Paraguay: Congress puts the lives of 90 indigenous families at risk

Amnesty International said on 26 June that the Agrarian Reform and Rural Welfare Commission of the Paraguayan Congress had deliberately put the lives of 90 indigenous families at risk following its majority decision to reject the expropriation of ancestral lands in favour of the Yakye Axa indigenous community.

For over ten years the indigenous community has been living in inhuman conditions on the roadside between Pozo Colorado and Concepción. Without access to their lands, they are denied the possibility of sustaining the traditional activities through which they support themselves, such as hunting, fishing and honey collecting. The welfare measures provided to them by the State while they remain outside their lands are insufficient and irregular.

The draft bill on expropriation of their lands was submitted to Congress in 2008 by President Lugo in order to comply with a decision handed down against the Paraguayan State by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Its rejection, though not binding, will make it difficult for the Senate to go on to vote in favour.  

“The Commission’s decision is simply unacceptable,” said Louise Finer, Amnesty International’s researcher on South America. “With every one of those votes, each member of Congress is failing to comply with the international duty to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“It would be worrying if the existence of powerful economic interests were to stand in the way of protecting the rights of the most marginalized sectors of Paraguayan society,” Louise Finer said. “It is already a year since the deadline given to the State by the Inter-American Court to return the lands expired and still no progress has been possible.”

Amnesty International called on the Paraguayan State as a whole to take its commitment to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples seriously by finding an effective and efficient solution to its late compliance with the decision handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Additional information The right for Indigenous Peoples to hold land as communal property is clearly enshrined in the Paraguayan Constitution (article 64) and in international instruments signed by the Paraguayan State.   The decision handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005 obliges the Paraguayan State to return to the Yakye Axa community a stretch of land that ensures that they can continue and develop their own way of life. The Inter-American Court clearly explained that, in cases such as this, the expropriation of such land would be a legitimate limitation of the right to private property.

In the proceedings before the Inter-American Court, the Paraguayan State said that, under its domestic legislation, there are two possible ways of restoring ancestral lands to communities: 1) by negotiating directly with those who hold the property title and buying the land from them, or, failing that, 2) by expropriating the land on grounds of public use and paying fair compensation to the holder of the property title.

The Inter-American Court has also issued another ruling in relation to the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay. It concerns the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community, who are living in similar conditions to the Yakye Axa, waiting for the State to comply with, among other things, the Court’s order to restore their ancestral lands. In order for this to be done, the Procurator-General’s Office has taken responsibility for negotiating with the person who currently owns the land in question so that it can be returned to the community. However, no progress appears to have been made so far.