By Chris Lang
On 29 January 2020, 80 heavily armed settlers attacked the community of Alal, a Mayangna indigenous community, in Nicaragua. Reports vary, but as many as six indigenous people may have been killed and 10 others kidnapped.
The attacks took place in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. The area is part of a proposed Forest Carbon Partnership Facility REDD programme, funded by the World Bank.
In December 2019, the Nicaraguan Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples (APIAN) released a statement expressing its concern about the REDD agreement between the Bank and the government of Nicargua.
Among the concerns that APIAN listed was that,
in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, groups of men armed with weapons of war have caused the forced displacement of entire communities of the Miskitu and Mayangna Indigenous peoples, and the State has failed to protect these peoples despite multiple requests.
Larry Solomon, a Mayangna lawyer, told Reuters, “This is a land conflict. They want our lands for cattle farming and to destroy our forests.”
The destruction of the forests and the violence against indigenous peoples has been going on for many years.
In 2013, the BBC reported on an “invasion” of landless people from other parts of the country to the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.
And in 2017, in a detailed report for Mongabay, Michelle Carrere wrote that,
By law, these lands cannot be sold, bought or exchanged. But illegal land transactions are carried out continuously and without difficulty in the capitals of each municipality, where there are many notaries and law offices that carry out the procedures.
Clearly the government needs to take action to address the human rights abuses and the destruction of the forests in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. But the World Bank’s REDD programme is not the solution.
The REDD deal between the World Bank and the Nicaraguan government was set up without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people living in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. As such it is inevitably doomed to failure.
Indian Law Resource Center expresses concern about the attack on a Mayangna Indigenous Community in Nicaragua
[Washington D.C., February 4, 2020] – The Indian Law Resource Center is deeply saddened and alarmed by the recent attack on the community of Alal, a Mayangna indigenous community, on Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Coast.
On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, a group of 80 heavily armed illegal settlers known as colonos invaded and attacked the Alal community in the Mayangna Sauni As territory of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, firing shots at the community and burning 16 homes. Reports vary, but as many as six community members may have been murdered. Others have been critically wounded, and several community members remain missing. The Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is a protected nature reserve in the north of the country and is the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon. The attack on the Alal community is the latest tragedy in the increasing conflicts between Nicaragua’s indigenous communities and colonos who are invading indigenous territories to exploit the land for timber, cattle farming, and gold.
According to Armstrong Wiggins, a Miskito Indian from Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast and the D.C. Office Director of the Indian Law Resource Center, such attacks by colonos on Mayangna and Miskito peoples have been occurring for years. “The government is doing nothing to protect indigenous peoples and their territories,” says Armstrong. “That land belongs to the Mayangna; they are the rightful owners. Their land has been demarcated, titled, and registered under Law 445 of 2003, which legalized all Indian land in Nicaragua. When a country doesn’t respect the rule of law, this is the result.”
The Indian Law Resource Center urges the international community and the Nicaraguan government to protect the Mayangnas and their lands and to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice.
Press briefing note on Nicaragua, 7 February 2020
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Date: 7 February 2020
We are very concerned about repeated attacks against indigenous peoples in Nicaragua, the lack of protection of their rights and the impunity for crimes committed against them.
Most of the violence has been carried out by settlers as they seek to force indigenous people from their ancestral homes and use their lands for illegal logging and cattle farming.
According to data collected by the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), since 2015, some 40 indigenous people have been killed 47 injured, 44 kidnapped and four disappeared, in cases related to land invasions.
The most recent incident occurred on 29 January 2020, dozens of armed men attacked the Mayangna community deep inside the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a remote protected area in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, 300 km north of Managua. Four members of the Alal community in the Sauni As territory, were killed, two others injured and 16 houses burned down, forcing hundreds of people from the village and surroundings to flee. Police officers only arrived on the scene the following day.
The Mayangna publicly reported last November that they had received death threats from settlers, but they have said they did not received adequate protection.
In addition, on 4 January 2020, Mark Rivas, a Miskitu indigenous leader, was found shot dead in Bilwi, in the same Autonomous Region. He had reportedly received anonymous death threats after accusing the ruling party of creating divisions among indigenous communities.
Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous peoples have a right to their lands, territories and resources and may not be forcibly evicted. The State has an obligation to ensure the protection of indigenous peoples and their lands, including from third parties.
Currently, 31 percent of the national territory is home to indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. Although the Nicaraguan State has granted land rights to them through the adoption of Law 445 in 2003, they continue to face challenges and pressures due to recurrent invasions by settlers.
According to a joint assessment by a Danish NGO and the Mayangna Territorial Government, from 1999 to 2015, an average of 600 hectares of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve were deforested per year, with the deforestation rate doubling from 2010 to 2015. In the area where the latest killings happened, the number of non-indigenous households doubled from 2009 to 2015, to almost 200.
We urge Nicaraguan authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into these incidents, and to hold those responsible accountable. We also call on the authorities to provide justice, truth and reparations to victims and their families, and assist those who have been forcibly displaced, including those who have now returned to their communities.
It is crucial that authorities take the necessary steps to prevent further violence and protect the land, territories and resources of indigenous communities.
PHOTO Credit: Logging in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. South World, 2019.