Paraguay’s failure to prevent toxic contamination of an indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and sense of “home,” the UN Human Rights Committee found in a landmark ruling Oct. 13. The Committee, made up of 18 independent experts from across the world, monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. The decision on Paraguay marks the first time it has affirmed that for indigenous peoples, “home” should be understood in the context of their special relationship with their territories, including their livestock, crops and way of life.
“For indigenous peoples, their lands represent their home, culture and community. Serious environmental damages have severe impacts on indigenous people’s family life, tradition, identity and even lead to the disappearance of their community. It dramatically harms the existence of the culture of the group as a whole,” said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja.
The decision stems from a complaint filed more than a decade ago on behalf of some 200 Ava Guarani people of the Campo Agua’e indigenous community, located in Curuguaty district of eastern Paraguay. The area where they live is surrounded by large commercial farms which produce genetically modified soybeans, with heavy use of aerial pesticide spraying. Fumigation wth dangerous pesticides took place continuously for more than 10 years, affecting the indigenous community’s whole way of life, killing livestock, contaminating waterways. and harming people’s health.
The damage also had severe intangible repercussions, according to the UN committee. The disappearance of natural resources needed for hunting, fishing and foraging resulted in the loss of traditional knowledge. For example, ceremonial baptism (mitãkarai) is no longer taking place, as necessary materials no longer exist.
“By halting such ceremonies, children are denied a rite crucial to strengthening their cultural identity,” the Committee said. “Most alarmingly, the indigenous community structure is being eroded and disintegrated as families are forced to leave their land.”
Members found Paraguay did not adequately monitor the fumigation and failed to prevent contamination, adding that “this failure in its duty to provide protection made it possible for the large-scale, illegal fumigation to continue for many years, destroying all components of the indigenous people’s family life and home.”
The Committee recommended that Paraguay complete criminal and administrative proceedings against all parties responsible and make full reparation to the victims. Authorities are also urged to take all necessary measures, in close consultation with the indigenous community, to repair the environmental damage, and to work to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. (UN News)
Photo: WHO via UN News