28 November 2014. I am now concluding my visit to Paraguay in my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Over the last eight days, I have met with national and departmental government authorities, indigenous peoples of Paraguay, organizations and individuals in several parts of the country. In addition to being in Asunción, my meetings have taken me to various places, including indigenous territories, in the Chaco and Oriental Regions.
I am grateful to the Government of Paraguay for its invitation and full cooperation it has provided, and for allowing me to carry out my visit freely and in an independent manner. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to representatives of indigenous peoples who invited me to visit their communities and to those indigenous organizations and individuals who assisted me in organizing parts of my agenda. Finally, I especially want to thank the indigenous peoples with whom I met for sharing with me their situations, concerns and hopes. In particular I would like to thank the communities of Nivacle community of Ujeslavos and the Mbya Guarani community of Cheiro for their warm welcome. I deeply regret that due to weather conditions, I was unable to visit the Ayoreo Totobiegosode community of Chaidi and the Mbya Guarani of Y’apo. However, I met with representatives from these communities in Filadelfia and Asuncion to hear their concerns which will be taken into account in the elaboration of my report. I also would like to thank the United Nations Country Team for the support provided.
Over the past several days, I have collected a significant amount of information from indigenous peoples and Government representatives. In the following weeks, I will be reviewing the extensive information I have received during the visit in order to develop a report to evaluate the situation of indigenous peoples in Paraguay and to make a series of recommendations. This report will be made public, and will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. I hope that it will be of use to the indigenous peoples, as well as to the Government of Paraguay, to help find solutions to ongoing challenges that indigenous peoples face in the country. In advance of this report, I would like to now provide some preliminary observations and recommendations on the basis of what I have observed during my visit. These do not reflect the full range of issues that were brought to my attention, nor do they reflect all of the initiatives on the part of national and departmental authorities related to indigenous issues.
The Government of Paraguay has ratified all core international and regional human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. It has also ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries No. 169, 1989 and voted in the General Assembly in support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007. Paraguay also joined the consensus in the United Nations General Assembly which adopted the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples on September 2014. The Paraguayan Constitution also recognizes the pre-existence and rights of indigenous peoples and has also adopted specific laws on such rights.
Paraguay is a multicultural and plurilingual country with two official languages, Spanish and Guarani and where indigenous languages are considered part of the cultural heritage of the nation.
Based on conversations I have held with members of many of the nineteen indigenous peoples in Paraguay, their foremost concern remains the security of their rights to their lands, territories and resources. This concern is shared by many representatives of governmental institutions, UN agencies and civil society organizations. Nearly half of the indigenous communities do not have lands. And even when the lands have been titled to the communities, land security is not ensured. Members of the communities reported on encroachment by agro-businesses, logging companies, and cattle ranchers, among others, sometimes forcing them into displacement. According to the decision of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in the Sawhoyamaxa case, the State should institute effective mechanisms within its national legal framework to resolve indigenous peoples’ claims on lands, territories and resources.
Paraguay has experienced phenomenal economic growth in the last few years. Unfortunately, this growth happens at the expense of massive destruction of ecosystems such as forests and rivers which are essential for indigenous peoples’ food security and livelihoods. Poverty and extreme poverty rates remain alarmingly high, an indicator of the prevailing and stark inequality. According to the most recent official data from the Government, poverty rates among the general population stand at roughly 23.8%. For extreme poverty, the rate for indigenous peoples is 63%, six times greater than the rate for the general population. The average period of education of the indigenous peoples is three years while the general population is eight years, with a 40% illiteracy rate among indigenous peoples.
Adequate social services are lacking for most of the indigenous communities who have limited access to water, health care or education. 87.8% of indigenous peoples have no access to health services. I recognise some positive developments such as the law on indigenous education and the establishment of the Directorate General for Indigenous Education (Dirección General de Educación Escolar Indígena). I also hope that the draft bill on indigenous peoples’ health will soon be adopted. There is a need for sustained and adequately resourced public policies in both education and health.
Indigenous peoples have also informed me of the absence of the state in their communities. Instituto Paraguayo del Indígena (INDI) which is the main government institution in charge of indigenous affairs remains a weak institution. Many recommendations were made for upgrading INDI to a ministry and for the provision of adequate resources.
During my visit, I also had a meeting with indigenous women who shared their problems in relation to land, health, education and the future of their children and peoples. I will devote a specific attention to their issues in my report.
A number of indigenous representatives expressed their frustration over the lack of consultation and participation, as required by Convention 169.
Indigenous peoples’ organizations have put forward a proposal on consultation and free, prior and informed consent. The Paraguayan Government should take it into account towards the development of the adequate legal framework in accordance to international human rights law on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Access to justice is a key concern. I was informed of pending historic justice issues, such as forced displacement caused by the building of the Yacyreta and Itaipu hydro-electric dams, without any redress. I was also told of the lack of knowledge by the judiciary about the rights of indigenous peoples leading to inaction or decisions contrary to the Constitution, the Paraguayan law and the international instruments ratified by Paraguay. I recognize some promising developments by the Supreme Court such as the work on customary law. Much remains to be done, however, in terms of ensuring access to justice for indigenous peoples and the adequate training of justice operators regarding relevant international and national law. I was also satisfied to learn about steps taken toward the enforcement of decisions of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. I would like to call on all relevant Paraguayan institutions for the full implementation of such decisions.
In my view, discrimination and racism are at the bottom of many of the problems faced by indigenous peoples. I would like to join many international and national bodies and institutions in the call for the prompt enactment of a law against all forms of discrimination.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my thanks to Government Officials who have generously provided me with invaluable information and the frank discussions we had. I remain committed to make my best effort to develop a report which can be of use in the common task of achieving the full protection, respect and fulfilment of indigenous peoples’ rights in Paraguay.
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The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in June 2014, tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights worldwide. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.
Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She played a key role in drafting and negotiating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pushing for its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. She was the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous activist and leader who has an expertise on human rights (particularly on indigenous peoples’ rights and women’s rights), development and environment issues, institution building, community organizing and leadership development.
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