• Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica

    Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica

    Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight different peoples. Although Costa Rica has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169, rights to land and self-determination is still a struggle for the country’s indigenous population.
  • Peoples

    2.4 per cent of Costa Rica’s total population are indigenous peoples
  • Rights

    Costa Rica voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007.
  • Challenges

    Many indigenous peoples continue to be displaced and landless as a result of the long term armed conflict in Colombia.

Costa Rica

Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica

 

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight different peoples. Although Costa Rica has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169, rights to land and self-determination is still a struggle for the country’s indigenous population.



UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted


Costa Rica voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007.

ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, was ratified by Costa Rica in 1993, but has not resulted in recognition of indigenous peoples rights in the country.

The indigenous peoples continue to be discriminated against, with greater levels of social exclusion and less public investment.

Although the 1977 Indigenous Law recognises the traditional indigenous organisations, the concept of Integral Development Associations (ADIs) has been imposed on them and is completely alien to the indigenous peoples’ traditional power structures.

The ADIs depend on the supervision, approval and willingness of the National Department for Community Development, a state body that does not have the capacity to understand cultural diversity, indigenous rights, differences between peoples and territories or an intercultural approach.



Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica



The indigenous peoples of Costa Rica make up 2.4 per cent of the total population. According to the 2010 census, around 100,000 people self-recognise as indigenous.

Costa Rica’s 24 indigenous territories account for some 6.7 per cent of the national territory, and eight different peoples live in them.

Seven of these indigenous peoples are of Chibchense origin, that is the Huetar, who live in Quitirrisí and Zapatón, the Maleku, who live in Guatuso, the Bribri, who live in Salitre, Cabagra, Talamanca Bribri and Këköldi, the Cabécar, who live in Alto Chirripó, Tayni, Talamanca Cabécar, Telire and China Kichá, Bajo Chirripó, Nairi Awari and Ujarrás, the Brunca, who live in Boruca and Curré, the Ngöbe, who live in Abrojos Montezuma, Coto Brus, Conte Burica, Altos de San Antonio and Osa, and the Teribe, who live in Térraba.

One of these indigenous peoples are of Meso-American origin, that is the Chorotega, who in Matambú.

Indigenous territorial rights are constantly violated in the country and more than half the area of some territories is occupied by non-indigenous settlers.

In Costa Rica, the indigenous lands have been titled without a prior process of regularisation, and the state is doing nothing to rectify the current situation.



Main challenges for Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples



The issue of indigenous rights in Costa Rica and, in particular, the rights to land and self-determination, is facing fierce resistance from those who hold political and economic power.

Although concrete progress was made in 2016 in terms of the government’s consultation of indigenous peoples and the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) were fulfilled, the indigenous rights agenda continues to suffer delays.

This relates particularly to Congress’s consideration of the Law on Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomous Development, which, two decades on, has still not been discussed. The lack of discussion of the law is mainly due to strong racist resistance and opposition from the private sector, which considers the right to self-determination and self-management of indigenous territories to be a risk to extractive investments.

Additionally, the national policy for a Society Free from Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia (2014-2025), which should have commenced in 2015, is still awaiting implementation.

Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination continues to be denied by the state. The draft bill of a law on indigenous peoples’ autonomous development has still not been discussed in the Congress, despite being submitted more than two decades ago.

Because of the failure to enact this law, indigenous peoples and their territories continue to be represented by organisations that have structures alien to their cultures, and which were defined at the end of the 1970s by a regulation that lacked any ethnic and cultural sensitivity.



Potential progress for Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples



A general consultation mechanism for indigenous peoples in Costa Rica is currently under preparation. The consultation processes were halted by the government in 2015, but in 2016, the President issued a directive, which sets out the steps to be followed in agreeing the necessary features of the process for consulting the country’s indigenous peoples.

The government drafted a proposed consultation mechanism, that drew comprehensively on national and international indigenous rights legislation, although it was still far removed from the cultural and sociopolitical realities of the eight different peoples that make up the country’s indigenous diversity.



Case: Territorial rights



The territorial rights of Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples have been recognised since 1956 and more than 300,000 ha have been registered in the names of indigenous peoples and communities. However, these lands were never regularised, and land invasions continue and indigenous production systems are being destroyed by the plundering of settlers, who transform the forests into pastureland for their cattle.

These actions have resulted in serious conflict, are preventing indigenous territorial governance and human development, and form a backdrop to the poverty and social exclusion of indigenous peoples.

ONU: Consultation required prior to any decision to advance with the Diquis hydroelectric project in Costa Rica

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, undertook a visit to Costa Rica from 24-27 April 2011 to discuss the situation of indigenous peoples, in particular the Térraba people, affected by the Diquís hydroelectric project. At the end of his four-day visit, the Special Rapporteur noted that "All parties agree that it is necessary to initiate a consultation process that complies with relevant international standards before the hydroelectric project Diquis can move forward."

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