Thursday, April 4, 2013

Inter-American Commission of Human Rights Refers Land Disputes involving Panama and Honduras to Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Inter Am Commn Human RtsEarlier today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced that it has filed applications with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in two new cases, both involving land claims by indigenous groups in Panama and Honduras respectively.

In Case No. 12.548, Garífuna Community of "Triunfo de la Cruz" and its Members v. Honduras, the petitioners claimed that Honduras failed to protect the ancestral territory of the Triunfo de la Cruz Community from occupation and dispossession by third parties. This failure has caused a situation of permanent conflict for the community due to actions in its territory by third parties, both private individuals and public authorities. Moreover, the sale of communal lands by public authorities
has negatively affected the community's ancestral territory and led to pressure, threats, and even murders or arrests of community leaders and authorities. In addition, the community does not have proper and culturally appropriate title to its ancestral territory, and access to certain parts of its territory has been restricted by the establishment of protected areas, which has hampered its ability to maintain its traditional way of life.  The Triunfo de la Cruz Community also claims that Honduras failed to consult the Community and its members concerning the adoption of decisions affecting the  territory they have occupied historically, including the execution of tourism  projects and megaprojects, the creation of a protected area in part of their ancestral territory, and sales of communal lands.

The IACHR determined that the Community have not had effective access to justice in the context of complaints related to the sale of ancestral lands; acts of threats, aggression, harassment, and persecution suffered by community authorities; and the situation of ongoing violence and insecurity caused by third parties in their territory.  The IACHR decided to refer the case to the Court when Honduras failed to inform the IACHR regarding compliance with the recommendations contained in its Report on the Merits.

Similar issues are involved the second Case No. 12.354, Kuna Indigenous People of Madungandí and Emberá Indigenous People of Bayano and their Members v. Panama.  There, the IACHR determined that Panama failed to meet its obligation to provide the Kuna indigenous people of Madungandí and the Emberá indigenous people of Bayano, and their members, with adequate, effective procedures for gaining access to their ancestral territories and for obtaining a response to the numerous complaints of third-party interference in their territories and natural resources. The IACHR determined that the violations committed against these two indigenous peoples constitutes a form of discrimination due to the application of laws that reflect an assimilationist policy.

More specifically, the case refers to the ongoing violation of the right to collective property of the Kuna indigenous people of Madungandí and the Emberá indigenous people of Bayano and their members, as a consequence of the State of Panama's failure to pay economic compensation stemming from the dispossession and flooding of the victim's ancestral territories that began in 1969. In addition, Panama failed to comply with its obligations to prevent the invasion of colonists and illegal logging, as a corollary of its obligation to effectively protect the territory and natural resources of the Kuna of Madungandí and Emberá of Bayano indigenous peoples and their members. This situation worsened beginning in the 1990s.  The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on February 26, 2013, because the Commission deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the IACHR's Report on the Merits of the case.


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