UN Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with Governments of Bolivia, Paraguay Concerning Findings of 2009 Missions to Each Country

21 April 2010
HR/5015

UN Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with Governments of Bolivia, Paraguay Concerning Findings of 2009 Missions to Each Country

21 April 2010
Economic and Social Council
HR/5015
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Ninth Session

5th Meeting (PM)


UN Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with Governments of Bolivia, Paraguay

 

Concerning Findings of 2009 Missions to Each Country

 


Reports Describe Evidence of Forced Labour for Guaraní People,

Other Indigenous Groups, in Violation of International Treaties, Conventions


Corroborating reports that indigenous Guaraní communities in South America’s vast Chaco region -- shared by Bolivia and Paraguay -- continued to be routinely chased off their lands, pressed into debt bondage and forced to live in squalor, members of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called today on both Governments to take full responsibility for ending forced labour and expropriation of ancestral lands and territories.


Summing up the Permanent Forum’s first-ever dialogue with Governments to discuss allegations of human rights violations against a specific indigenous group, Bartolomé Clavero, Forum member from Spain, said the 16-member expert body had initiated a new practice today:  it had become a venue for dialogue among Governments, indigenous organizations and United Nations agencies, all working towards the betterment of the lives of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples.


“We are studying the existence of human exploitation in the Americas”, he said, underscoring that many indigenous people were being subjected to forced labour.  It appeared that the Forum did not have sufficient strength to liberate Guaraní families from their situation, “but that is our objective”, he emphasized.  They were the reason the Forum was implementing new practices.


To representatives of the Assembly of the Guaraní People, Mr. Clavero said the Forum had understood how urgent it was that the issue be resolved.  “We are talking, here, about the exploitation of the Guaraní people.”  The urgency was justified.  Their situation must be considered by all parties present today, he said, adding:  “Cooperation is valuable for these new practices.”


On separate visits in 2009, members of the Forum had obtained information and testimony verifying that the centuries-old problem of debt bondage and forced labour was continuing in the Bolivian and Paraguayan Chaco.  Following the visits, the teams issued reports containing similar but essential recommendations for each Government, including, in Bolivia’s case, consulting and cooperating with indigenous peoples to institute action plans to end forced labour practices and discrimination against indigenous peoples.  The Paraguayan Government was advised to, among others, create a land registry for the Chaco region and set a deadline for its completion.


During today’s dialogue, Felix Cardenas, Vice-Minister of Decolonization of Bolivia, said his country was entering a unique period, characterized by drastic changes in the political map that had begun with the re-election of President Evo Morales in 2009, as Bolivia’s first indigenous Head of State.  President Morales’ resounding victory had ushered in many legislative changes.  Indeed, he had pledged to prioritize matters regarding Bolivia’s indigenous and poor communities by improving their social conditions through land reform and equitable distribution of wealth derived from resources, such as natural gas.


He went on to highlight elements of the Inter-Ministerial Transition Plan (PIT), which was being implemented for the Guaraní population.  The process launched under the Plan was under way, and it had also been submitted to the Assembly of the Guaraní People (APG) and to the municipal district councils of Tarija, Chuquisaca and Alto Parapetí for review.  He also said the Government had established and guaranteed indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent in the field of hydrocarbons, and, since 2007, had carried out consultations with indigenous representatives to that end.  Bolivia was working to ensure decent living conditions for freed families during the resettlement process and to ensure the development and implementation of productive infrastructure and environmental projects and programmes.


However, Celso Padilla, President of the Assembly of the Guaraní People, said it was important to make known the fact that progress in clearing up land titles had been paralyzed.  Last year, through the Inter-ministerial Plan, the Guaraní, in coordination with the Government, had allocated more than $2.3 million to support the reorganization of territorial lands.  This year, “we have not seen continuity in the process”.  His people had tried to continue that process with the new Minister, but had been told there were no resources.  In the Parapati area, almost 500 families were suffering at the hands of landholders.  “There is desperation, due to a backlog in the process,” he stressed.


He pointed out that the Bolivian Government often spoke out against capitalism, but continued to sign contracts that directly affected the Guaraní.  People in one particular area were consuming polluted water from rivers, creeks, wells and springs -- “that is an abuse of rights”, he asserted.  He called for implementation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The United Nations and other international organizations should be called upon to eliminate all forms of forced labour in the region.  Moreover, the consultation and participation should proceed with the free, prior and informed consent of the Guaraní.


