CEJIL went from focusing on individual rights to dealing with collective claims. Complemented by regional trainings, meetings, publications (several of which were translated into languages such as Quichua), and other initiatives, CEJIL has worked with other organizations to change the tide for indigenous groups in the Americas.
In association with the Tob’nel Tinamit Indigenous Legal Defense Center, CEJIL solicited precautionary measures from the IACHR for some Mayans in Guatemala to prevent the destruction the sacred Rosario-Naranjo Tulam Tzu site at the hands of a local housing development project. CEJIL´s work in Guatemala also involved the Colotenango case, where officers of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PACs by its Spanish acronym), attacked members of the Colotenango community during a peaceful protest, leaving several injured and killing one of them.
After more than six months of negotiations, petitioning organizations reached a friendly settlement agreement with the Government of Guatemala, which included compensation by the Government to the victim’s family, as well as to several people who were injured, threatened, harassed or even forced to move away from their homes.
CEJIL went from focusing on individual rights to dealing with collective claims.
Continuing with this line of work, CEJIL denounced the situation of the Guarani people in the Bolivian Chaco region, who were living in a situation of captivity where they were subjected to servitude and forced labor, and urged the IACHR to visit and assess the situation of the area. As a result, that same year, the IACHR made an in-country visit which helped corroborate the information provided by CEJIL and other organizations. Later, in 2009, as a result of this visit, the IACHR issued a series of resolutions that laid down guidelines for the creation of new policies to prevent servitude and forced labor in the Chaco, as well as in the rest of the country.
Furthermore, CEJIL and partner organizations accomplished landmark legal decisions in favor of the civil and political rights of indigenous people across the continent. In the cases of Inés and Valentina, who were sexually abused by members of the Mexican military occupying the indigenous territories of La Montaña in the State of Guerrero, CEJIL won direct reparations for both of the women and the creation of standards on how the States should guarantee access to justice for women of indigenous origin.
Additionally, the cases succeeded in catalyzing the reform of the Code of Military Justice in Mexico. As a result, the investigation of both cases was reopened and, in June 2018, two soldiers were sentenced for the sexual torture inflicted on Valentina Rosendo. Another example is the case of López Álvarez, who was unjustly imprisoned and forbidden to speak Garifuna, his mother tongue, during his time in prison. The IACHR established that the mother tongue represents an element of identity. In the case of YATAMA vs. Nicaragua, CEJIL promoted the development of emblematic jurisprudence on the political rights of indigenous peoples to preserve their identity and culture through adequate electoral participation.
After granting 135,000 hectares of territory to the native Kichwa people of Sarayaku, the State of Ecuador included that same territory among the 200,000 hectares that it granted to the Argentine oil company CGC. In 2002, members of this company broke into the Sarayaku territory, along with members of the Ecuadorian Army and private security forces. They built roads, detonated pentolite –an explosive of great destructive power–, and deforested areas of the territory ignoring the sacred and cultural value that the land, its plants, and trees, have for the community, and risking the lives of the more than 1,200 members of the Kichwa indigenous people of Sarayaku.
Thanks to the legal advocacy work that CEJIL, the Kichwa Association of Sarayaku (Tayjasaruta) and the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CDES by its Spanish acronym) conducted before the Inter-American Human Rights System, the contract for oil concession project was canceled. The State also granted economic compensations to those who were affected. The case established landmark legal standards on the collective rights of indigenous peoples and set a precedent in the struggle of indigenous peoples in the region.
Recently, CEJIL presented this case and its background through a digital initiative developed with Amazon Conservation Team at RightsCon, where investors, activists, human rights experts and government representatives from across the world came together to address the most challenging problems at the intersection of human rights and technology.
The contract for oil concession project was canceled and the State also granted economic compensations to those who were affected.
The Yakye Axa community in Paraguay is another example of the struggle for the right to live on ancestral lands. Its members were expelled from their territories and currently live in a small area on the side of a road. As their land was being taken away, sixteen people died and several cases of malnutrition and serious illnesses occurred, affecting mainly children and the elderly.
Thanks to the process that CEJIL and Tierra Viva conducted before the Inter-American Human Rights System, the Inter-American Court recognized the right to collective indigenous property, which acknowledges the meaning that ancestral territory has for indigenous peoples as the foundation of their culture, spiritual life, integrity and economic sustainability, and explicitly recognized that the ancestral possession of indigenous territories has equivalent effects to the title of full ownership granted by the State and that those who have had to leave or lost land possession can maintain the right of ownership over them even in the absence of legal title and even when those territories are in private hands.
In November 2017, CEJIL accompanied the Inter-American Court on its visit. During its trip, the Court expressed its concern about the challenges faced by the community when trying to return to their territory: 13 years after the tribunal´s judgement, they still live by the side of a public road, without access to clean water, and in ramshackle housing. Meanwhile, the State fails to provide them with adequate health, food, and education. As a result of this visit, the State made a commitment to comply with the judgment and guarantee access of the people to their ancestral land, which is expected to happen in the following months.
