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Images of What is Ours - Paraguay (2009-2010)

Location: South and Middle America, Paraguay

Keywords: Advocacy, Landless, Research, Rights

Project Background

From 2009 to November 2010 we worked with young indigenous people in Paraguay, Tierra Viva (a Paraguayan NGO) and Amnesty International staff in London and in Paraguay, to help the young people create a series of photographs to use in campaigning for the return of their land.

For almost two decades the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa indigenous peoples have been struggling to reclaim the lands they inhabited for generations, which are now in the hands of private owners. Without access to their traditional lands, they are living in temporary homes with insufficient access to food and clean water. The communities have suffered many preventable deaths. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the traditional lands should be returned to the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa. However Paraguay has failed to comply fully with these judgments, meaning that the cultural identity and survival of the communities is at risk.

Traditionally reliant on oral transmission of history and information the Yakye Axa are mainly illiterate and rarely access mainstream media or the internet. This makes these indigenous communities easy to ignore, and makes it difficult for them to be seen or heard by those who will be unaware of their plight but able to exert pressure to have their rights respected. The PhotoVoice project engaged the community in the process of campaigning for their lands. The young people documented their living conditions and lifestyle, and interviewed elders in the community for photo stories that explained their situation for people who would not otherwise know of the tribe. The photos they produced were reviewed and signed off for public use by the whole community, and were used for campaign materials and press coverage locally and internationally.

Project photo gallery

Further project info

Facilitator Ben Thomas went out to Paraguay twice (once during a military state of emergency) to train community educators in photography, captioning, and editing images for campaigns. The photographic work is now complete: an exhibition at the Memory Museum in Asuncion, Paraguay opened in November 2010 and the photographs are already being used by the community, Tierra Viva and Amnesty International in global campaigning.

In February 2012, as a result of ongoing campaigning by Tierra Viva, a land deal was finally reached between Paraguayan authorities and a land owner in the country‚Äôs central region that will allow the long-displaced Yakye Axa to rebuild in safety and dignity. The 90 families in the community will soon move to the newly acquired land, comprising more than 12,000 hectares within the ancestral lands of the Enxet ethnic group. We hope the young people will use their digital cameras to document and share this historic development for the community. More details about this breakthrough deal are on Amnesty’s website: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/paraguay-land-dispute-victory-displaced-indigenous-community-2012-03-02

The fight continues for justice for the Sawhoyamaxa people.

Many thanks to Amnesty International for commissioning us to do this work.