BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Argentina must do more to ensure indigenous groups can defend their land rights and claim title deeds without facing intimidation and violence from security forces, a U.N. expert said.
Mutuma Ruteere, U.N. special rapporteur on racism and related intolerance, also called for indigenous groups - which make up roughly two percent of Argentina's 43 million people - to be represented in the country's government and judiciary.
"Most alarming are the reported trends of repression, in several parts of the country, against the mobilization by indigenous groups to claim their rights; and the reprisals against indigenous civil rights defenders and leaders as well as members of their families," Ruteere said in a statement at the end of his first visit to Argentina.
The government must protect rights campaigners, "who are subjected, along with their families, to judicial harassment and persecution by security forces throughout the country", he said.
He also urged Argentine authorities to open transparent investigations into the "suspicious deaths" of rights activists.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Argentina's constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous groups to their ancestral lands.
But in practice unclear land tenure is a source of conflict between indigenous groups and state and private companies involved in agriculture, logging and mining, which seek to develop on or near their lands, rights group say.
"Access to land titles remains challenging and new provisions need to rapidly be adopted to protect communities from being evicted," Ruteere said.
He noted that indigenous groups, many of them living in Argentina's northwest, are denied access to drinking water, adequate housing, healthcare and education.
"The situation of indigenous peoples in certain areas of the country is appalling as they live in extreme poverty, isolation from others and without access to basic services," Ruteere said.
Argentina has around 18 different indigenous groups and they are largely invisible in society and are excluded from the country's senate, congress and judiciary, Ruteere said.
"Indigenous peoples are absent in key decision making positions, even in bodies specifically dedicated to their issues," he added.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org