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In Paraguay, social security creates safety net and builds rights for all

26 September 2023

Indigenous people march in Paraguay. © EPA/Nathalia Aguilar

“We want our fundamental human rights and our right to development to be respected,” said Hipólito Acevei.

Acevei, who is the president of the Federation for Indigenous Peoples’ Self-Determination of Paraguay, has spent a lifetime fighting to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples in the South American country.

“Indigenous peoples in Paraguay face many obstacles to the enjoyment of their human rights, including poverty, discrimination, deforestation, disputes over land ownership, and a lack of social security protection.”

Despite social security being recognized in several human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains illusory for billions across the world, particularly for marginalized communities.

In Paraguay, indigenous peoples lack access to basic needs such as adequate food, education, housing, justice and health, which puts at risk the achievement of most national and international commitments, including the Sustainable Development Goals.

Under its mandate to address inequalities and promote economic, social and cultural rights, UN Human Rights is supporting Paraguay’s efforts to adopt a social protection system that integrates human rights, alleviates structural inequalities and generates sustainable growth.

With funding from the Surge Initiative, the Office is working with the government, civil society, human rights institutions and academia, providing technical assistance and analytical data, and enhancing capacity with the goal of building institutional and financial capacity to ensure social security for all.

“Social security systems contribute to eradicating poverty and inequality, promoting human dignity and social inclusion, and are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Pradeep Wagle, Chief of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section at UN Human Rights.

Wagle said the COVID-19 pandemic and the global health and economic crises it triggered exposed deep inequalities within and between countries, as well as decades of under-investment in services essential to upholding economic, social and cultural rights.

Human rights economy

José Galeano, a UN human rights advisor in Paraguay, said that while Paraguay has experienced strong economic growth in the last two decades, such prosperity has not been matched by adequate public spending on economic, social and cultural rights for the wellbeing of all.

“Social protection requires greater resources to provide assistance and provide access to human rights,” said Galeano.

“To cite only one potential scenario that should be reversed in order to provide social protection, Paraguay has the lowest fiscal pressure in Latin America, both in terms of direct and indirect taxes, as well as being one of the countries with the lowest social investment in the region.”

About 66 percent of Paraguay’s indigenous people live in poverty, and 34.4 percent live in abject poverty, three times the national level. The illiteracy rate among indigenous people is 33.5 percent, while less than 1 percent have access to internet. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous people benefit from the state IPS social protection system.

Root causes of inequality

Galeano said these dramatic conditions have structural causes, such as the low participation of indigenous peoples in political decision-making bodies, persistent discrimination by the State and the expulsion of indigenous peoples from their lands and resources.

“We want our human rights to be respected,” said Hipólito Acevei, president of the Federation for Indigenous Peoples’ Self-Determination of Paraguay. ©FAPI

“We want our human rights to be respected,” said Hipólito Acevei, president of the Federation for Indigenous Peoples’ Self-Determination of Paraguay. ©FAPI

Acevei said governments should make sure indigenous peoples have a say in building more inclusive and prosperous societies.

“The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples is very important. We can provide alternatives for the recovery of nature and achieve the SDGs. Without the participation of indigenous peoples, it will be difficult to move forward,” he said.

Speaking during the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said human rights economies measure success not by the size of GDP, but by the wellbeing of all people.

“The basic necessities of life – education, health, decent work, social security, an adequate standard of living, freedom from hunger, and enjoyment of science and culture – are not services or commodities, but human rights to be enjoyed by all,” Türk said.

In Paraguay, the Surge Initiative carried out a human rights analysis of the social protection system, including a series of recommendations on economic and fiscal policies to secure universal social security.

The study is being used to engage with the Ministry of Social Development to promote the extension of the government program Vamos! to segments of society that have been excluded, including indigenous peoples, women, older persons, children and persons with disabilities.

Working with academia, UN Human Rights in Paraguay also organized a series of workshops on social protection and human rights.

“I believe that the State should definitely invest more in social security systems in a more inclusive way,” said Oscar Díaz Aguilar, a teacher who participated in one of the workshops. “There are segments of the population that are invisible.”

UN Human Rights created the Surge Initiative in 2019 in response to rising inequalities, the slow implementation of the SDGs and increasing social unrest. Its mission is to step up engagement at the country and regional levels on economic, social, and cultural rights and strengthen the link between human rights and economics.