Rapa Nui

Erity Teave, Executive Director on Human Rights for the Rapa Nui Parliament, discusses the impact of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ decision to grant precautionary measures for the Rapa Nui Nation.

In 2010, the Center agreed to help the 36 clans of the Rapa Nui Nation. They live on Rapa Nui Island, commonly known as “Easter Island.” The island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean is a special territory of Chile, annexed in 1933 without the consent of the Rapa Nui Nation. The Rapa Nui clans are engaged in a collective effort to recover their ancestral lands. In addition, the clans want to reclaim their self-government rights so they can have a voice in curbing unsustainable growth and development on the island. We are providing legal assistance to help the Rapa Nui Nation use international laws and mechanisms to defend their rights and bring an end to more than a century of Chilean mistreatment and human rights violations.

The Rapa Nui people have had a hostile relationship with Chile dating back to 1888, when they signed a “treaty” with Chile resulting in the island and its inhabitants being treated as the property of the state. The Rapa Nui people were unlawfully confined to a small area; the remainder of the island was leased out to private enterprises. During the years the Rapa Nui were interned, which lasted until 1966, Chile ignored the aboriginal title held by each clan and sold their lands to private companies and developers.

Rapa Nui Island, marketed by Chile as an international tourist destination, attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year who come to see the iconic stone figures for which the island is famous. Rather than harmonize development with the Native culture, Chilean policies disregard harm to the environment and ignore the rights of the Rapa Nui people. Some of the islands archeological sites, which have deep cultural and spiritual significance for the Rapa Nui, have been disrupted to make way for projects such as parking lots and restrooms.

Center staff went to the island to meet with Rapa Nui clan leaders and to document the current situation in August, 2010. In previous months, Rapa Nui clans had begun reoccupying their illegally taken lands to call attention to the need for serious and constructive dialogue to resolve these issues. The Chilean government took a hard line against the Rapa Nui protests, using excessive violence to evict clan members from their ancestral lands and criminally prosecuting the leaders.

In October, the Center requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to call upon Chile to take precautionary measures to protect the lives of Rapa Nui clan members and leaders. Clashes between Chilean police and clan members became increasingly violent and life threatening. Several Rapa Nui people were seriously injured during attempted evictions; clan members were shot with pellets and beaten with rifles.

The violence has decreased since the Commission called for precautionary measures February 7, 2011, but the situation remains tense. During the coming year the Center will help to enforce the recommendations issued by the Commission, and will continue to help the Rapa Nui to win respect for their land rights and their right to self-government.

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