Paraguay's Indigenous Peoples in peril

The school in Sawhoyamaxa, Paraguay, 28 November 2008. The school has not been repaired months after a storm blew off its roof.

The school in Sawhoyamaxa, Paraguay, 28 November 2008. The school has not been repaired months after a storm blew off its roof.

© Amnesty International

31 March 2009

The Paraguayan state is failing to adequately protect the rights of its Indigenous Peoples, forcing many to live in misery and effectively condemning some to death, Amnesty International has said.

The Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous communities have been displaced from their traditional lands and have been living at the side of the Pozo Colorado-Concepción highway for more than 10 years. Without access to their land they live in precarious conditions, unable to source water and food for themselves and with inadequate provision of health and education.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2005 and 2006 that the Paraguayan authorities must return the land to each community, in light of their desperate situation.

“In these conditions, the very survival of the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa is at risk,” said Louise Finer, Paraguay researcher at Amnesty International. “But the government has the power to show its commitment to Indigenous Peoples’ rights by fully complying with the Court's rulings. These two communities have waited long enough.”

The Court set a deadline of 13 July 2008 for the restitution of traditional lands to the Yakye Axa and of 19 May 2009 for the Sawhoyamaxa. The Court also ordered that the Paraguayan state must provide the communities with basic services – such as sanitation, medical care, food and water – to ensure they are able to survive until their lands are returned.

More than 27 members of the two communities have died of preventable causes since those judgements were passed. In the past four months, six of the Sawhoyamaxa have died after suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, among them four infants under the age of two.

Some action has been taken by President Fernando Lugo, including the presentation of a bill to expropriate the lands claimed by the Yakye Axa that is currently awaiting congressional approval.

“Steps taken by the Paraguayan government to help Indigenous Peoples are positive but much more needs to be done, and much faster,” said Louise Finer. “The clock is ticking fast for the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa and unless their lands are returned and funds are made available for their development, more lives could be lost."

The Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa have been demanding the return of their traditional land for more than 15 years.

"We’re only demanding our land, the land where our grandparents were born and buried, where we were born,” Venancio Flores from the Yakye Axa told Amnesty International in November 2008.

According to the last Census of Indigenous Peoples in 2002, 45 per cent of Paraguay’s Indigenous Peoples do not enjoy definitive legal ownership of their land.

Amnesty International blogging from Paraguay

Medical concern: Paraguay: Members of the Sawhoyamaxa and Yakye Axa Indigenous communities, especially young children and the elderly (Urgent Action, 16 February 2009)

Paraguay: 'We're only asking for what is ours': Indigenous peoples in Paraguay -

Index Number: AMR 45/005/2009
Date Published: 31 March 2009
Categories: Paraguay

The Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa belong to the Enxet ethnic group of Indigenous Peoples. For years they have been forced to live in temporary homes because their traditional lands are in the hands of private owners. Both Indigenous communities are determined to return to their lands and to once again become self-sufficient. In this document Amnesty International calls on the Paraguayan authorities to ensure that, until these traditional lands are returned, steps are taken to ensure the Indigenous communities’ survival, in particular in the provision of food, medical care, clean water and education.

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