Members of a Congressional committee in Paraguay have voted against the return of Indigenous lands to the Yakye Axa community. The vote undermines a binding decision made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest body in the region.
Amnesty International has condemned the move as “unacceptable and one that risks the lives of 90 indigenous families.”
The Yakye Axa indigenous community has been forced to live on the side of a road linking Pozo Colorado and Concepción for over 10 years while awaiting resolution of their land claim. Living in such conditions they have severely limited access to clean water, food and medicines.
Nearby, members of the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community also live along the side of the road awaiting the outcome of government negotiations with the individual who currently owns their traditional land. In a separate judgement, the Inter-American Court ordered the Paraguayan State to return their traditional lands. Since this judgement was passed in 2006, 22 members of the Sawhoyamaxa community have died from preventable causes. Most recently four infants under the age of two died after suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
The decision on the Yakye Axa case by a Congressional committee, although not binding, strikes a fatal blow to the attempts of this community to get their land back. It comes almost a year after the deadline set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which in 2005 stated that the Paraguayan state should return the land to the Yakye Axa community.
Both communities have been demanding the return of their traditional land for more than 15 years.
In its ruling, the Inter-American Court said in their cases, it would be legitimate to put their right to land as Indigenous Peoples above the private interests at stake in these lands.
The Court set a deadline of 13 July 2008 for the return of traditional lands to the Yakye Axa and of 19 May 2009 for the Sawhoyamaxa.
Amnesty International warned that behind these latest votes there could be economic interests that are endangering the rights and welfare of Indigenous Peoples across Paraguay.
"The Paraguayan state as a whole, including the Congress but also the Executive, must urgently find a viable solution to the terrible situation faced by these indigenous communities," urged Louise Finer.
The right of Indigenous Peoples to their communal lands is reflected in article 64 of the Paraguayan Constitution and in international legal instruments to which Paraguay is a party.