Assisted by IPLP students and staff, Professor James Anaya was the lead counsel for the Awas Tingni community in the proceedings that led to the landmark judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Awas Tingni decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was the first occasion on which an international tribunal with legally binding authority found a government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous people. IPLP also assisted the community in the complex process of implementing the judgment, leading to the Government of Nicaragua delivering title to the community in December 2008.
IPLP worked in coordination with the Indian Law Resource Center, the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and local Nicaraguan attorneys to provide legal counsel to the Awas Tingni community in the defense of its land rights. Professor S. James Anaya was formally designated assistant to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when the Commission decided to submit the case to the Inter-American Court, and in that capacity he led the Commission's presentation of the case before the Court. Professor Anaya served as the lead counsel in the case throughout the litigation in the inter-American human rights system.
The titling of Awas Tingni’s lands was ordered in the 2001 case of the Mayagna (Sumo) Community of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, a landmark case decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the principal human rights tribunal in the western hemisphere. This is the first case in which an international tribunal with legally binding authority has found a government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group, setting an important precedent for the rights of indigenous peoples in international law. In its decision, the Inter-American Court concluded that Nicaragua had violated the rights of the Mayagna community of Awas Tingni by granting a logging concession within the community’s traditional territory without obtaining its consent and after ignoring the consistent complaints and requests of Awas Tingni urging demarcation of the territory. The Court found that the right to property, as affirmed in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, protects the traditional land tenure of indigenous peoples. Following the successful decision of the Inter-American Court, the IPLP Program assisted the Awas Tingni with the implementation of that judgment, a process that took over seven years.
Students in the JD and LLM programs assisted with the case through involvement in the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop, independent study, and research assistantships. Students participated in the hearings before the Inter-American Commission and Inter-American Court, and traveled for varying periods to Nicaragua to provide support in the areas of community education, mediation, and general research assistance. This type of hands-on experience provides invaluable insight and knowledge about the complexities of international human rights advocacy in relation to indigenous peoples. It is impossible to simulate in the classroom. A further mission of the IPLP Program in relation to this project is to provide information about the case to other indigenous rights advocates. To this end, IPLP faculty and researchers have spoken at a number of international conferences about the case and its implications for the development of international and domestic law concerning indigenous peoples.
In order to promote our mission to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ human rights, IPLP provides case archives of our advocacy projects to assist legal practitioners and advocates.
Here are resources related to our petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to secure land rights to traditional lands and resources for the indigenous Awas Tingni community in Nicaragua.
Rulings by IACHR
Documents Submitted to the IACHR
Amicus Curiae Briefs