Church Mission Society partners celebrate Latin American indigenous communities’ victory in 50-year human rights battle.
Lhaka Honhat, a group of indigenous communities numbering over 10,000 people in northern Argentina, have won a landmark human rights battle for their right to a healthy environment, cultural identity, land and water. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights [IACHR] has ruled that the State of Argentina violated the group’s rights and ordered specific measures of reparation to their restitution, including actions for access to adequate food and water, for the recovery of forest resources and indigenous culture, bringing to a close a case which began over 50 years ago.
The Rt Rev Nick Drayson, Bishop of Northern Argentina and a Church Mission Society mission partner, said: “Having worked for many years in northern Argentina, first as a linguist and then as a pastor, I am thrilled that this quiet, ongoing struggle for recognition of the rights of the original peoples to live without interference in these ancestral lands, has finally borne fruit.” However, Bishop Nick also took time to say that although the ruling is cause to celebrate, “the government has been given six years to fulfil the stipulations of the court and we may not see the outcome for some time”.
At the core of the case is the lack of delimitation, demarcation, and title of the ancestral lands of more than 90 indigenous communities comprising the Association of Aboriginal Communities Lhaka Honhat in Argentina and dates back to 1966 when SAMS* Australia missionary, Kevin Bewley, accompanied a delegation of Chorote and Wichi chiefs to lobby the Provincial governor. In the ensuing years SAMS mission partners worked alongside local Christians and development experts to encourage the flourishing of livelihoods in the Chaco forest.
Since 1984, the indigenous communities have claimed recognition and a unique property title of their ancestral lands in the province of Salta, a report by the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment explains: “The communities were forced to modify their uses and customs because of illegal activities, such as logging and livestock farming, managed by Creole families, which severely affected their traditional way of life. In 2012, IACHR issued a Merits Report on the case which determined the rights of the indigenous communities had been violated but despite repeated efforts by both the communities and the IACHR the recommendations included in the report have not been carried out.
“The new court ruling recognises the adverse effect of the activities carried out in the territory by the Creole population and that the State violated the communities rights to cultural identity, ahealthy environment, and adequate food and water, due to the lack of effective measures to stop activities harmful to them. The ruling marks a significant milestone for the struggle of indigenous peoples for their rights since it is the first time that the Court has issued a ruling on an ancestral property in Argentina and that it has ruled on a territorial dispute of these dimensions.”
Paul Tester, CMS Mission Development Manager for Latin America, said; “CMS and SAMS’ mission work in Latin America began with the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego in what is modern day Argentina and Chile. The indigenous church remains at the heart of the Anglican church that CMS / SAMS planted in South America. Throughout its history CMS / SAMS has stood with the indigenous peoples of Latin America as they have struggled to retain their land and ways of life without interference from outside. This ongoing relationship is key to the future development of a CMS mission movement in Latin America.”