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. (UN News Centre, Dec. 17)
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