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News > Nicaragua

Indigenous People and Justice in Nicaragua's North Caribbean Coast

  • Miskito Indigenous people cross a river in the Autonomous Region in the Northern Caribbean Coast, Nicaragua.

    Miskito Indigenous people cross a river in the Autonomous Region in the Northern Caribbean Coast, Nicaragua. | Photo: Twitter/ @confidencial_ni

Published 4 February 2021

In this Central American country, people who usurp Indigenous people's land are sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Nicaragua's Revista Tortilla con Sal spoke with Loyda Martinez, Sole Local Judicial Authority of the Municipality of Waspam, Rio Coco, to learn how the Indigenous community of the Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast (RACCN) is defending itself against the usurpation of its lands. TeleSUR shares the full interview.


Nicaragua: Virtual Reality and Human Rights

- We would like you to explain the Indigenous people's property remediation process and about the cases you have adjudicated.

We have prosecuted six cases of usurpation of the communal domain of Indigenous peoples, where people who are not natives of that community misappropriate land of Indigenous peoples. So, how has this procedure been carried out? In the territories, the owners of the land, who are the presidents of the territorial governments, file a complaint with the National Police. The National Police receives these and it does all the investigative work. Then they refer the cases to the Public Prosecutor's Office, and the Public Prosecutor's Office files the accusation before the Single Local Court. We have sentenced these people with the maximum penalty of 3 years and have thus sent them to the penitentiary in Managua or Matagalpa.

Also, I have taken part in the dialogue between mestizos and Miskitos, in which there are territories that want to resolve the remediation process by a leasing agreement with the territory. They make the proposal, then the territory, its president will decide if they are going to lease or not. So, we have carried out these procedures as a judicial authority. We listened to both parties. The mayor of the municipality has invited me to take part and listen to proposals made by the non-Indigenous party.

The State has vindicated the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples' right to the land, and the State is also a guarantor in the efforts to secure social peace in our country and in our region. It is a process in which the State has guaranteed and has given those peoples this right, but the political opposition always does not see this. They also say that the cases we have prosecuted are of little importance. But no.

The Indigenous peoples are being protected and the rights of the Indigenous peoples are being vindicated. And the State has contributed a great deal to this because no other government had ever recognized the indigenous peoples, giving them a title to what before was only private property, where only the oligarchy and the bourgeoisie had the right to own land. 

But now the State has guaranteed, has extended that legal protection by which the people of the Caribbean Coast have received the title to their land. And not only the title. You can go to the community and see how they have advanced significantly. They have their land, their crops, and much more. The government has guaranteed that these peoples have their land in legal terms. 

Likewise, we have made progress in this aspect of property remediation, and we are not trying to drag it out, although the opposition always sees it like that. But there has been a lot of progress because there is a dialogue between mestizos and Miskitos in which the State guarantees as established in Law 445 that those communities, that now have their legal title, can lease their land, and that is allowed by law. But this is something that as regards the State, each territory president is able to decide whether they want to lease it or not.

- What's the relationship between the justice administered by the State, which you represent, and the justice of the Indigenous peoples, which is represented at the community level by their wihsta? 

The State allows positive law and customary law, for the State there are the local judges, the district judges and, in the case of customary law there are the wihstas, the original community authorities. Today in the Political Constitution and the reforms to it, the wihstas are recognized as the original community authorities of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, with which the State interacts, as in Article 20 of Nicaragua's Penal Code, and as is also recognized in the Political Constitution. So, what do we do in that regard? We work together. We constantly train our wihstas in new legislation, and how those laws should be administered in their community. 

And the law also establishes that they can mediate, and that mediation can be done via the Single Local Court, which registers how citizens choose the form of justice they prefer. They can choose the positive justice that we represent, or they can choose customary justice. So the citizen chooses one or other of those two forms of justice. Then, as long as it's under the law... they administer justice.

So then, what do we do? In those cases that can be resolved amicably without the need to go to court, we write the resulting mediation in the mediation register that we have kept for many years. So that means there is access to justice, and for reasons of cost, or distance, people can choose their form of justice in their community, which we recognize and we respect the work of our traditional authorities the wihstas.

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