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Realizing indigenous peoples’ rights in Paraguay

In Paraguay, the vast majority of the indigenous population - 91,5 per cent - lives in rural areas. Half of it is concentrated in the region of Chaco, in the northern part of the country.

The Chaco region is of difficult access and has little infrastructure, leaving the population there isolated and marginalized. Many indigenous peoples work in slave-like conditions, face poverty and extreme poverty and those who move to urban areas are often discriminated against, particularly women and children who fall victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Continuing deforestation and environmental degradation also affect the livelihoods of indigenous peoples across the country.

During her recent visit to Paraguay, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang heard about the obstacles indigenous peoples face every day to the enjoyment of their rights, their difficult living conditions, and the problems related to the possession and ownership of their ancestral lands.

“I encourage the Government to increase efforts to ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, their participation in decision-making processes is guaranteed and their right to prior consultation is exercised,” she said.

In Paraguay, indigenous peoples are increasingly being expelled and chased from their ancestral homes mainly due to deforestation to give space and for livestock and agriculture implementation, in particular to soy production. The Government has tried to tackle the issue of land titles by reclaiming land illegally obtained or buying back land from farmers. But progress has been slow.

In August 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, one of the bodies that comprises the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, commended the recognition by the Government of one of the indigenous groups’ property rights and its formalization through the official transfer of the respective land title.

“I urge the Government to enact comprehensive legislation and policies to address the highly unequal land distribution and thus protect the rights of indigenous peoples and other communities,” Kang said.

During her visit, Kang met with the Maká community, one of the 20 existing indigenous groups in the country, living 25 km outside Asunción, the capital. The Maká community suffers from discrimination, lives under inadequate housing conditions and lacks access to basic services. Even though they live in urban areas, they still use their own language.

“The international community recognizes that indigenous peoples have suffered a lot,” she told representatives of the community. “Maybe we cannot change everything but we can support indigenous communities in their fight against discrimination.”

Kang acknowledged that the Government of Paraguay has made some progress to protect and respect indigenous peoples’ rights in the country. An important development is the recent creation of special offices within institutions such as the Ministries of Health and Education.

However, the lack of institutional autonomy, corruption, insufficient resources and lack of authority over other State entities constitute an obstacle to making a real impact on public policies regarding this sector of the population.

“The promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples are very important for the UN and remain a major priority for our Office,” Kang said. “The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – of which Paraguay is a signatory – is the guide and the solution to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are respected.”

3 November 2011


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