Compelling reasons to celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
"We lived at the side of the road, we lived badly. Several members of the community died in accidents, of disease. Nobody respected us. Now this is our victory. I am very happy, and I cry because my grandmother, my father and many members of my family did not have the opportunity I have today to enjoy our land. I'm grateful to everyone" -- Aparicia Gonzalez, an Indigenous Enxet woman from the Sawhoyamaxa community in Paraguay
This week, as the United Nations marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9th), we want to take a moment to celebrate two crucial recent victories in the long struggle for the recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
On June 26, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Tsilhqot’in people had proven their continued ownership of – and right to control – a large swath of land in the heart of their traditional territory. The landmark decision at long last moves the constitutional recognition of Indigenous land title -- previously largely abstract and routinely ignored -- into the realm of practical reality.
Earlier in June, the President of Paraguay enacted a law that will allow the return of more than 14,400 hectares of land to the Sawhoyamaxa, a community of the Enxet Indigenous people. The community’s legal battle for recognition of their land rights, which began in 1991, eventually went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Throughout this time, community members have lived in deplorable conditions in a precariously narrow strip of land between a major highway and the lands that had been taken from them.
In regional overview released today, Amnesty International called recognition of the land rights of the Sawhoyamaxa and Tsilhqot’in “victories of great importance not only for the Indigenous peoples of Paraguay and Canada but for all Indigenous peoples in the Americas and around the world.”
These victories are all the more important given the widespread human rights violations that Indigenous nations and communities --and individual Indigenous women, men and children -- continue to face on a daily basis throughout the hemisphere.
In a press statement, Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said today, “Indigenous Peoples in the Americas continue to face a litany of abuse.”
Examples cited in the brief include exclusion of Indigenous peoples from decisions about resource development on their traditional territories, forced evictions of Indigenous communities, attacks on Indigenous human rights defenders, and the shockingly high rates of violence faced by Indigenous women in Canada.
In such a context, the long fought for recognition of the rights of the Tsilhqot’in and Sawhoyamaxa stand as powerful examples that entrenched forms of discrimination can be overcome. This is a history-making struggle for fundamental human rights that should compell us all to action.
Amnesty’s new brief calls on governments throughout the Americas to:
- Take urgent action to resolve land disputes;
- Establish effective safeguards for Indigenous rights, including processes for meaningful consultation and guarantees of free, prior and informed consent, while such disputes remain unresolved;
- Ensure that Indigenous leaders and communities are safe from reprisals when peacefully asserting or defending their rights;
- Take due diligence measures to protect Indigenous women and girls from all forms of violence;
- Fully implement the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Related action appeals: