Paraguay: President Lugo must match rhetoric with action on Indigenous Peoples

(Belem) Amnesty International today urged Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo to show his commitment to the rights of Indigenous Peoples by resolving the land claims of two indigenous communities, as ruled by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The call came as President Lugo attends the 2009 World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, where an Amnesty International delegation is taking part, together with three members of the indigenous communities affected.

The Enxet indigenous communities of Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa have been unable to live on their land and for more than 15 years and have been living in precarious conditions alongside the Pozo Colorado-Concepción highway awaiting a resolution of their claim to their ancestral lands. After the failure of successive Paraguayan governments to resolve their claim, they took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and then to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – the top regional body – who ruled in their favour, stating that the Paraguayan State should return their ancestral lands.

In the ruling, the Inter-American Court set a deadline of 13 July 2008 for the restitution of lands to the Yakye Axa community and of 19 May 2009 for Sawhoyamaxa. Last November, President Lugo presented a law to Congress to expropriate Yakye Axa’s lands from private hands and give them back to the community. Now Yakye Axa’s fate is in Congress’ hands. The Paraguayan government has not yet made any visible progress in complying with the restitution of Sawhoyamaxa’s land.

“Indigenous people’s voices are not heard in Paraguay,” said Joanna Bernie, Campaigner on Paraguay at Amnesty International “Both government and society at large have failed them. President Lugo now has a chance to break from the past by returning their lands to both communities.”

Living on their ancestral lands is key for the physical and cultural subsistence of both the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa communities. In their lands, they would be able to hunt, fish and collect water, live with dignity and maintain their cultural practices and traditions, all of which they are unable to do while living at the side of the road.

“While their claims and the Inter-American Court’s orders are unresolved, hundreds of indigenous peoples are forced to survive on irregular food supplies and many have even died from preventable causes. The Paraguayan government must face up to its commitments when it comes to indigenous peoples or see them disappear.”