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Permanent Forum wants forced labor stopped

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Following a recent mission to Bolivia and Paraguay, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues released two reports expressing grave concern over forced labor suffered by indigenous peoples in the Chaco regions of the two countries.

“Effective action is required to put an end to forced labor practices, as well as other human rights abuses, experienced by indigenous peoples in the Chaco,” said Permanent Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. “During our visits to Bolivia and Paraguay we found that the forced labor of Guaraní and other indigenous peoples – which has been long documented – continues to exist. In addition, the indigenous peoples of the Chaco face severe poverty, lack food and water security and are confronted with a series of human rights abuses related to land rights, child labor, freedom of association and discrimination. In some areas, those seeking to defend their rights were the target of systematic violence and threats.”

The mission, which took place in April and May, comprised the chairperson and three other members of the Permanent Forum, as well as experts from United Nations agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labour Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Development Programme and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

While the governments of Bolivia and Paraguay have taken steps to address forced labor, immediate additional action is necessary, according to the report of the mission, which includes recommendations for the governments. It urges them to establish an adequate presence of state institutions in forced labor zones to ensure the enforcement of domestic and international labor law, security and legal services, social services, including health and education, and appropriate rural development.

“All efforts to address the situation of indigenous peoples of the Chaco region must be undertaken with their free, prior and informed consent, and must also include restoration of territorial and land rights for indigenous peoples, and the promotion and application of the principle of non-discrimination in all spheres of life of indigenous peoples,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

The reports further state that ending forced labor practices requires responses on the national level and across borders. “A strong message must be sent by the two national governments to the local governments and landowners of the Chaco region. It is unacceptable for any sector of society to be subjected to forced labor and other abuses.”

While welcoming the actions of the Bolivian and Paraguayan governments to end forced labor practices, the reports emphasize that solutions must address the root causes of problems.

“International law and national policies must be strongly enforced not only by national governments, but also at the level of local government, where, at the very best, the message of anti-discrimination is not getting through, and at worst is being actively opposed,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

The Permanent Forum is an advisory body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. For copies of the mission reports, visit the UNPFII Web site.