The Inter-American Court recognized the right to collective indigenous property, which acknowledges the meaning that ancestral territory has for indigenous peoples as the foundation of their culture, spiritual life, integrity and economic sustainability.
In Honduras, due to the adverse working conditions for Miskito divers, who fish for lobster and conch, more than 400 of them have died and at least 4,200 have some type of disability. The State fails to ensure hiring companies provide safe working conditions. Frequently, these companies deny workers access to social security, and subject them to inhumane working conditions which result in violations to the rights to life, personal integrity and health, and also hinder their access to justice due to strong structural and geographic barriers.
CEJIL, together with the Association of Honduran Miskitos of Disabled Divers (AMHBLI by its Spanish acronym), represents 43 affected divers and their families is working to take this case to the Inter-American Court, to establish structural changes that will allow Miskito divers with disabilities to have a better quality of life as well as establishing regulatory reforms to control the fishing industry and prevent this type of violations.
In Honduras, due to the adverse working conditions for Miskito divers, who fish for lobster and conch, more than 400 of them have died and at least 4,200 have some type of disability.
Since the 90s North Caribbean coast of Nicaragua has a history of poverty and violations of property rights of its inhabitants, most of them Miskitos. Due to this situation, a process was carried out within the Inter-American System of Rights Humans which concluded with a ruling of the Court in 2001, ordering the Nicaraguan State to delimit, demarcate and title the territories belonging to indigenous communities. Despite this, this ruling was not effectively fulfilled and many non-indigenous settlers have invaded indigenous territories, causing violence to escalate with 34 Miskitos murdered, 44 injured, 25 kidnapped, 4 missing and about 3,000 displaced during recent years.
CEJIL and the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN by its Spanish acronym) requested protection measures for the communities, first from the IACHR and subsequently from the Inter-American Court, which ordered the creation of a commission to resolve the bottom line conflict, which is the titling and effective granting of land to the indigenous peoples and the expulsion of the invaders.
Protection measures were also requested for human rights defenders of CEJUDHCAN, who were threatened by their work in the communities. Lottie Cunningham, a relentless defender of this cause, explains it in this video.
In Nicaragua, violence has caused in recent years 34 Miskitos killed, 44 injured, 25 kidnapped, 4 missing and 3,000 displaced.
CEJIL’s work in Chile with the Mapuche people has been based on ensuring compliance with rights and the respect towards their social and political demands. In 2014, in the case of Norin Catriman and others vs. Chile, CEJIL and attorney Sergio Fuenzalida obtained a landmark ruling, in which the Inter-American Court condemned Chile for the first time for human rights violations committed against members of the Mapuche people. In this resolution, the highest human rights tribunal of the Americas made evident that the application of the Anti-Terrorist Law is an inadequate response of the State towards the mobilization and demand of the Mapuche people for their ancestral rights. It noted that Chile cannot maintain anti-terrorist laws that violate the fundamental rights of people and, even less, use that legislation in a discriminatory manner. Nor can it criminalize protest and social mobilization, making use of laws that, by their nature, must have other purposes.
The case of Alex Lemún was admitted by the IACHR in 2013. The complaint concerned the extrajudicial execution of Alex Lemún, a Mapuche teenager, by the Carabineros (Police of Chile), and the impunity in which the case remained as a consequence of its filing within military jurisdiction. This murder is another example of the persecution suffered by the Mapuche people, which ended up being recognized by the Chilean State that promised to provide full reparations to the family and adopt measures to prevent excessive use of force by the Carabineros.
The acknowledgement of the State and its commitment to comply with the recommendations made by the IACHR, with the victim’s family and CEJIL as their representative, was an achievement that undoubtedly contributes to the struggle of the Mapuche people in Chile.
In 2014 the Inter-American Court condemned Chile for the first time for human rights violations committed against members of the Mapuche people.
Indigenous peoples have not only been and keep being physically threatened, but also their worldview and culture are subject to serious damage and attacks, which States often leave unattended, making those communities and their territories an easy target for human rights violations by state and non-state actors.
Besides this the continent has other examples such as the Ixil genocide in Guatemala, the forced sterilization of indigenous women in Peru or the danger of extinction of indigenous peoples in Colombia, all show the structural discrimination and violence suffered by indigenous peoples in the region.
For this reason, with our work, we not only intend to accompany the indigenous peoples in their claims, but we also want to achieve a greater level of protection and effectiveness of the Inter-American System in cases involving indigenous peoples.
In this way, the future achievements will have implications for the protection, self-determination, and improvement of the situation of those who have been taking care of the well-being of the American continent for centuries.
The future achievements will have implications for the protection, self-determination, and improvement of the situation of those who have been taking care of the well-being of the American continent for centuries.
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional · Center for Justice and International Law · Centro pela Justiça e o Direito Internacional · Centre pour la Justice et le Droit International · Pemonton Kowantok Wacüpe Yuwanin Pataset