An independent United Nations human rights expert has praised the Nicaraguan Government for giving the indigenous Awas Tingni community the title to its traditional lands, marking the culmination of a decades-long struggle by the group to gain recognition and protection of its ancestral territory.
“This affirmative step by the Government of Nicaragua represents an important advancement in the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya.
The Government, in a ceremony on 14 December, gave the Awas Tingni – one of the many indigenous communities that populate the country’s Atlantic Coast region – the title to its ancestral territory, which consists of some 74,000 hectares of densely forested lands.
The long-awaited move was several years in the making and follows a historic August 2001 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua.
The Court found that Nicaragua had violated the rights of the community by granting concessions to log within its traditional lands and for failing to recognize Awas Tingni property rights in those lands.
In its decision, the Court found that the right to property, as affirmed in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, protects the traditional land tenure of indigenous peoples.
“This was the first case in which an international tribunal with legally binding authority found a Government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group, setting an important precedent in international law,” stated a news release issued by the UN.
Mr. Anaya, who was present at the ceremony, noted that the titling of Awas Tingni’s lands reflects a commitment on the part of the Nicaraguan Government to implement the judgment of the Inter-American Court.
“In addition, it provides a model for other Governments to comply with their international legal obligations to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands and resources in practice,” he stated.
Special Rapporteurs serve in an independent unpaid capacity and report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.