As for the situation in Paraguay, Carlos Maria Aquino Lopez, Vice-Minister of Justice and Human Rights, said the country had taken due note of the comments and recommendations included in the Permanent Forum’s report.  The report had been discussed at the highest levels of Government and the Paraguayan President had pledged to prioritize human rights issues and had led in the drafting of a multi-year national action plan that specifically took into account the needs of indigenous people. 


He said his predecessor had launched a satellite labour office in the Chaco region.  That initiative, carried out in cooperation with the ILO and civil society, had shown the willingness of all sectors in Paraguay to overcome social and labour-related challenges in the country.  He hoped that a special commission would shortly be set up to address matters related to fundamental labour rights and eradication of forced labour.  In July, the Ministry of Justice and Labour had signed an agreement with the Paraguayan Rural Association to ensure that livestock workers were covered.  That Ministry had also carried out a review of labour processes in Chaco.  “We know we have a long road ahead and we need the help of all aspects of society so that decent work for all could be ensured,” he said.   


In response, Hipólito Acevei, Coordinator for la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas, speaking on behalf of 14 indigenous peoples organizations that represented 20,000 indigenous people in Paraguay, said his delegation had noted Government efforts to recognize, in full, indigenous organizations.  Today’s dialogue was the positive result of the visit by Forum members in April last year, which had motivated the Government to search for solutions to the delicate and negative social situation of the Guaraní and other indigenous peoples resulting from, among other things:  forced labour; poor working conditions; deprivation of ancestral territories; restrictions on the freedom of association and labour unions; a weak State presence; and lack of free access to health.


“I wonder sir, is that a system of slavery”? he asked the Vice-Minister, urging the Paraguayan Government to comply with the Forum’s recommendations.  Further, Paraguay must strengthen State institutions in Chaco and end restrictions against indigenous peoples on the rights to territory and lands.  It must guarantee food security, end discrimination, ensure the review of all property titles of indigenous communities and guarantee strategic transboundary lines for the protection of indigenous peoples.  He also called on the Government to put in place initiatives for coordinating with indigenous communities, and recommended that the Forum continue to encourage the Government to submit a report on any advances made to comply with its recommendations.


Rounding out the discussion, the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, Carlos Mamani Condori, of Bolivia, said that it was clear that, while the efforts to alleviate the situation of the Guaraní had been significant, more must be done.  Overall, the exercise carried out by the Forum, a visit to the country, followed by dialogue with representatives of Governments concerned, as well as with United Nations agencies on the ground, and indigenous peoples organizations, had provided an extraordinary opportunity to learn and plot the course for future action.


Posing questions to the Government of Bolivia were Forum members Bartolomé Clavero ( Spain) and Mick Dodson ( Australia).  Also speaking was a representative of the United Nations Country Team in Bolivia.


Posing questions to the Government of Paraguay was Forum member Tonya Gonnella Frichner ( United States).  Also addressing the Forum was the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations Country team in Paraguay.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 22 April, for a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, and a half-day discussion on North America.


Background


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issue met this afternoon to take up matters related to human rights and implementation of the United Nations declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  It was expected to hear reports from Forum members on their respective visits to Bolivia and Ecuador.


Delegations had before them a report containing the summary and recommendations of the mission of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to the Plurinational State of Bolivia (document E/C.19/2010/6).  In response to a request from the Bolivian Government, the Permanent Forum organized a multi-agency mission to visit the Department of Santa Cruz and La Paz in April and May 2009 to verify complaints regarding forced labour and servitude among communities of the Guaraní people and to draw up proposals and recommendations to ensure that the fundamental rights of persons, communities, and the indigenous peoples are respected.  The full report of the mission was presented to the Government on 31 August 2009.


The mission was comprised of then chairperson of the Permanent Forum, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Philippines); members Lars Anders-Baer (Sweden), Bartolomé Clavero (Spain) and Carlos Mamani Condori (Bolivia); and two officials of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as experts from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (subregional office of FAO in Panama) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in both Bolivia and Peru.


According to the report, the mission visited communities in the Chaco region and met with indigenous organizations representing the Guaraní people, such as the Guaraní People’s Assembly (APG); with the Captaincies of Alto Parapetí, Chuquisaca and Tarija; and with landowners in the area and the National Federation of Livestock Breeders.  It also met with, among others, the Ministers of Justice, Rural Development, Agriculture and Land, and Labour, Employment and Social Security; with the Vice-Ministers of Labour and Social Security, Autonomies and Justice and Fundamental Rights; and with the Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía General del Estado).


