Following months of protests and sit-ins surrounding ancestral land claims on Chile’s Easter Island, the United Nations has officially called on the Chilean government to help diffuse tensions.
The international body’s primary recommendation was to “avoid new evictions and police presence on the island that exceeds what is necessary and proportional.”
The U.N. Special Rapporteur James Anaya said he was dismayed by the lack of dialogue between government parties and the Rapa Nui indigenous community, questioning the level of force used against the indigenous groups who have been occupying government buildings and hotels in the Island’s main town of Hanga Roa since August 2010.
Anaya sent a letter to the Chilean government on Monday reminding Chile of their international obligations under the Convention 169, which outlines the protected rights of indigenous people, including the right to preserve an
indigenous group’s ancestral land. Chile ratified U.N. Convention 169 in 2008 under former President Michelle Bachelet, and the document came into full force in late 2009.
President Sebastián Piñera has defended a series of forceful evictions on the grounds of maintaining public order, including the most recent, violent evictions of Dec. 29, 2010. Yet the Rapa Nui maintains that they resorted to building occupation only after numerous attempted petitions proved fruitless.
The Chilean government rented nearly 90 percent of the island’s land to British sheep farmers during the latter part of the nineteenth century, disregarding indigenous groups historically on the island. Easter Island, located over 2,000 miles from the coast of Chile, came under the country’s mandate in 1888, although the Rapa Nui were denied Chilean citizenship until 1966.
The Hito Rangi Clan is currently occupying the Hotel Hanga Roa, which is constructed on land to which the group has claimed ancestral ownership.
In December 2010, the Mayor of Valparaiso, under whose jurisdiction Easter Island falls, signed an order to begin the evictions of protesters. On Dec. 3 government soldiers and police forces clashed with the occupants, leaving 25 people injured (ST, Dec. 6). Police allege they moved in after being attacked with Molotov cocktails and machetes, although eyewitnesses denied the claims.
Violence again flared on Dec. 29 as dozens of clan members were beaten by police.
The Chilean government has been attempting to promote tourism to the UNESCO World Heritage Site made famous through the Moai or Easter Island Heads. Tourist agencies have reportedly claimed that the ongoing land dispute has cost the island around US$3 million in lost revenue over the last six months.
By Mark Briggs - Santiago Times