About IYIL 2019



An International Year is an important cooperation mechanism dedicated to raising awareness of a particular topic or theme of global interest or concern, and mobilizing different players for coordinated action around the world.

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, based on a recommendation by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

At the time, the Forum said that 40 per cent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing.  The fact that most of these are indigenous languages puts the cultures and knowledge systems to which they belong at risk. 

In addition, indigenous peoples are often isolated both politically and socially in the countries they live in, by the geographical location of their communities, their separate histories, cultures, languages and traditions.

And yet, they are not only leaders in protecting the environment, but their languages represent complex systems of knowledge and communication and should be recognized as a strategic national resource for development, peace building and reconciliation. 

They also foster and promote unique local cultures, customs and values which have endured for thousands of years. Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.

Celebrating IYIL2019 will help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them.  It will contribute to achieving the objectives set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

The celebration is also expected to strengthen and reinforce the many standard-setting tools adopted by the international community which include specific provisions to promote and protect languages.

UN mechanism

The United Nations resolution
(71/178) proclaiming 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages  saw the creation of a multi-stakeholder partnership to prepare for the year and mobilize support for the implementation of its initiatives.

Various United Nations entities are involved in the process, including three mechanisms that specifically deal with issues related to indigenous peoples:

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • Establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of indigenous peoples.
  • Addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, the right to education, health, employment, language, and others.
  • Outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.
  • Ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development.
  • Explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between states and indigenous peoples.


Promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, social and human sciences, education for all, freedom of expression, access to information and knowledge for the development of knowledge societies are central to UNESCO’s work.

But achieving this is not possible without a broad and international commitment to maintaining multilingualism and linguistic diversity, including the preservation of endangered languages, as well as providing equal access to information and knowledge.

To comply with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commitment to ‘Leave no one behind’, it is essential to ensure that indigenous peoples’ priorities are heard. UNESCO places the needs of indigenous peoples amongst its priority areas for response. For more information on indigenous peoples.

It is based on UNESCO’s knowledge of these issues and its extensive experience in organising the 2008 International Year of Languages that it was asked to lead preparations for IYIL2019.


Action Plan for IYIL2019

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages and requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) to serve as the lead organization.

UNESCO worked with governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations, researchers and other stakeholders to elaborate an action plan which sets out the path to achieving the objectives of the International Year.

This multi-stakeholder partnership is made up of a Steering Committee to oversee implementation, ad hoc groups to provide relevant advice, and contributing partners.

The action plan lays out the key measurable objectives, principles and actions to be taken during the year and afterwards.

Structure of the multi-stakeholder partnership


Steering Committee (18 members)

  • Member States: Australia, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Gambia and Saudi Arabia (6)
  • Leaders and representatives of indigenous peoples and institutions from the seven sociocultural regions (7)
  • Designated members: Representatives from the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (3)
  • A representative each from the Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNDESA (2)

The Steering Committee provides guidance for and monitoring of the overall implementation of the International Year within the framework of the action plan, including helping with the mobilization of financial resources, supporting the establishment of initiatives by indigenous peoples, and overseeing a report to the United Nations at the end of the year.

Ad hoc groups

A range of partners are welcome to establish ad hoc groups on various subjects in order to provide advice on specific aspects of the implementation of the action plan.


A range of partners to contribute to the implementation of the action plan.

Founding principles

  • Involvement of indigenous peoples’ representatives
  • Human rights-based approach
  • Geographical balance
  • Gender equality
  • Disability inclusiveness
  • Expertise in field of languages

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a major milestone.
But it will not succeed without the support of people everywhere.