A breakthrough for indigenous rights in Paraguay

Paraguay’s Senate have voted to support an Expropriation Bill that could prove a landmark in the struggle of the country’s indigenous communities to gain recognition of their rights to their ancestral lands. 

Amnesty International has been campaigning with others in support of the Sawhoyamaxa community, whose 146 families had been living for years in harsh conditions, camped beside a busy road with no access to a regular supply of food, water and other basic services. 

The Paraguayan government had failed to comply with a 2006 judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the Sawhoyamaxa’s human rights had been breached and that their ancestral lands should be returned to them. 

In March last year, the community were willing to wait no longer and reoccupied part of their lands.  The landowner sought their expulsion and attempts by the authorities to negotiate a deal with him had no success.  So the government produced a draft law to expropriate the land and compensate the owner.  

Given the government’s track record so far, I was not at all confident that the bill would ever become law. 

However, last week we heard the wonderful news that the Senate had approved the bill, with only one dissenting vote.  There were tears of joy among members of the Sawhoyamaxa community who had been waiting outside the Senate building throughout the debate. 

This is not the end of the struggle.  The bill still has to be approved by the Chamber of Deputirs and be implemented by the President.  But this was a key decision that could mark a turning point in the struggles of Paraguay’s long-suffering indigenous communities. 

There can be no doubt that the international campaigning in support of the community’s own efforts played a vital role in achieving the breakthrough. 

Graham Minter is one of our South America Country Coordinators

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