Regions - South and Central America

Inter-American commission cutbacks jeopardize indigenous peoples’ rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is going through a severe financial crisis that will have serious consequences on its ability to fulfill its mandate and carry out its basic functions, the Organisation of American States (OAS) announced yesterday.

“Thousands of victims of human rights violations will be left unprotected”, the OAS warned.

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Honduras: Environmentalist Berta Cáceres shot dead

Honduran environmentalist leader and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Berta Caceres has been shot dead at her home in the town of La Esperanza.

Caceres was killed early on Thursday by two assailants who broke into her home, a member of her group, the Indian Council of People's Organizations of Honduras, said."Honduras has lost a brave and committed social activist," fellow activist Tomas Membreno said in a statement.

IACHR: New report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples' rights

A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on extractive industries and its impact on the human rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-decendent communities was presented on April 6, 2016. 

The report establishes that extractive exploitation and development activities in Latin America are generally implemented in the lands and territories of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities.

It highlights the breadth and complexity of the problems caused by extractive and development activities in the region on those communities, and set forth a comprehensive framework of inter-american human rights standards on the subject. 

The production of the report has been supported by IWGIA. 

Significant focus on extractive industries at IACHR meetings in Washington

In recent years, cases involving indigenous peoples have become a focal point of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sessions’, and continued to take up a large proportion of the hearings this year. The 154th IACHR Session was held from 16 to 20 March 2015 in Washington, D.C., and included 55 public hearings as well as a series of working meetings.

All the indigenous cases presented were related to the presence of extractive industries on their territories or infrastructure megaprojects, like the Nicaragua Canal. Indigenous representatives from Peru, Columbia, Panama, Mexico and Guatemala were heard, and a joint hearing focused particularly on the cases of Nicaragua, Chile and Ecuador.

‘Growing number of cases being heard is significant’

“Considering the temporary halting of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant in Brazil, which was facilitated by the Inter-American system, the growing number of cases being presented to the Commission is significant,” explains IWGIA South America Coordinator, Alejandro Parellada, who attended the session.

The Belo Monte power plant would affect the ecosystems and communities of among others, the Jurunas, Xingu and Arara peoples in Brazil. Following initiatives taken by Brazilian civil society through the Inter-American system, the IACHR issued precautionary measures (2011) that momentarily brought the project to a standstill. This drew a fierce reaction from the Brazilian Government, as well as other countries in the region, and resulted in Brazil withdrawing its financial contribution to the IACHR and its Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS). In addition, reforms aimed at reducing the Commission’s power were promoted, including a reduction in hearings similar to the Brazil case.

Supporting a space for indigenous cases and voices

Despite the pressure to reduce its reach, the Commission and IACHR Rapporteur on indigenous peoples have continued to give substantial space to indigenous complaints. The Rapporteur was even asked to produce a special report on extractive industries.

IWGIA’s support to the IACHR indigenous rapporteurship office has been significant.

The Commission’s limited technical staff made it very difficult to deal with all cases appropriately, and resulted in delays that could drag on for years. IWGIA’s support to the Commission has therefore included legal advisors, which have sped up the process and considerably reduced the delay in responding to individual cases. The project has also supported a report on indigenous women in the Americas, as well as the development of the forthcoming report on extractive industries. In these cases, IWGIA supported an official visit of the IACHR Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Marie Belle Antione, to Guatemala (2013) and Chile (2014), which involved wide civil society participation.

You can read the report on indigenous women here, and the report on extractive industries is expected in late summer 2015. 


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
CVR: 81294410

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