The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay: Their lands and the Laws that Would Protect Them

The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay: Their lands and the Laws that Would Protect Them

On 12 November 2015, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and its partner in Paraguay, the Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas (FAPI) released a companion set of reports describing the current situation of indigenous people, their lands, resources, and territories in Paraguay, along with the national legal framework that is meant to respect, promote and protect their rights.  Many have argued that the last big “land grab” with respect to indigenous lands, resources and territories will not be from large infrastructure projects, but from conservation and resource protection initiatives.

The two reports, “Situación Territorial de los Pueblos Indígenas de Paraguay” and “Estudio del Marco Legal de Paraguay sobre los Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indígenas relacionados con los posibles Proyectos de REDD+”, are the result of over three years of work among FAPI and indigenous communities in Paraguay and FPP - funded by NORAD’s International Programme on Climate and Forests (reports available in Spanish only). 

The objective of the accompanying field studies, technical collaborations and final reports was (i) to present the results of numerous community workshops evaluating the territorial situation of indigenous peoples throughout Paraguay, (ii) formulate recommendations for the recuperation of indigenous lands and territories now in the hands of the State or private individuals (iii) examine the support and potential failings and gaps in the national law relevant to indigenous peoples, and (iv) provide the appropriate background to inform national and international policies and programmes of REDD+ and other development and conservation initiatives that could affect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples in Paraguay.

The land study found that indigenous peoples in Paraguay often find themselves with titles to mere parcels of land that do not reflect the extent of their traditional territories. Such parcels, sanctioned by the law but inconsistent with Paraguay’s duties and obligations nationally and internationally, fragment territories and peoples, and leave the lands exposed to private parties (soy growers, cattle ranchers, large agro-industrialist) chiefly responsible for deforestation. The result is that the future benefits of climate change and conservation programmes are unlikely to rest with the true owners –the indigenous peoples.  Between 2006 and 2010 a tenth of the Chaco region was converted to farms and 1.2 million hectares of forest was decimated between 2010 and 2012, with the Government of Paraguay ‘s  acquiescence and/or express authorization, whilst pursuing with great rhetoric UN-REDD+ and other conservation funds.

Domestic norms, including Paraguay’s Constitution, legislation, and all international human rights and environmental treaties ratified by the state (incorporated into domestic laws per the Constitution) form a substantial body of law with protections for indigenous peoples’ rights, including to their lands, resources and territories. There are a number of deficiencies, however, in both the letter and implementation of these norms and the laws only provide some recourse.  The legal study concludes that:

  1. There are still certain human rights protections not governed by domestic law. For example, juridical personality is affirmed in international law for all indigenous “peoples” but in Paraguay, however, this right is only guaranteed in practice to “communities” and only singular communities (not entire peoples) may hold title to their lands.  There is also a limitation in the description of what constitutes indigenous lands and territories (allowing unprecedented restrictions on size and based only on actual possession versus actual or traditional use as well.)
  2. Many laws in practice lack proper implementation. This is evidenced in the lack of just and prompt judicial remedies, and the absence of effective administrative measures for the safeguarding of the rights (for example, adequate measures to process land tenure and restitution requests from indigenous peoples.)
  3. The political will to implement is often missing - at times from lack of institutional resources and capacity, or the failure to harmonize inconsistencies in the laws relevant to indigenous peoples. For instance, Paraguay’s indigenous statute and the constitution describe indigenous property very differently leading not only to delays, but forms of recognition that are incompatible with Paraguay’s duties and obligations under domestic and international law.

The two reports together are a necessary read for any and all governments, national and international financial institutions and conservation organizations that have an interest or stake in supporting and facilitating UNREDD+ and other schemes affecting the natural resources of Paraguay.