The existence of forced labour affecting indigenous communities of the Chaco region has been extensively documented in investigations and reports of the Bolivian Government, intergovernmental organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations and non-governmental organization.  The report states that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the issue, including the establishment in 2007 of the National Council for the Eradication of Forced Labour and approval of the Inter-ministerial Transition Plan for the Guaraní People.


The Plan, which envisages, among other things, effective exercise of the rights of Guaraní families and land reorganization (saneamiento de tierras), has encountered direct opposition from the owners of large estates in the Chaco region, as well as from local governments, civic committees and stockbreeders associations.  According to the report, the Ministry of Justice, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and ILO, and in coordination with the Council of Guaraní Captains of Chuquisaca, has also fostered processes of reconciliation between owners of haciendas in the Department of Chuquisaca and Guaraní workers, who worked for years without remuneration.


The reconciliation process resulted in monetary payments to redress violations of labour rights, compensate workers for years of service, and provide for social benefits.  However, in other areas of the Chaco, including Alto Parapetí, many landowners continue to deny the existence of forced labour.


The report goes on to note that the forced labour of Guaraní peoples takes place in the context of the region’s complex political economy.  Land ownership in the country is highly concentrated.  The ancestral lands that have been recognized or are being claimed by Guaraní peoples often contain important reserves of hydrocarbons and are in the middle of large estates, sometimes crossed by gas pipelines owned by oil companies.


The existence of this vast wealth, from which the Guaraní people derive no benefit, provides landowners an additional interest in opposing any agrarian reform, and has greatly exacerbated tensions between the Government and the local authorities in the country’s richest (oil and gas) departments.  The report says that those departmental local authorities, in conjunction with big landowners, are fighting for control of the resources and looking for a high degree of autonomy from the Government.  In many cases, the owners of haciendas in the region do not have high incomes and their haciendas operate with inexpensive indigenous labour.


In a referendum held on 24 January 2009, the State approved its new Constitution, which is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Despite opposition in eastern parts of the country ( Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Tarija), the new Constitution was adopted with a majority of votes.  Both the new Constitution and the Declaration provide for the reconstitution of indigenous territories and self-government for these peoples.


Thus, the report says, the hacienda owners have two main reasons for organizing:  to keep title to their lands, given the existence of oil and gas in the area; and to keep their position of authority (patronos).  The mission heard allegations that there is a third reason, which still needs to be proved, namely a possible partnership of the hacienda owners with drug traffickers, which would explain why the Alto Parapetí area is kept closed (with padlocks on the bars or gates) and monitored (using radio communication systems).


The mission received evidence that the landowners were now focusing on improving some of the working conditions of the Guaraníes, on condition that they would have no ties with the Guaraní People’s Assembly.  They were expelling from the haciendas and threatening indigenous persons affiliated to APG.  But, it was also shown evidence that the hacienda owners have obtained the support of the authorities in the area and of Santa Cruz.  The mission received evidence of blatant discrimination and organized violence and ascertained that the Prefecture of the Department of Santa Cruz, as well as the municipal authorities, still take the line that the servitude and forced labour to which the indigenous peoples are subjected do not exist.


The conclusion is that forced labour exists in the Chaco region, along with grave violations of international treaties ratified by the State.  The mission appreciates the decision announced by Government officials to adopt measures aimed at eradicating conditions and situations preventing the full exercise of human rights.  However, the mission also established that there was a failure to comply with the tenets of a raft of international instruments, including various ILO conventions and international protocols on trafficking in persons.  The mission also witnessed, among other violations, child labour, poor working conditions, restrictions on association and movement, deprivation of lands and resources, and discrimination.


The mission recommends that the three branches of the Bolivian Government -- executive, legislative and judicial -- as well as the Ombudsman Office, departmental governments and all other autonomous governments to be established, must take full responsibility for ending practices of forced labour and should consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples to institute plans of action to end forced labour practices and discrimination against indigenous peoples.  Further, all State institutions must ensure that departmental policies do not support or conceal in any manner forced labour practices, and that all departmental policies are implemented with the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples affected, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.


The report says that the Bolivian Government, the prefectures of the relevant departments and the United Nations should support capacity development to strengthen and develop Guaraní institutions and leadership. Such support should be provided alongside the other development activities recommended below.  Moreover, in accordance with the Constitution, and while land reform is not completed, the Government and the prefectures of the relevant departments should support the development of viable alternatives to obtain incomes and the creation of sustainable productive and commercial activities for indigenous peoples, including women, affected by forced labour practices.


