Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nicaragua Finally Complies with Order of Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Grants Awas Tingni Title to Ancestral Lands


Press Release

UN expert praises Nicaragua for formally
confirming land ownership for
indigenous group

17 December 2008

GENEVA – On 14 December 2008, the Government of Nicaragua, in a long-awaited ceremony, gave the Awas Tingni community the title to its ancestral territory, which consists of some 74,000 hectares of densely forested lands. "This affirmative step by the Government of Nicaragua represents an important advancement in the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide," said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Professor James Anaya.

The Special Rapporteur congratulated the Government of Nicaragua on completing the demarcation and titling of the lands of Awas Tingni, a Mayangna community that is one of the many indigenous communities that populate the country's Atlantic Coast region. The titling of Awas Tingni's territory marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle by the community to gain recognition and protection of its ancestral lands.

On 31 August 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its decision in the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, finding that Nicaragua had violated the rights of the Awas Tingni community for both granting concessions to log within the community's traditional lands and for failing to recognize Awas Tingni property rights in those lands. In its historic decision, the Inter-American Court found that the right to property, as affirmed in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, protects the traditional land tenure of indigenous peoples.

This was the first case in which an international tribunal with legally binding authority found a government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group, setting an important precedent in international law.

The Special Rapporteur was present at the titling ceremony on Sunday, along with several government dignitaries and indigenous leaders who traveled to the remote community for this momentous event. He stated there that, "The titling of Awas Tingni's lands reflects a commitment on the part of the Nicaraguan Government to implement the judgment of the Inter-American Court. In addition, it provides a model for other governments to comply with their international legal obligations to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands and resources in practice."

The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government of Nicaragua to continue to advance the human rights of indigenous peoples in the country and to address their ongoing concerns in accordance with international standards.


Commentary by Perry H. Chesnut, Editor, NRN

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, exists to interpret and enforce the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Created by the Organization of American States in 1977, this autonomous judicial body has no jurisdiction over any member state of the OAS unless that state has signed the American Convention on Human Rights. To date, Canada has declined to ratify the Convention, and despite the fact that the United States signed the Convention in 1977, and despite the fact that noted American legal scholar and jurist Thomas Buergenthal sat on the Court from 1979 through 1991 and served as its President from 1985 through 1987, the United States has never ratified the Convention. The legal effect of this is that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has no jurisdiction to hear or decide cases of alleged violation of human rights by Canada or the United States - even though they are members of the OAS.

This is just one more example of the jarring clash between our governments' propaganda about protecting the human rights of their citizens and the actual facts. Imagine, for example, if the United States were tried for the 1993 mass murder of its own citizens at Waco, Texas (54 adults and 22 children members of the Branch Davidian religious sect), or for the FBI's 1979 murder of Native American rights activist John Trudell's mother-in-law, pregnant wife and three children. Nope, it's unimaginable for at least two reasons: (1) we're the good guys, remember? Our government would never assassinate its own citizens for target practice or political payback. And (2), just in case anyone disagrees that we're the good guys, we're the most powerful nation on earth, and we're never going submit to the jurisdiction of any court put together by a bunch of two-bit Latin-American countries. They can do that to themselves if they are so inclined, but we - the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - are different. We are the exception to the rules that govern other lesser peoples and nations and can do anything we want to. And if we do it, that automatically makes it right and not subject to question, debate or review by anyone except ourselves. In fact, we are a rule unto ourselves.

Having said that, I want to end on a brighter note by emphasizing the power of international public and legal opinion on the actions of national governments, including those of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the only four nations to vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP), adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. The erosion of goodwill toward and respect for the United States by the world community over the last eight years has been enormous, with international polls showing that many people believe that the United States has lost its moral compass and many others naming our country as the "most dangerous country in the world." Our own citizenry's awareness of the decline of U.S. moral and ethical authority, both domestically, and with respect to its standing in the world community is one of the main reasons for the wholesale repudiation of the Bush Administration and Republican Party and their doctrines - all of which have the purpose of making the entire planet and 95% of its population subject and subservient to the insatiable greed of the now global corporations and the 2% of the world's population who own and manage them. The tide of world opinion is turning against those who would destroy the earth, its climate, and the indigenous people who understand the interrelationship of the earth and all living beings and who view cooperation, sharing, and the maintenance of balance and harmony as spiritual obligations. And so this legal case and Nicaragua's compliance with its decision are two more thorns in the heel of global corporate capitalism. Slowly, like the drip, drip, drip of water on a rock, international legal decisions and international public opinion will wear away the grip unrestrained capitalism has on the citizens and institutions of our own nations (U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand). There is good reason for optimism.

1 comment:

Indigenous Peoples Activist said...

This has been a long struggle. Hopefully other neighboring countries will follow Nicaragua's lead and grant more title back to the indigenous people.

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