A 20-year battle won, and new hope for Paraguay's indigenous communities

On 11 June, Paraguay’s President Cartes signed into law an Expropriation Bill that returns more than 55 square miles of traditional land to the Sawhoyamaxa people – an area about the size of Cardiff. It’s hopefully the end of a remarkable journey for the community who have been fighting for their land for over 20 years, and the start of a new and better life for the Sawhoyamaxa. 

Over the last months, Amnesty activists around the UK have joined others in Paraguay and around the world in sending letters, emails and tweets to Paraguayan government figures urging them to pass the legislation. One by one, potential barriers fell as the bill was approved first by the Senate, then by the Lower House and finally by President Cartes.

A member of the Sawhoyamaxa with messages of support sent to Amnesty Paraguay.

It has been eight years since the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the Sawhoyamaxa’s rights to their ancestral land and set a three-year deadline for Paraguay to comply with the judgement.

For most of that time, the 146 families were camped precariously by the side of a busy road.

Last year, as negotiations between the State and the private owner continued to provide no solution, the community returned to part of their land and continued their battle from there.

The Government, to its credit, resisted calls to evict the community and instead drafted an Expropriation Bill that has now become law. Although five years late, let us hope that this is the start of a new era in Paraguay, with indigenous rights at last properly recognised.   

Graham Minter is our Country Coordinator for Paraguay.

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