The Forum also had before it a report containing the summary and recommendations of the mission of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to Paraguay (document E/C.19/2010/5).  In response to a request by the Government of Paraguay, the Forum organized a multi-agency mission to Asunción and Filadelfia in April 2009 to verify complaints regarding forced labour and servitude among communities of Guaraní peoples and to draw up proposals and recommendations to ensure that the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples are respected.  The full report of the mission was presented to the Government on 31 August 2009.


The mission was composed of then Forum chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Philippines); and members Lars Anders-Baer (Sweden), Bartolomé Clavero (Spain) and Carlos Mamani Condori (Bolivia); and two officials of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as experts from the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the International Labour Organization in both Paraguay and Peru.


By way of background, the report explains that in the Chaco region -— the “last frontier” of the Americas -— lands were parcelled out to religious groups, primarily Mennonites from Europe, while indigenous communities still lived on them.  Those communities were subsequently used as low-cost labour on the new ranches.  Observing the thriving activities of the Mennonites, other Paraguayan ranchers moved to the Chaco, continuing the tradition of expropriating indigenous communities and exploiting indigenous labour.


As a result, indigenous communities of the Chaco are deprived of land and resources in their own territory, the report says.  They live in extreme poverty and are compelled to support themselves by working for Mennonite colonies and Paraguayan estates under precarious conditions, with no guarantee of stability, for low wages, without health insurance when they stop working and with no trade union rights.  That situation is due, in part, to the weak presence of the State in the Chaco, as well as the development model and considerable power of the Mennonite communities.  Given that, indigenous servitude is entrenched in the Chaco, masked by the local and national authorities, the report adds.


The mission concludes that a system of forced labour exists in the Chaco region, along with grave violations of international instruments supported or ratified by Paraguay.  Because of those violations, and breaches of the Paraguayan labour and criminal codes, the Government must resolve the situation of the Guaraní and other indigenous peoples with regard to the following issues:  existence of forced labour and servitude; child labour; inadequate working conditions; restrictions on freedom of association; land; weak presence of the State and lack of access to health and other public services; and the critical situation of indigenous communities as regards food insecurity.


Among its recommendations, the mission calls on the all branches of the Government, and all its constitutional agencies, to take full responsibility for ending forced labour practices.   Paraguay must ensure the adequate presence of State institutions in the zones affected by forced labour and child labour, with all such efforts implemented with the free, prior and informed consent of the region’s indigenous peoples.  Congress and the Government must ensure adequate public funding for implementing the report’s recommendations, while the United Nations should provide assistance for the abolition of forced labour.


In the area of land reform, Paraguay should create a land registry for the Chaco region, with a deadline set for its completion, the report recommends.  As lands had been taken from indigenous peoples without consent or compensation, the burden of proof should fall to the non-indigenous party in cases where indigenous land claims are challenged.  On the region’s development, especially related to cyclical drought, the report recommends Paraguay prepare a contingency plan to be activated prior to the dry season to ensure the availability of potable water and food.  Other recommendations cover the areas of discrimination; regional cooperation and cross-border strategies; development of a national strategy; international law obligations; and follow-up for the United Nations.


Report on Forum Visit to Bolivia, Dialogue with Government


Opening the meeting, CARLOS MAMANI CONDORI, Chairperson of the Forum, said that in response to a request from the Bolivian Government, the Permanent Forum organized a multi-agency mission to visit the Department of Santa Cruz and La Paz in April and May 2009 to verify complaints regarding forced labour and servitude among communities of the Guaraní people and to draw up proposals and recommendations to ensure that the fundamental rights of persons, communities, and the indigenous peoples are respected.


He said that the Mission had been led by then Forum Chair Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines, and that the full report of the mission was presented to the Government on 31 August 2009 (see background).  The Bolivian Government had submitted its response, contained in document E/C.19/2010/21.Add.1.


Taking the floor next, FELIX CARDENAS, Vice-Minister of Decolonization of Bolivia, said his country was entering a unique period, characterized by drastic changes in the political map that had begun with the re-election of President Evo Morales in 2009, as Bolivia’s first indigenous Head of State.  Mr. Cardenas said that Bolivia had historically suffered a high degree of racism practiced by landholders, judges and some local law enforcement official against indigenous populations.


He said that President Morales’ resounding victory by some 64 per cent of the vote, had brought many legislative changes.  Indeed, the President had pledged to prioritize matters related to the situation of Bolivia’s indigenous and poor communities by improving their social conditions through land reform and equitable distribution of wealth derived from resources such as natural gas.


