Nicaragua: Indigenous rainforest community wins title to ancestral lands

UN rights officials praised the Nicaraguan government’s decision to
give the indigenous Awas Tingni community official title to its
traditional lands, marking the culmination of a decades-long struggle
by the group to gain recognition and protection of its ancestral
territory. “This affirmative step by the government of Nicaragua
represents an important advancement in the rights of indigenous
peoples worldwide,” said Special Rapporteur on the rights of
indigenous people James Anaya.

In a Dec. 14 ceremony, the government
officially recognized the title of Awas Tingni—one of the many
indigenous communities that populate the country’s remote Atlantic
Coast region—to some 74,000 hectares of densely forested lands. The
long-awaited move follows several years of struggle, and an historic
August 2001 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in
the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua. The Court found that Nicaragua
had violated the rights of the community by granting logging
concessions within its traditional lands and for failing to recognize
Awas Tingni property rights in those lands.In its decision, the Court
found that the right to property, as affirmed in the Inter-American
Convention on Human Rights, protects the traditional land tenure of
indigenous peoples.

“This was the first case in which an international
tribunal with legally binding authority found a Government in
violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group,
setting an important precedent in international law,” stated a UN
press release at the time. Anaya, who was present at the ceremony,
said the titling of Awas Tingni’s lands reflects a commitment on the
part of the Nicaraguan government to implement the judgment of the
Inter-American Court. “In addition, it provides a model for other
governments to comply with their international legal obligations to
recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their
traditional lands and resources in practice,” he stated.

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