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Severe Violations of Human Rights in Paraguay Dwarf Progress

Indigenous people in Paraguay have been attacked, forced off their lands and in some cases were subjected to enslavement and human trafficking.

Indigenous people in Paraguay have been attacked, forced off their lands and in some cases subjected to enslavement and human trafficking, along with other human rights violations, and the United Nations recently sent their specialist to study the situation.

Paraguayan law is supposed to help indigenous people protect their lands, human rights and receive prior consultation among other things but that is not what is happening according to a report published in August by Victoria Tauli Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Tauli-Corpuz spoke with indigenous communities as well as government and business officials in late 2014. She met with 40 indigenous community groups as well as indigenous teachers and women worker groups. The Special Rapporteur also conferred with Supreme Court judges, the Ministers of Justice, Labour, Employment and Social Security, Women, and Public Health and Welfare, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Industry and Trade, Education and Culture, and the Interior and representatives of the Secretariat for Social Action, the Secretariat for the Environment and the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI). She also met with members of the Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples and representatives of the international donor community, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.

“Despite Paraguay's solid legal framework with the recognition of the pre-existence of Indigenous Peoples in the country and their fundamental rights, including their rights to their lands and resources, persisting and serious problems remain,” Tauli Corpuz asserted in her “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, regarding the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay.

“Challenges include but are not limited to the lack of adequate implementation of indigenous Peoples' rights to lands, territories and resources; obstacles to Indigenous Peoples' access to justice and remedy, the Government's failure to comply with its duty to consult; and Indigenous Peoples' general situation of poverty, dispossession and insufficient access to adequate social services.”

“Although overall poverty in Paraguay appears to have declined, available data indicate that the rates of poverty and extreme poverty among Indigenous Peoples are 75 percent and 60 percent, respectively, thus far exceeding the national average,” her report noted.

Along with her findings published in the 24-page report was a list of recommendations involving specific cases. Tauli-Corpuz urged the Paraguayan government to speed up the process of recognizing ancestral lands claimed by the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people and to work on a dialogue with private property owners to settle their claims justly. She asserted that until those claims are resolved the Paraguayan government should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the further violation of the rights to territory of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode community.

In her report, Tauli-Corpuz had also noted that one of the consequences of the displacement of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people was how they and other indigenous migrants ended up fleeing to cities where they were again persecuted.

“The Special Rapporteur was able to visit the Ayoreo settlement at the Pilgrim House in Filadelfia, where she heard repeated complaints about the worrisome situation of indigenous persons who have been displaced to urban centres. She was told that, in Asunción, fences have been erected in public parks to prevent indigenous migrants from setting up camps in them. She heard reports of the forced relocation, without the necessary safeguards, of indigenous people from cities to other locations. She received reports concerning a lack of personal security, an increase in the number of indigenous street children and human trafficking, especially in border areas.”

More than a month later, a Paraguayan human rights official responded to the Special Rapporteur’s report, asserting that the government was grateful for her help and would be working on addressing the host of violations listed in that document.

On September 22, Juan Miguel Gonzalez Biboloni, Director of Human Rights in Paraguay’s Ministry of Foreign Relations presented the official response at a meeting of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

In his speech, Gonzalez Biboloni pointed to various efforts by educational, health and indigenous rights departments in the government to address problems with loss of territory, lack of prior consultation and other human rights violations. He mentioned at least 10 different government departments and agencies which are providing health, education, food, family and legal services to most of the 711 indigenous communities in the country. Gonzalez also noted the work of the National Paraguayan Indigenous Institute (known as INDI in the country) in providing general advocacy services.

Tauli-Corpuz indicated that INDI needed more resources and Paraguayan officials showed her a plan that would change the institute into a different ministry and provide an adequate, regular budget and “the requisite authority to meet its responsibilities.” However, the government had announced on September 7, that INDI’s budget was to be cut by over 40 percent in this year’s national budget proposal. INDI had already been a topic in Paraguayan national news in the last five months. In April, INDI’s former Director Ruben Quesnel was convicted of illegally selling over 60,000 acres of indigenous land to a developer and sentenced to six years in prison. He will also face charges of stealing $700,000 from the Institute.

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