Rights trampled for Indigenous Peoples across the Americas

Murder and abduction attempts, intimidation and attacks, as well as ongoing daily discrimination, are among the litany of abuses Indigenous Peoples across the Americas face simply for defending their human rights, said Amnesty International in a new report today.

Indigenous Peoples’ Long Struggle to Defend their Rights in the Americas is being published ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August). It highlights the many inequalities and human rights violations faced by Indigenous Peoples across the American continent.

“Indigenous Peoples in the Americas continue to face a litany of abuse. Entire communities are being denied access to their ancestral lands, while others face violent repression and abuse for peacefully protesting to demand their human rights,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

The report notes that, compared with other citizens, Indigenous women and men are more likely to be underpaid, have lower levels of education, die in child-birth and have a lower life expectancy.

“It is time for countries across the Americas to realise that they cannot call themselves free and fair whilst the Indigenous communities in their midst continue to suffer such grave injustices and face systemic discrimination,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

The report also includes many cases the organization has documented of physical attacks and acts of intimidation against Indigenous communities and their leaders in the past year.

For instance, on 20 May this year, armed men attempted to kill Enrique Cabezas who had been campaigning for access to his community’s ancestral land in the Curvaradó River Basin, north-western Colombia. There is currently a military base on the land which is collectively owned and claimed by the Curvaradó communities.

Despite provisional protection measures called for by Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2003, the Curvaradó communities consider that the Colombian authorities’ efforts to guarantee their safety is seriously inadequate. In addition, despite repeated orders by the Colombian Constitutional Court, the land has not been returned to the communities.

Amnesty International is calling on governments across the region to create and preserve the conditions for Indigenous leaders and community members to peacefully defend their rights without fear of reprisals, and to bring to justice perpetrators of violence against Indigenous human rights defenders.

Alongside violence and inadequate protection from governments, Indigenous Peoples also face the daily pain of discrimination and injustice. Indigenous women in particular face multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their culture, class and gender.

On 22 January this year, the Public Prosecutor’s office in Lima closed the cases of more than 2,000 poor Indigenous and campesino women who were sterilized by state authorities in the 1990s without their full and informed consent. By closing the case the Peruvian government has failed to address systematic human rights abuses perpetrated against Indigenous women and those living in poverty, and effectively denied them justice.

Despite pervasive discrimination and attacks, Indigenous Peoples have continued their struggle for justice and human rights. Over the last year, we have witnessed some positive steps forward regarding the recognition and protection of their rights.

After more than 20 years living in deplorable conditions beside a main road, the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous community in Paraguay has finally achieved a ground-breaking victory. On 11 June, President Horacio Cartes, signed the law that will enable the Sawhoyamaxa to return to their ancestral land in the Chaco region. Sawhoyamaxa community leader Carlos Marecos reacted to the decision: “We Indigenous People cry only when we have achieved our freedom. Today, it is like we are coming out of a prison, so many of us are crying because it is so emotional.”

“Amnesty International urges all governments across the Americas to enact legislation and provide the infrastructure to ensure Indigenous Peoples can access and enjoy their rights to land, food, education, health and freedom from violence and poverty,” said Erika Guevara.