The indigenous peoples of the Chaco region of neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay are often trapped into forced labour practices and face discrimination, severe poverty and in some cases systematic violence, the United Nations reported today, calling on the two countries to take urgent action to protect those groups’ human rights.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues voiced grave concern today as it released the reports from the recent visits to Bolivia and Paraguay of a mission comprising Permanent Forum members as well as experts from a series of UN agencies and departments.
The mission found that while the Governments of the two countries have taken some steps to deal with the problem of forced labour, additional and immediate action is necessary, given the severity of the situation.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, said the mission found that a response is needed both at the national level and across international borders to help the indigenous of the Chaco, a relatively arid and remote plain in central South America.
“A strong message must be sent by the two national governments to the local governments and land owners of the Chaco region,” she said. “It is unacceptable for any sector of society to be subjected to forced labour and other abuses.”
The report calls on Bolivia and Paraguay to establish sufficient State institutions in the areas where forced labour is prevalent to ensure that domestic and international labour laws are actually enforced, appropriate rural development is undertaken and critical social services such as health care and education are in place.
“International law and national policies must be strongly enforced not only by national governments, but also at the level of local government where, at the very best, the message of anti-discrimination is not getting through, and at worst is being actively opposed,” Ms. Tauli-Corpuz noted.
She said that while the forced labour of the Guaraní and other indigenous peoples has long been documented, those groups “face severe poverty, lack food and water security and are confronted with a series of human rights abuses related to land rights, child labour, freedom of association and discrimination. In some areas, those seeking to defend their rights were the target of systematic violence and threats.”
The Chairperson stressed that efforts to tackle the problems faced by the indigenous peoples of the Chaco “must be undertaken with their free, prior and informed consent, and must also include restoration of territorial and land rights for indigenous peoples, and the promotion and application of the principle of non-discrimination in all spheres of life of indigenous peoples.”
The Permanent Forum is an advisory to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is tasked with discussing indigenous issues as they relate to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.
The mission to Bolivia and Paraguay, which took place in April and May, included experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).