To increase access to justice for the marginalized communities of the Atlantic Coast, IHRLG teams in Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas offer legal advice to a variety of groups and institutions and have developed Lawyers Circles comprised of legal practitioners, law professors, members of the judiciary and human rights activists.
IHRLG assists local activists in planning and implementing strategic responses to various land rights cases, building a public base of support for advocacy on land rights issues, and pressing the Nicaraguan judicial system to address the obstacles to justice in the southern region. With IHRLG assistance, local lawyers and NGOs report on violations of economic, social and cultural rights within the human rights mechanisms of the Organization of American States.
Highlights from our access-to-justice and legal support activities in Nicaragua include
- Providing expert testimony on the Awas Tingni indigenous lands rights case before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. Lottie Cunningham, a Miskito lawyer and IHRLG legal field officer in Puerto Cabezas, testified to the lack of access to effective legal resources for indigenous communities to remedy human rights violations. In September 2001, in an internationally precedent-setting decision and marking a great victory for the communities of the Atlantic Coast, the court ordered the government to demarcate the traditional lands of the Awas Tingni and to establish legal mechanisms to demarcate traditional lands of all indigenous communities in Nicaragua. It also ordered payment of 50,000US$ in compensation to the Awas Tingni. IHRLG has provided support to the Awas Tingni's legal team since 1998 and submitted an amicus curiae to the court in 1999.
- Providing legal support to the Monkey Point and Rama Key communities in the southern region of the Atlantic Coast to mobilize opposition to a "Dry Canal" cross-country railway, which, if approved, will pass through ancestral lands and displace hundreds of both, indigenous and Afro-Caribbean people. IHRLG filed a precautionary measures petition on behalf of these communities before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, requesting the Commission to ask Nicaragua's national authorities to consult with the affected communities and involve them in the process of the concession of the "Dry Canal" to a private company, enabling them to defend their communal lands. We are simultaneously supporting local NGO that is pushing the case through the national court system.
- Collaborating with local groups to publish a denouncement of the illegal sale of Pearl Cays, a group of islands off the Atlantic Coast inhabited mainly by Afro-Caribbean and indigenous people. Since the sale, indigenous and ethnic members of the Pearl Basin community have been banned from using the cays for refuge, fishing or for the collection of drinking water, impacting their ability to provide for themselves.