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Paraguay: UN expert concerned over indigenous peoples’ rights to land, resources

Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Paraguay: UN expert concerned over indigenous peoples’ rights to land, resources

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples identified a number of ongoing challenges remaining in Paraguay as she ended an eight-day official visit to the country on Friday.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz raised concerns about Paraguayan indigenous people’s land and resource rights and their access to social services and the judiciary, as well as inequality, discrimination and lack of consultation.

“In my view, discrimination and racism are at the bottom of many of the problems faced by indigenous peoples,” Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said.

“Nearly half of the indigenous communities do not have lands,” she pointed out, noting that in her conversations with representatives of indigenous communities, “their foremost concern remains the security of their rights to their lands, territories, and resources.”

“Even when the lands have been titled to the communities, land security is not ensured. Members of the communities reported encroachment by agro-businesses, logging companies, cattle ranchers, among others, sometimes forcing them into displacement.”

Despite “phenomenal economic growth” in Paraguay in recent years, growth occurred at the expense of “massive destruction of ecosystems such as forests and rivers which are essential for indigenous peoples’ food security and livelihoods.”

Government data revealed “prevailing and stark inequality,” with extreme poverty rates for indigenous peoples standing at 63 per cent, six times the rate for the general population. Indigenous peoples, meanwhile, spent an average of three years in education, compared to eight years for the general population, with the disparity reflected in illiteracy rates among indigenous peoples of 40 per cent.

The Special Rapporteur, who is mandated to examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, noted that Paraguay had ratified all the core international and regional human rights treaties and had codified indigenous rights in its Constitution.

There had been positive developments in some areas, such as the recent law on indigenous education, but others remain of great concern – almost 90 per cent of indigenous persons did not have access to health services.

More work was also needed to boost consultation and participation of indigenous peoples, she said, calling on the Government to develop an adequate legal framework for consultation and to upgrade the main Government institution for indigenous affairs (INDI) to a full-fledged ministry.

Despite some promising developments, including the Supreme Court’s work on customary law, access to justice for indigenous peoples also needed to be improved. Historic justice issues, such as the forced displacement caused by the Yacitera and Itaipu hydro-electric dams, remained without redress, while the judiciary’s knowledge of the rights of indigenous peoples needed improvement to prevent inaction and decisions that ran counter to provisions of the Constitution.

The Special Rapporteur, who is independent from any Government or organization and serves in her individual capacity, met with national and departmental government authorities, and indigenous peoples, organizations and individuals around the country. She will present her assessment and recommendations in a report to the Human Rights Council in September 2015.