The Bolivian Government, which respected international instruments and ensured enjoyment of the rights of indigenous peoples, which had been given constitutional rank, had begun to implement the recommendations made by the Permanent Forum.  He said the Government had also established and guaranteed indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent in the field of hydrocarbons.  It had also carried out consultations with indigenous representatives to that end.  In 2007 there had been four consultations; one in 2008 and three in 2009.


He went on to highlight elements of the Inter-ministerial Transition Plan (PIT), which was being implemented for the Guaraní population.  The process launched under the Plan was under way, and it had also been submitted to the Assembly of the Guaraní People and to the municipal district councils of Tarija, Chuquisaca and Alto Parapetí for review.  Pursuant to an APG decision, it was being fully implemented through the coordinated activities of Guaraní technical teams contracted and certified by the Guaraní authorities.


In addition, the Plan encompassed food safety and sovereignty for Guaraní children and families, and the overall objective was to create an environment that would enable the captive Guaraní families living in Bolivia’s Chaco region to lead decent lives within the framework of the National Development Plan.


He said the police presence in the Chaco region had been increased in order to better safeguard the Guaraní people.  The police were also charged with ensuring the free flow of movement of the people throughout that region.  The Government was also working to ensure the territorial reconstitution of the Guaraní lands through replanting and promoting broad agrarian reforms.   Bolivia was working to ensure decent living conditions for freed families during the resettlement process and to ensure the development and implementation of productive infrastructure and environmental projects and programmes.


Continuing, he said that strategic plans and projects had been identified throughout all Government institutions and, a national office for implementation of the Inter-ministerial Plan had been established to carry out follow-up.  Further, the economic and social development of Guaraní lands and communities was also a priority, as was the protection and promotion of their human rights.  “Our goal is to restore essence of the Guaraní way of life,” he declared, and added that vital to that was working towards autonomy on the basis of a consolidated and defined territory, affirmation of the rights of the indigenous peoples, reorganization of the Guaraní nation and full political participation.


He said the Government had dispatched labour inspectors throughout the Chaco region.  All civil service employers in the region were trained so that forced labour practices could be identified and eradicated.  Technical tools were also being made available to civil servants in the ministries to ensure eradication of discrimination.  Some other highpoints included rehabilitation and restitution of large swaths of land that had been taken from the Guaraní people.  The Government was tackling agrarian and community land title reforms, judicial reforms, higher education and political participation.


Questions


Taking the floor first in the ensuing question and comment period, BARTOLOMÉ CLAVERO, Forum member from Spain, spoke on the right to consultation, asking what norms governed the consultation procedure vis-à-vis hydrocarbon extraction.  A police command in Chaco had been established, and he wondered how it protected those forced into labour or held captive in the estates.  How did liberated families settle into communities?  Was there any quantitative data on agrarian reform and what progress had been made in that area since the mission’s visit?  What additional support had Bolivia made available for freed families in areas of health, housing and education?  Finally, he commented on the difficulties of the still-to-be-renovated judicial powers in the clearing up of land titles.  How would Bolivia make legal procedures more agile to help in freeing families?


MICK DOBSON, Forum member from Australia, asked what steps Bolivia would take to speed prosecution of cases related to the Guaraní.  Did the Government plan to take action against land owners under the penal code? For police forces in Chaco, what were the Government’s long-term plans for human rights training? On indigenous communities’ access to legal services, he wondered to what extent they had been established and if Bolivia would more actively bring cases to the appeals courts to ensure that justice was enforced.  Would the Government provide education for Guaraní children and had it begun construction of schools?


Next, CELSO PADILLA, President of the Assembly of the Guaraní people, said progress in clearing up land titles had been paralyzed and it was important to make that fact known.  Last year, through the Inter-ministerial Plan, the Guaraní, in coordination with the Government, had allocated more than $2.3 million to support the reorganization of territorial lands.  This year, “we have not seen continuity in the process”.  His people had tried to continue that process with the new minister, but had been told there were no resources.  In the Parapati area, almost 500 families were suffering at the hands of landholders.  “There is desperation, due to a backlog in the process”, he stressed.


Moreover, the expectations outlined in the Inter-ministerial Plan had not been met, he said.  “We do not want ministries to come take over our lands”.  The Labour Ministry had not responded to the Guaraní’s needs and resources had been used to pay personnel.  “We are very concerned”, he added, noting that rights to consultation and participation were being violated.


