Case of the Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua [ENG]

Petition alleging the State's failure to demarcate communal land, to protect the indigenous people's right to own their ancestral land and natural resources, and to guarantee access to effective remedy. Violation of right to judicial protection and private property. Prohibition imposed upon the State to grant concessions to third parties in the said land. Obligation to take measures to demarcate indigenous people's land and issue land titles.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Type of Forum: 

The Mayagna Awas (Sumo) Tingni Community lives in the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua and is made up of approximately 142 families. Jaime Castillo Felipe, a leader of the community, lodged a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denouncing the State of Nicaragua for failing to demarcate the Awas Tingni Community's communal land and to take the necessary measures to protect the Community's property rights over its ancestral lands and natural resources. Furthermore, the petitioner denounced the State for failing to guarantee access to an effective remedy for the Community's claims regarding the then imminent concession of 62,000 hectares of tropical forest to be commercially developed by a company in communal lands. The IACHR submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, who concluded that Nicaragua had violated the right to judicial protection and to property. The Court noted that the right to property acknowledged by the American Convention of Human Rights protected the indigenous people's property rights originated in indigenous tradition and, therefore, the State had no right to grant concessions to third parties in their land. Consequently, the Court decided that the State had to adopt the necessary measures to create an effective mechanism for demarcation and titling of the indigenous communities' territory, in accordance with their customary law, values, customs and mores. The Court also decided that, until such mechanism was created, the State had to refrain from any acts that might affect the existence, value, use or enjoyment of the property located in the geographic area where the members of the indigenous community live and carry out their activities.

Keywords: Case of the Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua, Environmental, Rights

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

In January 2003, the community filed an amparo action against President Bolaños and ten other high ranking government officials, because the decision had not been enforced. This action has not been resolved yet. In January 2003, the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed a new law aimed at demarcating indigenous land. Awas Tingni could be the first community to obtain land titles under the new law.

Groups involved in the case: 

Petitioner: Jaime Castillo Felipe, leader or syndic of the Mayagna Community (Sumo) of Awas Tingni, acting in his own name and on behalf of the Community, sponsored by Centro de Recursos Jurídicos para los Pueblos Indígenas (Indian Law Resource Center)
The University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program.

Significance of the Case: 

This case is of major significance, because it is the first time that the Inter-American Court has issued a judgment in favor of the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral land. It is a key precedent for defending indigenous rights in Latin America. The decision is a major step in the fight against the historical and ongoing subjugation of indigenous peoples in the region.