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Case of the Awas Tingni indigenous community against Nicaragua: between local and global human rights PDF Print E-mail

Principal Researcher: Felipe Gómez Isa.

Funding Body: Dpto. Educación, Universidades e Investigación del Gobierno Vasco [“Dept of Education, Universities and Research of the Basque Government”]

Description: The Awas Tingni community is an indigenous community located on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. In the nineties, the Nicaraguan Government awarded the South Korean company SOLCARSA timber exploitation rights on the community’s ancestral lands, despite recognition under the Constitution of Nicaragua and other subsequent laws of the indigenous people’s right to use and benefit from their tranditional lands.  The community took legal action both locally and nationally to try to revoke the concession. In the legal proceedings, the community was advised by a team of jurists and anthropologists from the Centro de Derechos Indígenas of the University of Arizona, directed by Professor James S. Anaya. Once the national legal resources had been exhausted, the community decided to have recourse to the human rights protection system set up by the Organization of American States (OAS). After a long, complicated trial, the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos [Inter-American Court of Human Rights], based in San José, Costa Rica, made a historic ruling on 31 August 2001, which represented a turning point in the evolution of indigenous rights in the international legal arena. The Inter-American Court ruled that the Nicaraguan State had violated the rights of the Awas Tingni community to their traditional lands. In consequence, the Court ordered Nicaragua to delimit and title the community’s traditional lands, to cease any activity which could endanger these rights, and to establish a suitable mechanism for safeguarding the territories of all the country’s indigenous communities.

This research project aims to systematize the experience of the Awas Tingni case to obtain some lessons (best practices) to help other indigenous communities or groups in situations of vulnerability to defend their rights properly in the future, both nationally and internationally.
So the investigation will begin with some basic questions which need to be answered:

* How was decision-making organised throughout the whole proceedings? Did the community participate significantly in the decision-making process?
* What were the roles of the different actors involved in the process: community leaders, local Nicarguan NGOs, international NGOs, the media...?
* Can the Awas Tingni case be used as a precedent for other similar cases which could arise in the future?
* Are international human rights instiutions like the Inter-American Court ready to properly defend the rights of marginalised communities like the indigenous peoples?
* Are the main aspects of the Inter-American Court ruling being implemented?
* How does the community perceive the entire process now, several years on and in face of serious problems regarding the enforcement of the ruling by the Nicaraguan Government?

Research Team:
Felipe Gomez Isa
Koen de Feyter
Luis Rodríguez Piñeiro
Gaby Ore Aguilar