He pointed out that the Bolivian Government often spoke out against capitalism, but continued to sign contracts that directly affected the Guaraní.  People in one particular area were consuming polluted water from rivers, creeks, wells and springs -- “that is an abuse of rights”, he asserted.  He called for implementation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  He also urged the United Nations to support land reorganization.   Bolivia, the United Nations and other international organizations should be called upon to eliminate all forms of forced labour in the region.  Moreover, the consultation and participation should proceed with the free, prior and informed consent of the Guaraní.


A representative of the United Nations Country Team in Bolivia, which includes the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the Permanent Forum’s mission had identified forced labour and violations of international treaties.  That difficult situation was also characterized by poor living conditions.  The mission had raised awareness of the problem and the United Nations country team had been working with the Government to address challenges.  The United Nations was also participating in an ongoing dialogue with organizations representing the Guaraní people.  Activities had targeted strengthening the democratic model in Bolivia and strengthening the capacities of Guaraní organizations.


He said the OHCHR was overseeing application of human rights in the country, especially in the Chaco region.  The ILO was in the process of training State employees in the areas of indigenous rights and labour rights.  Other training programmes would target forced labour and child labour.  He said that difficulties surrounding the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Chaco were being overcome.  That was a welcome development in light of the drought that recently hit the region. 


Overall, it was clear that greater efforts must be deployed by the United Nations system to improve the situation of the Guaraní people.  United Nations agencies were very aware of and sensed the need to address the dispersed nature of the Organization’s services and it was essential that such services and interventions were centralized and scaled up inside Chaco.  Key actions would focus on land and territory, water, education and health.  There was a need to launch labour initiatives, as well as to open a dialogue to facilitate agreements with indigenous groups on labour rights and eradicating any form of servitude.  That issue was “so complex that it requires participation of all parties” to come up with a comprehensive solution.


In response, Mr. CARDENAS said the rights of indigenous peoples had been enshrined in the Bolivian constitution.  In that context, he cited other laws, including the law on hydrocarbons (2005) and decree 29033, which aimed to lay out procedures for consultation with indigenous peoples.  On the police force, he said a ministerial decision had been taken regarding Chaco.  Administrative arrangements were still provisional, but fell under general command.  The idea was to develop comprehensive services throughout the Chaco region.


On agrarian reform, he said land measuring and surveying was continuing.  He also described a process to improve the agrarian situation in mountainous areas and agrarian regions.  The National Institution for Agrarian Reform stated that the problem had not been resolved, which meant that in the 7 areas, final resolution on agrarian reform was still being addressed.  The issue was before the national tribunal.


On the issue of agrarian property, Bolivia was trying to provide for more than 200,000 hectares and work on various services for building housing in Chaco.  By way of example, he said the Government was working to implement telecom centres in indigenous and rural areas.


The main question, however, centred on judicial processes, he explained, an issue that dated back to Bolivia’s founding.  The Government had appointed judges and magistrates and, in December, would renew the entire judiciary.  A bill had been issued to fill existing vacancies and step up processes that had languished for years.  For the first time, Bolivians would vote on the type of administration of justice they wished to see.


Finally, regarding education, he said the Ministry of Education supported municipal authorities in financing infrastructure.   Bolivia had taken note of the comments from the President of the Assembly of the Guaraní people.  He shared their concerns and was committed to working from a different angle on the problems raised.


Wrapping up the discussion, Mr. MAMANI said the Guaraní “are living in a serious situation” and the Forum noted that the Assembly of Guaraní Peoples had indicated that, despite the will of the Government, there were still many problems.  Efforts to implement changes in land and water rights had met with obstacles.  The Forum, therefore, urged the Bolivian Government and the United Nations agencies working in the county to step up their efforts to improve the lives of the Guaraní people and ensure the restitution of Guaraní lands.


Report on Forum Visit to Paraguay, Dialogue with Government


Next, Mr. MAMANI said that, in response to a request by the Government of Paraguay, the Permanent Forum organized a multi-agency mission to Asunción and Filadelfia in April 2009 to verify complaints regarding forced labour and servitude among communities of Guaraní peoples and to draw up proposals and recommendations to ensure that the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples are respected.  The full report of the mission was presented to the Government on 31 August 2009 (see background).  The mission had been lead by then Forum chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines.  The Government’s response had been issued as document E/C.19/2010/12/Add.2.


