COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION HOLDS DISCUSSION WITH NGOs
9 August 2011
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning heard statements from a series of non-governmental organizations on the situation of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance in Paraguay. In advance of the Committee’s review of the periodic reports of 9 countries during its seventy-ninth session, the Committee will hold two additional informal meetings with non-governmental organizations on Monday, 15 August and Monday, 22 August. Today’s meeting focused on the situation in Paraguay, who report will be presented on 10 August at 3 p.m.
Anwar Kemal, Committee Chairperson, in opening remarks, observed that it was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and noted that Convention on the Elimination or Racial Discrimination was a staunch defender of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Concerning the situation in Paraguay, speakers said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was a main forum for the fight for indigenous rights. The situation faced by indigenous people in Paraguay was of great concern. Paraguay was rich in ecosystems, biodiversity and ecology, which was reflected in the wealth of indigenous peoples. Indigenous people’s rights had been violated since colonial times, contributing to the difficult situation they faced today. The government had broadly recognized indigenous people’s rights, but these had not been minimally applied or enjoyed by indigenous peoples. Speakers commended the Government of Paraguay for presenting the report, but regretted the delays with respect to the presentation of the initial report and subsequent reports. Speakers requested the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to focus special attention on: the follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, discrimination against women, discrimination against Afro-descendent people, and the vulnerability of women and children of indigenous and Afro-descendent groups, particularly in relation to labor systems. Speakers asked the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to assess the implementation of the Law of Languages, which dealt with the use of language in the application of justice, the designation of an autonomous institution to assess different indigenous, cultural and religious minorities and the creation of an institution to replace the Paraguay Indigenous Institute. Public policies should dismantle barriers to political participation and improve the access of indigenous groups to public office or civil service jobs.
Speakers said legal recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in Paraguay was one of the most advanced in South America. However, there was a lack of public policies and constitutional framework for indigenous people to exercise their rights, including the acquisition of legal titles to communal property. Human rights violations were ongoing, particularly in regard to the right to land and the economic and social situation of indigenous peoples. The right to ancestral lands was an essential element of the identity, lifestyle and livelihood of indigenous people, but the majority of indigenous people did not have legal title to their land. The lack of any efficient mechanisms for considering claims to land was a violation of human rights. The Paraguay Indigenous Institute, the government agency for indigenous people’s rights, did not have ministerial status and was not considered a representative institution. The law establishing the Paraguay Indigenous Institute did not establish a specific mandate for discrimination. The lack of legislation concerning free, prior and informed consent also required special consideration. In order to legally recognize indigenous people’s rights, the State should undertake a survey of the legislation concerning these rights. The Government of Paraguay should ask for aid from international institutions and human rights mechanisms for this purpose. An exhaustive survey should give rise to reform of institutions concerned with indigenous people’s rights.
In the interactive dialogue that followed the presentation by Paraguayan non-governmental organizations, Committee Members noted that there was no reference to discrimination in the legislation of Paraguay, although there was a draft law pending. The Committee would recommend the adoption of this law. The penal legislation on discrimination was also not satisfactory and not in line with Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Judicial statistics on cases related to discrimination were almost non-existent. Regarding indigenous people’s rights, the Committee had asked for urgent action on the part of the Government of Paraguay, based on the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure. Committee Members hoped that the Government of Paraguay would at least respond in writing to the request. Committee members asked for more information on ethnic identity cards and inquired whether the issue of this card resulted in stigma. Committee members asked for further information on customary law and justice systems carried out by indigenous peoples. Committee members also inquired whether a disproportionate number of indigenous people were held in prisons.
Committee members asked whether International Labor Organization Convention 169 enjoyed constitutional status in Paraguay and whether specific cases of the application of the convention were available, either in domestic or regional courts. The question of whether Afro-descendents would be considered in the upcoming census in Paraguay was raised as was the status of their specific languages. Committee Members asked whether affirmative action programs had been translated into practical measures in a way that affected daily life. Committee Members inquired how indigenous people in Paraguay were described and indicated. Was the defective response to the judgment of the Inter-American Court by the Government of Paraguay, speakers asked, a result of the lack of structures, political will or both? There had been reference to a truth and justice commission, and speakers asked for further information on its work and outcomes. Committee Members asked why only certain indigenous languages had been made national languages. Particular forms of discrimination against children, adolescents and women had been referenced, and Committee Members asked for more specific information on these forms of discrimination. The diffusion of racial stereotypes by the press and on the internet was an important element assessed by the Committee in many countries. Thus, were indigenous people and Afro-decedents present in the media?
Responding to the questions raised by Committee Members, representatives of non-governmental organizations said that there were new forms of racial discrimination, such as ecological apartheid and ecological racism. Indigenous people were not allowed to participate in decision-making on legal drafts, legislation or administrative measures that would have an effect on natural resources. Ecological racism should be considered in the definition of racism. The Constitution of Paraguay indicated that every person was equal before the law, but there was no mention in the legal system of indigenous people or Afro-descendents. There was also no data on this population. The Government of Paraguay had never come forward with any policy for this population. The Government had committed itself to action, but had not taken concrete measures and commitments. All institutions tasked with respecting indigenous people’s rights needed to be examined. The Government of Paraguay had adopted International Labor Organization Convention 169, making it part of domestic legislation, but the standards of the Convention were far from being the reality.
The Government report made no reference to the historical situation of Afro-descendents, reflecting its effort to make Afro-descendent groups invisible. Respect for land linked indigenous people and Afro-descendents, which had suffered the same human rights violations in respect to land. The Government of Paraguay should recognize the cultural wealth of these groups. The identity associated with Afro-descendent groups was increasingly lost because the State had not implemented educational and public policy programs for their recognition. There was a great deal of discrimination in schools, as Afro-descendents were scorned for having dark skin and specific cultural traditions. The State recognized the cultural traditions of Afro-descendents but it was not recognized under the law. There were Afro-descendent cultural events, and traditions and customs were conveyed from generation to generation. The language specific to these groups, however, had been lost. The draft Law on Languages allowed for the creation of an academy for linguistic policies which would establish an official alphabet and grammar, which would be important for recognizing and supporting the continued use of indigenous languages. Of significant concern was the lack of legislation on free, prior and informed consent, despite international emphasis on the need for laws regarding consultative processes.
The representatives of the following non-governmental organizations took the floor to discuss the situation in Paraguay: Comisión Jurídica para el Autodesarrollo de los Pueblos Originarios Andinos, Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer and Amnesty International.
During its seventy-ninth session, the Committee will examine the situation of racial discrimination in Paraguay, the Maldives, Kenya, Georgia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Albania, the United Kingdom and Malta.
The next meeting of the Committee will be Wednesday, 10 August at 3 p.m. when it will commence its consideration of the combined first through third periodic reports of Paraguay. The reports of Paraguay will be considered for the next two meetings, concluding on Thursday, 11 August at 1 p.m.
For use of the information media; not an official record