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March 25, 1998

In a historic move, the government of Paraguay today signed an agreement in Washington, giving back vast parcels of ancestral lands to indigenous communities in Paraguay. The signing has also settled a more than century-old dispute between the government and the Lamenxay and Riachito communities where the Enxet-Sanapaná people live.

The agreement, signed at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), was reached through the intervention of the IACHR where the case was brought about a year and a half ago. Claudio Grossman, a member of the Commission, hailed the historic signing, saying

the amicable settlement arrived at will restore nearly 22,000 hectares of land to the indigenous communities. The lands are located in the Paraguayan Chaco region. "It is the first time in the history of the [inter-American] system that an agreement has been reached for lands to be returned to indigenous peoples," said Grossman.

"With the economic sacrifice--and the political will--that this entails, the Paraguayan government wanted to settle this ancestral claim," explained Grossman, a Chilean jurist and a former chairman of the IACHR, whose involvement in the complex process helped broker the agreement. He added that the government would be compensating the current holders of the land, and would be handing it over to the indigenous people. He also paid tribute to the personal interest that the Paraguayan president, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, had taken in settling the case.

Also signing the agreement were Paraguay's deputy justice minister, Mr. Neri Fleitas, the permanent representative of Paraguay to the OAS, Ambassador Carlos Víctor Montanaro, and Dr. Laura Benítez de Alarcón of the Justice Ministry, for the government; Ariel Dulitzky and Soledad Villagra of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which represented the petitioners; and Dean Grossman, for the IACHR.

On returning the lands to the indigenous people, Ambassador Montanaro declared: "It's a great pleasure and a source of great pride for the government of Paraguay... to respect their rights and to recognize the need for respecting what is truthfully theirs. We feel it is a national need... a moral obligation on the part of our government."

The dispute dates back to 1885. "They can now finally settle back on these lands," said Soledad Villagra, who represents CEJIL in Paraguay. She especially recognized the positive implications the deal had for the environment.

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