Community-based investigation tool. 2018.
Triangulating evidence is one of the seven projects within the We Are Human Rights strategic pilot, where seven designers worked closely with seven human rights defenders to elaborate tools, strategies and concepts that can bring innovation to their practices. This project is the result of my collaboration with Lottie Cunningham Wren, Nicaragua, an indigenous human rights defender and lawyer.
Illegal settlements are leading to conflict in Nicaragua between settlers and indigenous tribes. This concept for an investigation tool and method that combines law and cultural geography, seeks to support the indigenous tribes by creating the evidence for future court cases.
Lottie Cunningham Wren, CEJUDHCAN
Lottie advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples. She is the founder of CEJUDHCAN, an organisation which works on human rights in Nicaragua. Lottie also works as a lawyer. In specific, she defends the land rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. Her goal is to support them in gaining and developing full control and governance of their ancestral territories. In 2001, she appeared as an expert witness in a landmark court case, brought in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Her testimony helped in obtaining a sentence in favour of the local community in the landmark case 'Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua'. This resulted in the clear demarcation of 23 indigenous territories, and ownership titles for 325 indigenous and afro-descendant communities.
Human rights violations in Nicaragua
Miskito Coast populations in Nicaragua face many challenges when it comes to enjoying full access to and use of their lands. Logging, tree-cutting, mining and intensive farming from third parties contradict their traditional way of living and cultivating their land in respect with the environment. So far, the government of Nicaragua has failed to provide indigenous territories with legal and effective security, which is the last step of territories demarcation, and has not followed up on a series of precautionary and provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court judgement.
Framing the design problem
Indigenous territories in Nicaragua are currently undergoing internal colonisation. This sparks violent conflict, that according to Lottie could lead to a civil war. To prevent this, the government of Nicaragua needs to intervene and resolve the dispute. Lottie and several other lawyers currently need to compile evidence that can prove the illegal settlement and use of indigenous lands by third parties.
In a situation of conflict, it is difficult and even dangerous to quantify and locate the process of internal colonisation. Landscape has long been seen as the product of human habitation, especially in the field of cultural geography. This is the premise to develop the interdisciplinary field of forensic geography, and its investigation method. The illegal settlers have practices and patterns of land use and settlement that are vastly different from those of the indigenous communities. As such, these are already visible on satellite imagery. Combining this analysis with the visual, verbal and digital testimonies of indigenous people and their landscape practices will show the areas considered safe or a still used by the indigenous. The negative space this comparison produces can be further documented and corroborated to indigenous landscape to generate compelling, unbiased evidence of the invasion.