Open Letter | 16-06-2014
Sawhoyamaxa Paraguay Indigenous Peoples Justiciability

Historic victory for Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community in Paraguay

Expropriation bill enables community to return to its ancestral lands after over twenty years of struggle and resistance

Photo retrieved from Tierraviva. Original image by Agencia EFE.

On 11 June, the President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, signed an expropriation bill that restitutes 14,404 hectares of ancestral land in the Chaco region to the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community. The adoption of the bill marks a major victory for the community, which had been fighting for their rights to territory and adequate food for 23 years. It is also the first time that an indigenous community recovers its lands through expropriation in the young Paraguayan democracy.

Since their displacement in the 1990s, around 160 Sawhoyamaxa families have been living in precarious conditions close to a highway, with inadequate access to food, health, education and services. In 2006, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights established violations of the community's right to territory and other human rights, and ordered the restitution of their ancestral lands within three years. However, Paraguay failed to implement this binding sentence. In March 2013, some Sawhoyamaxa families decided to reoccupy their lands in order to renew their urgent call upon the State to comply with its human rights obligations.

The adoption of the expropriation law and return of the Sawhoyamaxa community to its lands are certainly historic developments. Their situation, however, needs to be monitored and followed closely. Furthermore, the general situation of indigenous and peasant communities in Paraguay remains extremely concerning, characterized by an increasing number of cases of criminalization, forced evictions and repression by Paraguay State and non-State actors (see e.g. Curuguaty case). FIAN calls upon the State of Paraguay to ensure the full and effective implementation of the expropriation bill and to take steps to rectify the country's historical debt to the Sawhoyamaxa, indigenous peoples and peasant communities in general.

FIAN has been supporting the claims of the Sawhoyamaxa over almost a decade, along with other Paraguayan and international human rights organizations, including Tierraviva, and will continue to support the community. Between April and June 2014, FIAN has sent letters to the Deputies, Senators and the President of Paraguay calling for the adoption of the expropriation bill and increased compliance with the State's human rights obligations.

Read FIAN's Open Letter (available in Spanish) and see more information below:

See more photos of this historic victory