IIRF Releases Report on Religious Freedom among Indigenous Communities in Latin America



Staff members from the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) have produced a new report detailing the religious freedom challenges faced by indigenous communities in Latin America. The report was funded by a research grant of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Dennis Petri, IIRF international director and founder of the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America (OLIRE), was the lead researcher for the study. Two OLIRE staff, Teresa Flores and Rossana Muga, also contributed to the research.

“Religious freedom for indigenous groups has both a collective and an individual dimension,” Petri explained. “The former often receives much attention, but the latter is particularly important to evangelicals.

“Collective religious rights protect indigenous communities as a group against external threats: environmental damages to indigenous lands, restrictions on traditional burial rites, and proselytism by missionaries. In contrast, the individual dimension of religious freedom highlights the right of individual indigenous people to choose and freely practice a faith other than their traditional religion. Many such converts are evangelicals, and they also experience abuses that have been well documented but receive little recognition.”

The report analyzes the international mechanisms intended to protect indigenous peoples’ religious freedom, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It then assesses how the various Latin American states have adhered to their obligations under these agreements.

Furthermore, the study also documents domestic legal measures intended to protect indigenous people’s religious freedom rights and how those provisions have been applied. Finally, it provides detailed information about recent religious freedom violations against indigenous communities and individuals, including discrimination in public institutions, prevention of rituals, verbal abuse, and violent attacks.

Petri added, “This study is part of our efforts to make preserving religious freedom a priority for governments and civil society organizations in Latin America and around the world. We are grateful to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for its willingness to publish our work and disseminate it more broadly.”

The 30-page report is available online at: https://www.uscirf.gov/publications/religious-freedom-indigenous-communities-latin-america. More information on the IIRF is available at its website, https://iirf.global.