Nicaragua Recognizes Indigenous Land Rights

Nicaragua Recognizes Indigenous Land Rights

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December 18, 2008

The Government of Nicaragua has formally recognized the ancestral territory of the Awas Tingni, marking the end of a decades-long struggle for land rights.

On December 14, 2008, the government held a ceremony, where it gave the Awas Tingni, an indigenous Mayan community in the Atlantic Coast region of Nicaragua, title to some 74,000 acres of densely forested land – where the Awas Tingni have lived for generations.

“The long-awaited move was several years in the making,” and follows the historic 2001 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which found that the government of Nicaragua violated the Awas Tingni’s rights, when, in 1996, they granted a Korean logging company rights to exploit nearly 62,000 hectares of the community’s territory, without first obtaining their consent.

“The Court [also] found that the right to property, as affirmed in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, protects the traditional land tenure of indigenous peoples,” explains the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program website.

“As a remedy for the violation of the community’s human rights, the Court ordered Nicaragua to demarcate and title the community’s traditional lands within a period of fifteen months and reform its laws and administrative procedures to effectively guarantee the land rights of all indigenous peoples in the country.”

It was the first time that “an international tribunal with legally binding authority,” says the United Nations, “found a government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group.”

After the ruling was handed down, the government said it would recognize the Awas Tingni’s territory, however it failed to actually do so—until now.

Applauding the decision, James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, said, “This affirmative step by the Government of Nicaragua represents an important advancement in the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide…. [that] reflects a commitment on the part of the Nicaraguan Government to implement the judgment of the Inter-American Court… [and] 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.”

Read the IACHR case, Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua

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