Taking the floor next, CARLOS MARIA AQUINO LOPEZ, Vice-Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Paraguay, said the country had taken due note of the comments and recommendations included in the Permanent Forum’s report.  The report had been discussed at the highest levels of Government and the Paraguayan President had pledged to prioritize human rights issues and had led in the drafting of a multi-year national action plan that specifically took into account the needs of indigenous people. 


He said his predecessor had launched a satellite labour office in the Chaco region.  That initiative, carried out in cooperation with the ILO and civil society, had shown the willingness of all sectors in Paraguay to overcome social and labour-related challenges in the country.  He hoped that a special commission would shortly be set up to address matters related to fundamental labour rights and eradication of forced labour.  In July, the Ministry of Justice and Labour had signed an agreement with the Paraguayan Rural Association to ensure that livestock workers were covered.  That ministry had also carried out a review of labour processes in Chaco. 


He said that regional labour offices had also held training programmes in Chaco and work on a plan of action had begun.  Awareness-raising initiatives, training for labour inspectors, and investigations into discrimination against indigenous communities had also been prioritised, as had special efforts to monitor the treatment of indigenous women.  Efforts were under way to increase the presence of State authorities in the Chaco region.  “We know we have a long road ahead and we need the help of all aspects of society so that decent work for all could be ensured,” he said.


HIPÓLITO ACEVEI, Coordinator for la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas, speaking on behalf of 14 indigenous peoples organizations that represented 20,000 indigenous people in Paraguay, said his delegation had noted Government efforts to recognize, in full, indigenous organizations.  Today’s dialogue was the positive result of the visit by Forum members in April last year, which urgently motivated the Government to search for solutions to the delicate and negative social situation of the Guaraní and other indigenous peoples resulting from, among other things:  forced labour; slavery; inadequate working conditions; deprivation of ancestral territories; restrictions on the freedom of association and labour unions; a weak State presence; and lack of free access to health.


“I wonder sir, is that a system of slavery”? he asked.


The Forum had submitted its recommendations at its 2009 eighth session and they had been welcomed by indigenous organizations, in light of the importance that Paraguay assume its duties, he said.  He urged Paraguay to comply with the Forum’s recommendations.  Further, Paraguay must strengthen State institutions in Chaco and end restrictions against indigenous peoples on the rights to territory and lands.  It must guarantee food security, end discrimination, ensure the review of all property titles of indigenous communities and guarantee strategic transboundary lines for the protection of indigenous peoples.


Calling on Paraguay to put in place initiatives for coordinating with indigenous communities, he recommended that the Forum continue to encourage the Government to submit a report on any advances made to comply with its recommendations.  The Forum should also ask the Government to form a common strategy between the legislative and executive branches for the immediate eradication of the causes of poverty among indigenous peoples, notably those living in isolation, who were being forced into contact through systematic deforestation.


Moreover, the Forum must follow up on actions of the international financial institutions.  In that context, he said an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) project for the “Conservation of the Natural Patrimony of the Great Chaco” had recently been cancelled, as it did not comply with requirements for consultation and the free, prior and informed consent of the peoples concerned.  The Forum should also recommend that Paraguay comply with rights outlined in article 32 of the Declaration and take necessary measures to effectively comply with -– and apply -– articles 3 and 4.


Next, TONYA GONNELLA FRICHNER, Forum member from the United States, on the exercise of self-determination, asked whether that principle should be prioritized in terms of the reorganization of political institutions.  On the issue of land, she said the fact that much land was held by private owners made that task difficult.  There were two options:  expropriation and purchase.  However, was there a process by which the Government could prove indigenous title to land, without the possibility of those two options?  Could land titles be reviewed for the speedy recovery of indigenous lands?  Purchases were carried out on the basis of claims, legal proceedings and negotiations with private land holders.  It was unclear whether the budget described was sufficient.


In other areas, she asked for details on work carried out by the Inter-Agency Commission.  Regarding conflict resolution, many inter- and intra-ethnic conflicts had been resolved through indigenous customary law, avoiding cultural alienation, she said.  Should the ethnic rights department undergo a transformation?  How were judicial powers defined?  On education, there were initiatives under way to improve the situation for indigenous children and the Government must address barriers they faced in enrolling and attending schools.  She asked for information showing that education for indigenous children was the central focus when human rights were being implemented.


Finally, she said indigenous peoples might benefit from arrangements between Paraguay and Bolivia, whereby rights were laid out for them regardless of whether they lived on one side of the border or the other.  Would Paraguay consider engaging in such an arrangement?


