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UN expert praises Nicaragua for formally confirming land ownership for indigenous group



17 December 2008


GENEVA – On 14 December 2008, the Government of Nicaragua, in a long-awaited ceremony, gave the Awas Tingni community the title to its ancestral territory, which consists of some 74,000 hectares of densely forested lands. “This affirmative step by the Government of Nicaragua represents an important advancement in the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Professor James Anaya.

The Special Rapporteur congratulated the Government of Nicaragua on completing the demarcation and titling of the lands of Awas Tingni, a Mayangna community that is one of the many indigenous communities that populate the country’s Atlantic Coast region. The titling of Awas Tingni’s territory marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle by the community to gain recognition and protection of its ancestral lands.

On 31 August 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its decision in the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, finding that Nicaragua had violated the rights of the Awas Tingni community for both granting concessions to log within the community’s traditional lands and for failing to recognize Awas Tingni property rights in those lands. In its historic decision, the Inter-American 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.

The Special Rapporteur was present at the titling ceremony on Sunday, along with several government dignitaries and indigenous leaders who traveled to the remote community for this momentous event. He stated there 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.”

The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government of Nicaragua to continue to advance the human rights of indigenous peoples in the country and to address their ongoing concerns in accordance with international standards.

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