AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
Americas: Indigenous peoples
Second-class citizens in the lands of their ancestors
Ten years ago, on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of
the first Europeans in the American continent, the descendants of the
continent's indigenous peoples vocally reclaimed their rights and identity.
Today, they remain among the most marginalised and poorest communities,
discriminated against and often exposed to grave abuses of their fundamental
rights, Amnesty International said today.
The statement came on the eve of the day -- known as Columbus Day, Día
de la Raza or Native American Day -- in which several countries in the
Americas celebrate the continent's multicultural heritage.
"More than half the countries on the continent recognize the multicultural
character of the state and guarantee indigenous rights in their constitutions
and legislation. However, this is in stark contrast with the reality faced
by the vast majority of indigenous people from Canada, through Central
America, down to the very tip of Chile and Argentina, who are often treated
as second-class citizens," Amnesty International said.
"Basic rights of indigenous communities, including the right to land and
to cultural identity -- in the use of language, education and the administration
of justice -- are systematically violated in a variety of countries,"
the organization added.
"At the same time, racism and discrimination entrenched in most societies
make indigenous people more vulnerable to human rights violations including
torture and ill-treatment, "disappearance" and unlawful killings."
Amnesty International believes that governments throughout the American
continent are clearly lacking the political will to make indigenous rights
a reality, as demonstrated, among others, by the failure of the Guatemalan
government to address the genocide of its indigenous people during the
country's lomg-term civil conflict.
Other examples include failure to implement agreements reached with the
indigenous community in Honduras in 2000, or the adoption in Mexico of
inadequate and controversial Indigenous legislation which indigenous communities
and organizations have rejected as violating their fundamental rights.
The failure of this legislation to meet the indigenous communities' expectations
has undermined efforts to protect human rights and end the conflict in
the state of Chiapas.
"This lack of commitment is further demonstrated by the way governments
have been dragging their feet in regards to the adoption in the Inter-American
system of the American Declaration on Indigenous People," the organization
added, urging governments in the region to comply with this year's OAS
General Assembly's resolution on this important issue and move ahead on
Amnesty International also called on governments to take immediate and
concrete actions to turn their rhetoric on multiculturalism and indigenous
rights into reality. The organization reminded governments of the commitments
they made at last year's World Conference against Racism in Durban, South
Africa, which set specific goals for actions on indigenous people's rights.
"This means ensuring real representation of indigenous communities and
promoting respect of the full range of indigenous rights not only in the
legal, judicial and political system, but throughout society as a whole,"
the organization said.
Examples of violations of indigenous people's rights known to Amnesty
Violations related to land and the environment
In countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Guatemala
and Nicaragua, indigenous people are reclaiming the lands of their ancestors,
coming up against violent opposition from land-owners and companies exploiting
natural resources, often supported by the authorities.
Across the region, large-scale projects for the construction of infrastructure
or the extraction of natural resources on indigenous lands, threaten the
communities' livelihood and survival, and are being planned and carried
out without real and transparent consultation. Examples include the Plan
Puebla-Panamá, set to create infrastructure and industrial projects in
the southern states of Mexico and Central America with inevitable impact
on indigenous communities; a project to dig a dry canal joining the Atlantic
and Pacific Ocean through sacred indigenous land in Nicaragua; the Urrá
dam in Colombia, situated in the ancestral lands of the Embera Katío people,
which some members of the community have been campaigning against; and
projects for the construction of an oil pipeline in Ecuador.
In Brazil, Hipãridi Top'Tiro, an Xavante indigenous leader from the Sangradouro
indigenous reserve in Mato Grosso state, was forced to leave his land
due to the death threats he received on account of his environmental campaigning
and of a legal action he brought against local landowners for deforesting
part of an indigenous area. According to reports, he received threats
and intimidation from the regional administrator of the National Indigenous
Foundation, the government's body set up to protect indigenous people,
who has strong links with local landowners. Hipãridi was later informed
by the federal government that he should leave the country as they were
unable to offer him protection.
In Colombia, indigenous leader Kimy Pernia Domicó, of the Embera Katío
community campaigning against the Urrá dam, "disappeared" in June 2001
after being abducted by army-backed paramilitaries. Other community members
campaigning for his safe return have suffered harassment and one of them,
Pedro Alirio Domicó was murdered also after being abducted by paramilitaries.
The whereabouts of Kimy Pernia remain unknown and nobody is known to have
been brought to justice in either case.