LORENZO JIMENEZ DE LUIS, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations country team in Paraguay, agreed with the recommendations and renewed their commitment to address challenges that included the existence of forced labour and child labour of indigenous men and women, and maternal and child mortality.  The agencies were also aware of the need to give specific attention to the rights of children in the workforce, as well as women in the domestic fields.  At the same time, the United Nations country team acknowledged the work the Government of Paraguay was carrying out to improve the situation of indigenous peoples, including in the area of labour.  Efforts to restore land and bolster land rights must be stepped up and must target specifically marginalized indigenous groups.  Statistical information and other data on indigenous communities must also be enhanced.


Meanwhile, the United Nations would continue to strengthen its coordinated actions through an Inter-Agency Group on Indigenous Persons, particularly towards ensuring the implementation of the Permanent Forum’s recommendations.  The United Nations was working closely with the ILO.  Although much had been achieved, the country team realized that much remained to be done.  The team would work hard to increase its presence in the areas where forced labour had been identified.  It also planned to promote a culture of non-discrimination, including through working to curb negative representations of indigenous peoples in the media.


Responding, Mr. AQUINO LOPEZ said the Government planned to study with indigenous peoples the priorities that had been identified for consultation.  On land restoration, he said the national Constitution backed agrarian reforms, and studies were under way in the Truth and Justice Commission to investigate claims of ill-gotten land.  The Prosecutor General’s office had set up a special unit to identify and recover land taken illegally.  Land tenure reforms were under way and he looked forward to the “cleaning up” of land title issues.


He went on to say that the national commission responsible for following up recommendations of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was currently meeting to discuss cases on food security and health, among others.  A special subcommittee was considering land restitution cases.  He said another commission had been set up to examine allegations of forced labour, and the ILO had trained its members.  The Public Ministry was charged with implementing the aims of the national Constitution.  On law enforcement activities, he said the national police force was strengthening its oversight in internal affairs.  In addition, the Police Academy was now including human rights literature in its training materials, and the Commanders Office now answered to the Ministry of the Interior.


On the topic of education, Mr. LÓPEZ said indigenous education was characterized by intercultural knowledge, reflecting dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures.  Indigenous education was a priority and the Government was working with community leaders.  The idea was for indigenous children to be proud of their culture.  A teacher-training programme was being implemented, and there were over 400 indigenous institutions throughout the country.  There were 18 high schools and 35 educational training centres, 95 per cent of which were in rural areas.  Some 22,000 children were registered in official indigenous schools, versus 19,000 in 2008.  A goal was to lift the registration levels.


As for the signing of an agreement between Paraguay and Bolivia, he said the Presidents of both countries had recently signed an historic declaration containing points that were favourable for the Chaco region.  There could be progress made with good intentions and he hoped that would be so.


Rounding out the day, BARTOLOMÉ CLAVERO, Forum Member from Spain, said the Forum had today initiated a new practice.  It had become a venue for dialogue among Governments, indigenous organizations and United Nations agencies.  The process of visiting countries and providing reports should continue.


“We are studying the existence of human exploitation in the Americas”, he said, underscoring that many indigenous people were being subjected to forced labour.  It appeared that the Forum did not have sufficient strength to liberate families from their situation, “but that is our objective”, he emphasized.  They were the reason the Forum was implementing new practices.  He expressed the Forum’s thanks to the Governments of Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as to the indigenous peoples and United Nations country teams in both countries.  “Cooperation is valuable for these new practices”, he added.


To comments made by the Assembly of the Guaraní People, he said the Forum had understood how urgent it was that the issue be resolved.  “We are talking, here, about the exploitation of the Guaraní people”.  The urgency was justified. Their situation must be considered by all parties present today.


On the particular issue of self-determination, he said that was a matter of the Chaco, Guaraní and others suffering in serious situations, notably one particular people who were legitimately exercising their right to self-determination.  Citing the Vice Minister’s comments on cases that had not been settled, he said:  “We need to persevere.”


Agreeing, Permanent Forum Chairman MAMANI said that the Guaraní people continued to suffer the expropriation of their lands and territories.  The issue deserved attention because, like most indigenous peoples, the Guaraní did not have written land title documents.  So, land was handed down by ancestors and kept for future generations.  Overall, the exercise carried out by the Permanent Forum, a visit to the country, followed by dialogue with representatives of Governments concerned, as well as with United Nations agencies on the ground, and indigenous peoples organizations, had provided an extraordinary opportunity to learn and plot the course for future action.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.