Press Release

IACHR Urges the State of Nicaragua to Cease Violations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Communities

March 23, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) noted that attacks against indigenous communities on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast continue to occur and that these have serious, structural effects on these communities’ right to land and territory and on the lives and integrity of their members. These attacks have allegedly intensified since the start of the serious human rights crisis that has been affecting the country since April 2018. The IACHR urged the state of Nicaragua to take immediate steps to prevent such acts, investigate and punish those responsible for them, and to provide victims with immediate reparation. The IACHR also urged that the processes of providing title deeds and restoring lands belonging to the indigenous communities and communities of African descent on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast be sped up.

Through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the IACHR received reports of an attack by armed groups attempting to occupy such lands on February 16, 2020, who allegedly shot members of the Santa Clara community in Waspán Río Coco municipality. As a result, a 14-year-old girl was allegedly shot in the jaw, which seriously affected her physical integrity. Since February 6, 2020, the Santa Clara community has been the beneficiary of provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court).

On January 29, the IACHR also received reports and testimonies about an attack carried out by settlers involving the use of firearms against the Miskitu de Alal community in Bosawás Park, who were hunting in the area in accordance with their ancestral customs. Two members of this indigenous community were killed and the four who were able to escape managed to alert the rest of the community, which moved from the place where they usually reside to the Mesawás lands for several days until the settlers in question had left the area. On their return, the community found that 13 houses had been burnt down and that the goods and supplies they depend on for their survival had been looted, which has seriously affected the 79 families that make up the community.

Over the course of 2019, the IACHR also learned of at least six attacks on Santa Clara community, which is part of the Miskitu people, one of which involved 25 armed trespassers kidnapping two women from the community, Graciela Guiermo Velásquez and Elvira Flamingo Velásquez, and forcing them to perform hard labor. According to reports, the other attacks have also included threats and the interrogation of community members involving the intimidating use of firearms, illegal settlements on indigenous lands that limit the community’s access to the areas where they live, the construction of roads, and the appropriation of land by placing private property signs within indigenous territories.

The IACHR warned that these constant attacks on indigenous communities involve a violation of their territorial rights and the rights to integrity and life of these communities and the people who form part of them. Despite the existence of a widespread process to provide title deeds to lands and the existence of indigenous territorial governments in the Northern and Southern Caribbean Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua, which the IACHR has recognized as progress in this area, these rights continue to be systematically affected by the lack of headway being made on the process of providing title deeds and the absence of measures to prevent, investigate, and punish those who commit acts of aggression against these communities.

Within the inter-American system, the IACHR and the IA Court have confirmed that the collective spiritual relationship that indigenous peoples have with space and territory are protected by article 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights. By virtue of this right, states have the duty to provide title deeds to ancestral indigenous territories and identify the borders of these in accordance with the communities’ worldviews. The IACHR has also recognized that the state must guarantee indigenous communities’ collective property in the face of attempts by third parties to seize or occupy this. Should such conflicts arise, these communities have the right to receive protection and reparation through effective, appropriate procedures. States must also guarantee these communities’ right to hold property and ensure that those responsible for attacks against them are investigated and sanctioned and that special, rapid, effective mechanisms are established to resolve legal conflicts regarding land ownership.

The IACHR repeated its offer of technical assistance to the state of Nicaragua. In addition, it specifically called for lands for which title deeds have already been granted in favor of indigenous communities to be restored to them, for all attacks that have taken place to be investigated and sanctioned, and for specific measures to be put in place to prevent them from occurring.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 061/20