IACHR: Request for a visit to Argentina to assess violations against indigenous peoples

Rights organizations and representatives of indigenous communities highlight an increase in violence and structural racism by the state, denial of access to territory, lack of prior consultation and the critical situation in the province of Jujuy.

On Monday, July 10, rights defense organizations (AADI, AMAI, ANDHES and CELS) and representatives of indigenous communities were given a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), citing the dire situation experienced by indigenous peoples in Argentina. This was in light of the growing violence and structural racism committed by the Argentine state, the denial of access to territory, lack of prior consultation in decisions that affect their communities, and the situation of indigenous peoples in the province of Jujuy. The hearing was attended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Argentine State, represented by the Secretariat for Human Rights and the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INAI).

Although Argentina has laws in force and institutional treaties of constitutional rank that guarantee indigenous rights, the national and provincial governments do not comply with these provisions, and the judicial powers do everything possible not to apply them. Faced with the State’s failure to comply with the law, indigenous peoples have been intensifying their activism, which is in turn met with campaigns of repression, criminalization and stigmatization.

At the hearing, we described episodes of extreme police violence against indigenous peoples in recent years, both in the context of protests and otherwise, in provinces like Chaco, Formosa, Chubut, Río Negro, Neuquén, some even involving deaths and serious injuries. The current situation in Jujuy is a clear example of this racism: indigenous groups were not given any prior consultation regarding a constitutional reform that seriously affects them, and when they took to the streets, their demonstrations were met with repression and criminalization. We also pointed out the need to move forward on fundamental legislation on the rights of indigenous peoples, pointing out the inadequacy of Emergency Law 26.160 on communal property and possession to respond to these groups’ demands. We also emphasized the need to implement the right to free, prior and informed consultation.

National officials pointed to some specific measures of progress that are valuable, but they were unable to explain the absence of an in-depth policy to solve these problems, nor did they explain why other sectors of the national state (such as the Ministry of Defense or the National Parks Administration), and especially the provincial governments, seek, and in most cases succeed, to obstruct what little progress is achieved.

In our responses to the state, we raised the urgent need to modify violent and racist state practices and coordinate a policy of recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples. In the case of the national state, the first step should be the dissolution of the Unified Command of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies created by the national government last year in Río Negro, whose mere existence is already a stigmatizing message aimed at the indigenous communities of the area. The situation in Jujuy was also documented in a video showcasing the institutional violence perpetrated by the provincial government and the need to guarantee the rights of the indigenous peoples.

Jan Jarab, the regional representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also attended the hearing. He reiterated the Office’s concern about the structural discrimination and violence suffered by indigenous peoples in Argentina, and pointed out that several indigenous communities “are under pressure from mining, monoculture and other interests,” and that in this context “it is extremely concerning that Argentina still does not have a legal mechanism for consultation involving free, prior and informed consent.”

We submitted a request for the IACHR to make an on site visit to Argentina in the short term to observe first-hand and be able to talk with representatives of the different indigenous groups about the violence and lack of dialogue, especially in the context of the extractive industries’ expansion into indigenous territories.