Paraguay: Celebrations as law will return ancestral land to indigenous community after two decades of destitution

The law signed today by the President of Paraguay that enables the Sawhoyamaxa to return to their ancestral land is a triumph for an indigenous community that has been fighting for its rights for more than 20 years, said Amnesty International.

Earlier today, President Horacio Cartes enacted a law passed by the National Congress in May allowing the State to expropriate more than 14,000 hectares and return it to the Sawhoyamaxa community while compensating the current land owner. 

“This is a moment many families in the Sawhoyamaxa never dreamed would come true. After two decades of living dispossessed, scraping a living in precarious circumstances with little access to basic services, Paraguay is finally taking concrete steps to restore the Sawhoyamaxa community’s land rights,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Programme Director. 

Around 160 Sawhoyamaxa families have been fighting for decades to return to their ancestral lands in the Chaco region. These families have been living in wooden structures at the side of a major highway where access to health, food and education is almost impossible. 

In 2006 the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the Sawhoyamaxa, but it took a further eight years before Paraguay finally took decisive steps to comply with the judgement. 

 “Today signals a victory for the Sawhoyamaxa who can finally return home. Now Paraguay should use this momentum to address the rights of other indigenous communities who are denied access to their lands in the country.” 

According to official figures, there are around 108,600 Indigenous people in Paraguay – 1.7 per cent of the population – although this is likely to be a significant underestimate of the true figure. 

 Another indigenous community, the Yakye Axa, is also waiting to have access to its lands even though an agreement between the State and the landowner of the lands was reached in 2012.

“Paraguay has shown its willingness to address the rights of the Sawhoyamaxa. It’s time to extend this commitment to all those Indigenous Peoples in the country facing discrimination and marginalisation, whose rights have been violated for many years,” said Guadalupe Marengo.