Professor James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, visited Costa Rica from 23-27 March 2012 on an official mission to hold meetings with indigenous peoples’ representatives and members of communities affected by the proposed Diquís Dam, State representatives, and UN staff. His visit included meetings in six different indigenous territories where indigenous peoples from Boruca, Cabagra, China Kichá, Curré, Salitre, La Casona, Térraba, and Ujarrás participated.
His visit is considered by many as an historic step towards advancing the recognition and respect of indigenous peoples’ rights in Costa Rica. Last year Professor Anaya received a positive response from the State and indigenous peoples on the observations and recommendations he made in relation to the proposed Diquís dam and the affected indigenous peoples. Challenges lie ahead since there are very few examples of the adequate implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples to effectively participate in decision-making on large-scale projects, in particular with regards to their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
Professor Anaya’s visit to Costa Rica coincided with a time of racist clashes affecting the Teribe, one of the indigenous peoples most affected by the proposed Diquís Dam. One month earlier there had been unprecedented violent attacks on Teribe community members who were holding a one-week protest calling for their right to education to be properly recognised: notably the right to an adequate education that responds to their traditions and customs. The violent attacks, perpetrated mainly by non-indigenous persons who are illegally settled in the Teribe territory, together with some Teribe, resulted in over 10 people being seriously injured. Following these protests the Ministry of Education made an agreement to urgently address the Teribe’s demands regarding their right to education, with most of this agreement being already implemented.
Many challenges lie ahead in the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights in Costa Rica. Among the main issues addressed at the meeting between the State and indigenous representatives, (facilitated by the UN Special Rapporteur and José Carlos Morales, member of the UN Human Rights Council Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)),were land tenure, (up to 98% of territories are illegally occupied by non-indigenous peoples) indigenous peoples’ distrust of the State due to past acts and omissions that have resulted in their fundamental rights being harshly undermined, and issues that have been raised and recognised by international human rights bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples himself.
The UN Special Rapporteur said, “I consider that this first meeting has represented an important step for opening a space for an eventual dialogue. All parties have agreed that it is necessary to take specific measures to create an atmosphere of trust that allows an adequate consultation process.”*