Urge Costa Rica to honour Indigenous land rights and protect communities from violence

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In 1977, the government of Costa Rica promised to protect Indigenous land rights by establishing law 6172. Though the law outlines a legal framework for Indigenous reserves, the current approach is highly bureaucratic and involves several institutions. This makes the process not only lengthy and costly but also exacerbates the violence around land claims. On one hand, the law identifies Indigenous people as the rightful owners of their territories. On the other, when communities try to reclaim their land, they are faced with intimidation and death threats.

In 2019, following the Inter-American Commission on Human Right’s visit to Costa Rica, the government committed to “take action aimed at solving this complex, long-standing problem and at improving dialogue to regain the trust of indigenous communities.” It has been over a year, but none of these promises have been fulfilled.

We call on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to hold the government of Costa Rica accountable for failing to protect Indigenous human rights defenders. In addition, the government must immediately address all pending land reclamation cases and commit to simplifying the process.

Additional Information:

BriBri Clan,  Puntarenas Province
The BriBri Clan in Puntarenas province is comprised of a handful of valiant women. In 2014, the community gathered the courage to reclaim a piece of land originally belonging to their ancestors. At the time, half the land was occupied by a couple falsely claiming to be Indigenous. The other half was occupied as a landfill site by an international corporation. When the family moved to the area as a means to peacefully protest, those employed by the corporation lost their jobs. 

Even without the means to a steady income, the community decided to reclaim the land by following legal procedures. This route was meant to be peaceful, but instead, they have faced systematic acts of violence, including the burning of their rancho twice in the last five years. Historical territorial lines drawn by the government in 1956 and 1977 are unclear and inaccurate, which intensifies the conflict.

The legal battle against the non-Indigenous couple has been won, however, the corporation has taken the community to the supreme court to continue the fight. Meanwhile, the government fails to provide support, guidance, or protection.

Térraba, Puntarenas Province
80% of the Térraba population in Costa Rica and Panama have lost their land to non-Indigenous peoples. One such community is the Térraba in Puntarenas Province.

The area has been identified as Terraba territory since 1939, yet is currently being occupied by a non-Indigenous man who lives in San Jose. In 2018, families moved to the area to reclaim their land through peaceful protests and legal procedures in an attempt to avoid violence.

Over the past two years, the community has received multiple ungrounded legal notices from the occupant and death threats from non-Indigenous individuals in the area. To protect themselves and their children, they have created a gate around their home and have set up temporary houses using tarps and corrugated steel panels. The community is prepared to keep fighting through the judiciary system even though similar cases have taken up to 12 years to resolve.

The land is barren, the streams run dry and the deer who once roamed the land are no longer there. Yet the Térraba Chief is adamant in persevering. He believes when Indigenous people lose their land, they lose their language, heritage, and culture along with it. “When we conserve our land, we conserve our way of life and create a future for our children. Without our land, our people will die. And we fight because we only want our children to continue living.”

Indigenous communities fighting for their land are struggling for cultural survival. They only ask what was promised to them so they can leave a bit of their history, land, and heritage to their children. Sign the petition today to help us amplify their voices in the fight for their rights!

Your signed petition will be sent to four organizations:

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
  • Instituto de Desarrollo Rural (INDER) -  Costa Rican organization is in charge of resolving disputes and expropriating non-Indigenous landowners from Indigenous territories who acquired possession of the land prior to 1977. 
  • Ministerio de Seguridad Publica (Ministry of Public Security) - Costa Rican ministry in charge of the expropriation process for non-Indigenous individuals who unlawfully acquired Indigenous land in or after 1977.
  • Defensa-agraria (Costa Rican Agrarian Defence Court) - in charge of the legal process involved in reclaiming Indigenous land rights