According to the third National Census of Population and Housing for Indigenous Peoples in 2012, 117,150 people living in Paraguay (2% of the Paraguayan population) self-identify as indigenous. They belong to a total of 19 indigenous peoples. The population that self-identifies as belonging to or being descendants of one of these 19 indigenous peoples are distributed over 5 linguistic families: Guaraní (Aché, Avá Guaraní, Mbya, Pai Tavytera, Guaraní Ñandeva, Western Guaraní), Maskoy (Toba Maskoy, Enlhet North, Enxet South, Sanapaná, Angaité, Guaná), Mataco Mataguayo (Nivaclé, Maká, Manjui), Zamuco (Ayoreo, Yvytoso, Tomáraho) and Guaicurú (Qom). It should be noted that the census did not record, although it did mention, the Ayoreo people living in voluntary isolation.
Indigenous peoples in Paraguay
There are 19 indigenous peoples in Paraguay. Paraguay voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 and ratified ILO Convention 169. However, indigenous peoples are especially challenged by structural discrimination and lack of economic, social, and cultural rights and the state does not promote, interpret, or apply the declaration nor the convention sufficiently, and thus the fundamental rights of Paraguay’s indigenous peoples are constantly violated. This deficiency is seen in all three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
Indigenous peoples of Paraguay
According to the third National Census of Population and Housing for Indigenous Peoples in 2012, 117,150 people living in Paraguay, or 2% of the Paraguayan population, self-identify as indigenous. They belong to a total of 19 indigenous peoples. It should be noted that the census did not record, although it did mention, the Ayoreo people living in voluntary isolation, the forest-dwelling Ayoreo, living in the north of the Paraguayan Chaco and the Western Region.
According to the National Indigenous Census on Population and Housing 2012, the largest portion of the indigenous population, that is 52.3%, inhabits in the Eastern region, while the Chaco region contains the greatest diversity of peoples.
Although Paraguay’s indigenous peoples form a part of the country’s great diversity and cultural wealth, they are also victims of systematic, structural discrimination by the state and by non-indigenous society. In this regard, they represent the country’s poorest, most excluded, most marginalized population, and all human rights of the indigenous peoples —civil, cultural, economic, social, and political— are violated and undermined on a constant basis. This situation principally plays out through the invasion, destruction, and expulsion from their traditional lands and ancestral territories, where they live their lives and where their worldview, survival, and cultural practices are deeply rooted.
Main challenges for Paraguay’s indigenous peoples
During 2016, the state intensified the structural discrimination faced by Paraguay’s indigenous peoples, as was expressly observed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial (CERD), non-treaty bodies, and treaty bodies of the UN, as well as other international monitoring bodies. This discrimination translates into violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples both by acts and omissions of the state. An example is the forced removal of communities from their ancestral territories.
Another challenge of Paraguay’s indigenous peoples relates to structural discrimination. Factors such as corruption, the concentration of land ownership and environmental degradation combined with institutional weaknesses hinder progress in alleviating poverty and create obstacles for the indigenous population’s dignified access to fundamental rights, such as water, education, and health, among others.
The rates of poverty and extreme poverty among indigenous peoples are 75% and 60% respectively, which far exceeds the national average. As for the situation of children under the age of five, the rate of extreme poverty is 63%, compared to the 26% national average, and the rate of chronic malnutrition is 41.7%, compared to a 17.5% national average. These figures demonstrate the profound gap of inequality separating the indigenous peoples from the rest of the population.
The violation of these rights and the situation of discrimination are indeed due to the asymmetry of economic power of agro-business in comparison with the indigenous peoples. Yet another fundamental factor is that the state is absent in applying the control that ought to be provided by the Ministry of Justice and Labor.
Potential progress for the indigenous peoples in Paraguay
In the context of an Inter-institutional Cooperation Agreement with the Supreme Court of Electoral Justice (TSJE), the Civil Registry and Department for Identification, the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Leaders of the Lower Chaco (Clibch), Diakonia and the NGO Tierraviva in the context of a European Union project being conducted to document and record members of 70 indigenous communities on the electoral register, resulting in documents being issued to more than 21,000 people in a department inhabited by a total of 27,000.
Upon concluding her eight day visit to Paraguay the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, provided her preliminary observations and recommendations at a press conference in Asunción on 28 November.
During her time in Paraguay, the Special Rapporteur carried out a series of meetings with Government representatives at the national and provincial levels, and with representatives of indigenous peoples and civil society. The meeting took place in Asunción and other cities, as well as in indigenous territories in the Chaco and Oriental Regions.
Last month, the indigenous Xákmok Kásek community formed by the Sanapaná people, reoccupied their ancestral land after nearly three decades of exile.
In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the land belonged to them, and that the Paraguayan State violated the Xákmok Kásek peoples’ right to communal property. The court also ruled that the State has violated the rights of children, personal integrity and that it has not implemented mechanisms to provide the members of the community with “the identity documents required to exercise their right to recognition of juridical personality.” Lastly, it ruled that the State has not complied with its obligation to stop discrimination against indigenous peoples.
The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, will carry out an official visit to Paraguay from 21 to 28 November 2014 to study the situation of indigenous peoples in the country .
"I will explore, among others, the issues of land and resource rights, as well as participation and consent -which can be achieved through free, prior and informed consultations," Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said, announcing the first visit ever to Paraguay by an independent expert tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on indigenous peoples' rights worldwide.