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Latin America: New report reveals systematic torture against Indigenous Peoples

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News release

Geneva - Buenos Aires - Bogotá - Guatemala City - Mexico City - La Paz - Managua - Santiago de Chile, 28 March, 2022 - Every day indigenous peoples in Latin America are subjected to different forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, says a report published today by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Center for Human Rights (Frayba), and seven other organisations that make up the Working Group on Torture and Indigenous Peoples.

The report "... SO IT IS TORTURE!"- Analysis of the acts of violence that amount to torture and other ill-treatment of indigenous peoples in Latin America is the first to be published on this subject in the region. With examples from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua, the report shows situations that cross the entire region: the criminalisation or deprivation of liberty of indigenous leaders; the massacres and murders; the militarisation and dispossession of their lands; forced displacement and the need to address these human rights violations from a collective perspective that emphasises the collective effects they have on indigenous peoples, highlighting the damage and suffering they cause, and which often constitute torture.

“Racism remains deeply rooted in the judicial, political, and social systems of Latin American countries and has resulted in a permanent practice of torture against indigenous peoples,” said Teresa Fernández Paredes, human rights advisor at the OMCT. "It is urgent that the countries of the region apply the international and the national frameworks for the prevention and eradication of torture and other ill-treatment from a collective, differentiated and cultural perspective, which protects and prevents violence against indigenous peoples."

Although the rights of indigenous peoples have been recognised in almost all Latin American Constitutions, a common regional denominator continues to be the fact that this recognition doesn’t translate into practice. Indigenous individuals and communities see their personal and collective integrity violated routinely and with total impunity, especially in the five patterns identified in the report: 1) in the context of evictions, 2) in the context of peaceful social protest, 3) through criminalisation and threats, 4) during deprivation of liberty, and 5) with sexual and gender-based violence.

The report presents a section with testimonies of indigenous people about their vision and their experiences of torture. For example, some of the participants interviewed stated, in relation to the criminalisation of leaders and the conditions of detention in the seven countries: “For us as human beings, and to the extent that they are gradually martyring us, this is torture. As they see that we do not give up and let ourselves be defeated, they order arrest warrants to be issued again and again, against leaders who raise their voices to denounce any outrage against collective rights such as the defence of the territory… because it is torture.”

In short, the report focuses on the importance of addressing torture with respect to collective – as opposed to individual - subjects and maintains that international human rights law must still develop and interpret the absolute prohibition of torture in a way that incorporates the experiences, collective meanings and impacts that abuse unleashes against indigenous peoples.

Click here to read the Executive Summary in English.
Click here for the full report in Spanish.

For more information, please contact :
Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications (English, French, Spanish)

+41 79 539 41 06

Frayba (Spanish)

Isabel Rosales +52 757 106 60 98 and Salvador Cisneros +52 757 117 89 69 (Spanish)

Flor Calfunao Paillalef (English, Spanish)
+41 76 375 38 98

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Frayba is a non-profit organisation, independent of any government or political ideology. It works for the defence and promotion of human rights and in a relationship of mutual determination with the processes of indigenous peoples and communities in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.

CALPI is a non-governmental organsation that has worked with the community leadership providing legal and technical assistance to the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of Nicaragua since 1996, especially presenting cases before the IACHR and the Inter-American Court.

The CRIC is a traditional authority that represents 139 indigenous authorities of Cauca and 10 towns. Since its consolidation in 1971, it has undertaken a struggle to claim the ancestral rights of the indigenous peoples of Colombia.

The "Tlachinollan" Mountain Human Rights Center is a non-governmental organisation based in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. Since 1993, it has worked for the promotion and defence of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Montaña and Costa Chica regions.

The Institute for Therapy and Research ITEI is a Bolivian NGO based in La Paz. Since its inauguration in 2001, it has campaigned for individuals who are victims of repression, torture, exile and other forms of State repression, in particula, people with low social status, indigenous peoples and members of political groups fighting for their rights.

The Mapuche Human Rights Commission (MHRC) was founded on June 20, 2012, on the advice of Lonko Mayle-Allipen-Cunco, Lonko Pincen de Puelmapu-Wallmapu. It brings together voluntary members of organsations located in Wallmapu and in Europe that have been denouncing the violation of the human rights of the Mapuche people at the United Nations (UN). Its goal is to address the various issues that are discussed at the UN, as well as monitor the level of commitment assumed by the States related to respect for human rights treaties and international conventions that have been ratified by the states of Chile and Argentina.

The Tz'ununija Indigenous Women's Movement brings together more than 80 organisations located in 13 departments of Guatemala with extensive experience in the promotion, defence and exercice of the rights of indigenous women. It has promoted very important changes in the field of justice, making recommendations at the national, regional and international levels to incorporate the specific rights of indigenous women in international instruments (CEDAW). Since 2008, it has been developing training and healing processes.

The Thematic Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and Torture in Latin America was established in May 2020 and is comprised of 10 experts on torture and/or the rights of indigenous peoples, from 7 countries in the Americas and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). It’s an initiative aimed at making visible the acts of violence and persecution that constitute torture and other ill-treatment and their specific impacts and consequences for the indigenous population, as well as promoting common collective actions for the advocacy, protection and defence of the rights of native populations.

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