As a multicultural and multi-ethnic state, Nicaragua is composed of 23 indigenous and Afro-descendant territories representing 32% of the national territory. In 1987, Nicaragua’s constitution included the right to enjoy, use, and benefit from their territories based on a communal approach to ancestral property.
However, over the past decade, indigenous and Afro-descendant territories have been subjected to events of violence by non-indigenous settlers who invade their lands to develop cattle ranching, extensive agriculture, and illegal gold mining.
Systemic acts and genocide against the indigenous communities of Sauni As
In 2015, the violence escalated and at least 63 indigenous people were killed while 46 others went missing. Testimonies from members of the Mayangna community are fearful and alarming. Attacks and systemic violence have continued, including acts of rape, torture, and murder against peaceful and land-protecting communities’ territory.
The invasions are prompted by profit. While the men of the village go hunting, dozens of men come heavily armed with assault rifles and AK-47 shotguns, leaving the women and children alone.
“They started shooting bullets like rain,” said one, “with weapons of war like AK-47 and M16 rifles.”Anonymous member of the Mayangna community
Recent events reflect the horror and the urgency of the situation. On January 29, 2020, an attack on the Alal community caused the death of 4 members and the destruction of 13 of their homes. On August 23, 2021, 9 people from the Misquitos and Mayangna indigenous communities died. On March 8, 2022, the abominable murder of the leader of the Mukswas community, Solomón López Smith, occurred, shaking the community. He was found with signs of brutal torture: a broken skull, skin separated from his face, no ears, several mutilated fingers, no hair, a fractured spine, and several bullets in his back. On March 11, 2023, 5 people were brutally murdered, several others were wounded by bullets or knives and about twenty houses were burned. Young men under 30 years old died to protect the integrity of their families leaving a void that resonates in the land of Sauni As. These cruel and denigrating acts demonstrate the hatred of the settlers against these people. In 3 years, a total of 21 murders have been recorded against the Mayangna people of Sauni’s territory.
“Not only does it kill them, but it also takes away their eyes, injuring their bodies. It is not random. They know when to enter and what they want so that people don’t come back, to spread terror.”Amaru Ruiz, defender of the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua
These systemic and abominable acts have created a fatalism in the communities who have resigned themselves to find refuge outside their territories. The land seizures and invasions in the Sauni’s territory have resulted in the displacement and abandonment of more than 104 indigenous Mayangna families, including children, women, and adults, into the wild. They barely had time to escape and were left unprotected, without food and clothing.
“They prepare their clothes, prepare their meals, and they go to sleep in the mountains because they are afraid to be in the house, because they might be murdered, their houses burned down.”Anonymous member of the Mayangna community
The communities directly affected are the Wilu, whose territories were burned to ashes on March 11. In addition, the community of Sabakitang was displaced due to the settler siege and today all surrounding areas are occupied by armed settlers. These families need to return to their communities. They need to have free access to their work plots to claim their property rights and security.
Direct and indirect participation of the State of Nicaragua
These events are taking place with complete impunity and with complete disregard for the communal property regime of indigenous territories. Several international organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Centre for Legal Assistance for Human Rights (CALIDH), and the Centre for Legal Assistance for Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) have condemned the direct and indirect participation of the government of Nicaragua and its interest in the deterritorialization of indigenous peoples since the construction of the Inter-Oceanic Canal.
The state leaves the communities in total abandonment and provides no assistance to prevent and guarantee the rights of community members to their lands, nor protection against settler invasions. Yet states cannot displace indigenous peoples without their free, prior, and informed consent and without providing adequate compensation. This is not the opinion of the government of Nicaragua, which acts by criminalizing the victims and protecting the aggressors. Thus, 4 members of the indigenous community have been sentenced to life imprisonment and more than 20 victims and witnesses have had their testimonies denied by a biased justice system in power.
“The State of Nicaragua denies that the attacks were carried out by settlers and instead blames the indigenous peoples themselves, as happened in the case of the Kiwakumbaih massacre.”Centre for Legal Assistance for Indigenous Peoples (CALPI)
Call for solidarity from the communities of Sauni As
It is no longer a call for help but a cry of urgency that the communities of Sauni As are sounding. More than 1700 indigenous families are in an emergency humanitarian situation and more than 275 people including children, women, and adults are without means of subsistence with no access to their work plots or food reserves.
Mayangna Sauni As Autonomous Territorial Government (GTIA) and the International Human Rights Network (RIDHE) are calling for solidarity to implement emergency measures that guarantee the safety of indigenous families, the return to their communities, and the restoration of their way of life.