On April 24 the Paraguayan Senate finally approved the expropriation of 14,400 hectares of land to be returned to the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community. With nearly five years delay, this approval will lead the way for the implementation of a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, obliging the Paraguayan government to return the ancestral land of the Enxet Sawhoyamaxa community, unlawfully appropriated by private companies twenty years ago.
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.
A land deal finalized this week between Paraguayan authorities and a land owner in the country’s central region will allow a long-displaced indigenous community to rebuild in safety and dignity, Amnesty International said today. For almost two decades, the Yakye Axa indigenous community have fought a legal battle to return to their ancestral lands while around 90 families were forced to live in destitute conditions alongside a nearby highway.
Following the dismissal of President Fernando Lugo through an abrupt and traumatic process for all of us, and given the present political situation in Paraguay, FAPI, a body that unites several indigenous peoples’ organisations of the western and eastern regions of the country, wishes to inform the national and international communities that:
Natural History Museum expedition to remote area threatens uncontacted indigenous groups An expedition of more than 20 scientists from the Natural History Museum is due to leave London this month to conduct a large scale research study in a remote area of Paraguay, near the border with Bolivia, alongside local scientists and support staff, forming a total expedition team of over 60.