Monday, March 17, 2014

Lottie Cunningham, Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Atlantic Coast

Cejuhcan, Lotti Cunningham
We met Sandra Illes and Juana de Bano.  Lotti is Chair of the Nonprofit Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Atlantic Coast.  We work with indigenous peoples and afro-descendents.  Our board of directors has 60 indigenous people including me, and we started in 1997.  We are associated with Global Rights, an international human rights group in Washington DC.  Legal groups of different countries came to the Atlantic Coast and now have offices in Bilwi and Bluefields.
In the first years, we worked on political policies for justice and signed an agreement to take our case to the International Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) regarding concessions of lumber that were to last 30 years – for mahogany and other precious woods, with an automatic renewal for another 30 years with a company called Sol or Carsa.  This would have severe impact on our peoples.  So we took the case because the Nicaragua government decided it was a National resource, not indigenous.  The InterAmerican Court on Human Rights (IAC) heard our case in Costa Rica.  In 2001, the court decided that Nicaragua violated collective land rights of indigenous people.  As this was the first case, it was difficult.  In 2001 the ICHR decided that their job was done and they would leave.  We asked them to work locally to continue this work.  In 2003, the National Congress approved us as a non-profit organization.
Southern Region – Bluefields Indian Community University – however, it is no longer functioning.
We had small interviews with people and elders to see what were the biggest human rights violations and a list of key political and religious actors and organizations.   We did this in the North and South.  The most commonly cited violation was lack of a mechanism for indigenous collective property rights to their land and territory.  So we decided to focus on land and territory.
The IAC decision led us to sit with the State to draw out a mechanism to protect communal land.
Our second mission was to articulate the original council of RAAN and RAAS and every one else to focus on land, civil society, and a university to fact the National Government.
Project of demarcation and titles of indigenous peoples and ethnic community land.
IAC decision – Nicaragua has the responsibility to title and demarcate the land.  We go as one voice to the National Congress.  Both universities could do the dialog between the state and university.  Approachec the National Congress – technical, political, logistical team to be sure language of the bill talks about COLLECTIVE rights to the land.  Nicaragua still is over-confident.  They said we are 8.9% of the population, but we say we are 11% and we have 51% of the land.  “Demarcation and titling is not our language” said the elders, but the Nicaragua constitution said things about PRIVATE property, cooperative, communal property.  This is not National land for them to give concessions on.  We need control over our property.
Law 445 is the communal property law.  But we work with the communities, more than 100 of them, but we really work with all of the territories.  We need to do it to make policy, advocating for laws for indigenous people.  We work to strengthen communities to advocate for different levels of government – technical and legal support in their demand to control their natural resources.
The Government said there were 23 territories, but the recognize only 22 (the Afro descendents of Bluefields was left out).  There are 17 in the North, finished the 4th step, giving them their title.  The first step was a study about use and occupation of the land, requiring a census and socio-economic research.  More than 20 round tables were held.  We want to use collective memory and ethnographic mapping, too.  Ethnographic mapping shows how you use and occupy your land.  What are the names you give your rivers, mountains, etc in your own language, for example.  The 2nd step was conflict resolution of overlapping territories.  The 3rd step was cartography and mapping and placing boundary markers on the land.  The 4th step gives the title, to 23 territories and more than 200 communities are involved.
The 5th step, saneamiento (cleansing the land of unwelcome non-indigenous colonizers) – we need effective security over our land.  We had a lot of invasions during demarcation, coming from all parts of Nicaragua.  We try to advise with a focus on human rights.   The state must do their job.  They have impunity, and more invaders come.  We need the state to help sanitize and mind the border.  People and companies came in with and without permission.  We need a census of people who do not belong – who gave you permission to be here, how much land, etc.  Some of the poor people we might work with.  The real problem is the agricultural frontier where there are cattle poisoning the water, people cutting the forest, and people mining gold.
We agreed among 23 territories to draft a mechanism to sanitize the3 territory.  We need the state to agree and to accompany us.  Decree 15 of 2003 would create a commission in defense of us – the state created one commission; they are not responding, so we sent a demand to the UN Human Rights Commission this year to periodically examine the situation – they recommended that the state comply.  They said that they complained because they gave the title, but we must finish the 5th step.
The government is still giving out natural resource concessions, for example Noble energy from Texas.  Mining is contaminating the Wawa River with mercury.
We need them to approve and have a big budget for the Saneamiento.
We work with Humbolt Centro – they have the information on concessions.  We must look at the environment as a human right.  Another problem is contamination by palm plantations.
We need to protect EVERYONE’s life.  We need to decide who can be on indigenous territory – the assembly will decide based on dialog.

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