention or members of any other religion..."  

31.      Suriname  

                   Constitución de Suriname  

Article 18: "Everyone has the right of freedom of religion and philosophy of life." 

32.      Venezuela  

                   - Ley Indígena  

Artículo 6: "Para conservar el patrimonio arqueológico nacional, quedan prohibidas búsqueda y extracción de huacas en los cementerlos indígenas, con excepción de exploraciones científicas autorizadas por instituciones oficiales.  En todo caso éstas necesitarán la autorización de la comunidad indígena y de la CONAI”.  

- Constitución Política de la República de Venezuela


Artículo 121: "Los pueblos indígenas tienen derecho a mantener y desarrollar su identidad étnica y cultural, cosmovisión, valores, espiritualidad y sus lugares sagrados y de culto.  El Estado fomentará la valoración y difusión de las manifestaciones culturales de los pueblos indígenas, los cuales tienen derecho a una educación propia y a un régimen educativo de carácter intercultural y bilingüe, atendiendo a sus particularidades socioculturales, valores y tradiciones".  


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