Violations related to cultural identity
In a number of countries, including Guatemala and Mexico, non-Spanish
speaking indigenous people are often questioned by police and have their
statements taken without the assistance of an interpreter. In Guatemala,
indigenous people have stood trial in capital cases in Spanish, which
they do not speak. In one case, a non-Spanish speaking indigenous man
was psychologically assessed in Spanish to determine if he was fit to
On a recent occasion in Chile, two members of the Mapuche community were
found guilty of "disrespect" and "disorderly behaviour" for shouting slogans
in Mapundung and playing traditional instruments at a court case in Angol.
Attacks on human rights defenders working with indigenous communities
In Bolivia, Dr Leonardo Tamburini, legal advisor to the Chiquitano indigenous
community in their land claim, received telephone threats in September
2002. In Nicaragua, Dr María Luisa Acosta, a lawyer defending indigenous
communities in the Autonomous South Atlantic Region, received death threats
connected to her work. In April 2002 her husband was killed in an attack
widely believed to have been aimed at her, with a weapon belonging to
the lawyer of a US citizen involved in buying and selling land including
in indigenous lands. In Guatemala, members of the Defensoría Indígena
(Indigenous Defence body), working to promote indigenous rights, resolve
community disputes through traditional indigenous practices and promote
the recognition of the authority of traditional Mayan leaders in the state
structure, have received repeated death threats. In September 2002, Manuel
García de la Cruz, was brutally tortured and murdered apparently in reprisal
for his human rights and development work with the indigenous rights organization
Human rights violations including unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment
and excessive use of force
In Honduras, numerous indigenous leaders have been killed over the past
few years. Nobody has been held responsible for these killings, despite
commitments by the government to indigenous groups, including a promise
to set up a program to investigate killings of indigenous and black people
in previous years. Two years on, the program has not been set up yet.
In Argentina, during a raid of the Toba community in Formosa by at least
100 members of the provincial police, several members of the community,
including one pregnant woman, were beaten and racially abused. Several
others, including a 74-year old man, were detained and ill-treated and
humiliated while in custody.
In Canada, the 1995 shooting by Ontario Provincial Police of Dudley George,
an indigenous man involved in a land claims protest has still not been
the object of an independent enquiry despite repeated calls including
by the UN Human Rights Committee.
Violations committed in the context of conflict
In Colombia, indigenous communities find themselves trapped in the cross-fire
between the army and their paramilitary allies on one side, and guerrilla
groups on the other. The Paeces community, living in the former demilitarized
zone which hosted peace talks until 20 February 2002, was occupied by
a military mobile unit, which has used local school and families' cooking
facilities. They have refused to hand over two of their members who are
suspected of belonging to the guerrilla, and have been accused of being
guerrilla supporters by another community. They also live in fear of a
paramilitary incursion because of these accusations. Eighty per cent of
non-combat politically-motivated killings are carried out by paramilitary
groups which act with the tacit or explicit support of the security forces.
However, members of indigenous communities have also been killed by guerrilla
groups accusing them of siding with the enemy. In July 2002, Bertulfo
Domicó Domicó was killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), in the municipality of Dabeiba, Antioquia department.
The killing of 26 indigenous people in Agua Fría (Oaxaca) in May 2002
was a result of the historical neglect and exploitation of indigenous
communities in the region and of the failure of the state to take seriously
threats of impending violence in the context of community disputes.
In February 2002 members of the Mexican army allegedly beat and sexually
assaulted 17-year-old Valentina Rosendo Cantu, near her home in Guerrero
state, southern Mexico, where the military are carrying out anti-insurgency
and anti-narcotics operations. As with other similar cases in the past,
military jurisdiction has prevented full investigations leaving the victim
still suffering from the consequences of the attack and without recourse
For over three decades, Guatemala was wracked by internal conflict, with
the army carrying out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency policy systematically
targeted at indigenous communities in the west and northwest of the country.
It is estimated that some 200,000 men, women and children were killed
or "disappeared" during the conflict. The scale of human rights violations
was so massive that the Catholic Church Commission of Historical Clarification
concluded that they amounted to genocide in at least four areas. The vast
majority of these violations has not been investigated and nobody has
been brought to justice for them.
Background 12 October was chosen to commemorate Christopher Columbus'
arrival in the American continent and is marked, with minor variations
in date, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras,
Mexico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.
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UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X
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