Indigenous peoples in Brazil demand from the Inter-American Court the demarcation of lands

Between May 27 and 29, hearings were held in Amazonas discussing climate change and human rights

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Manaus (Amazonas state) |
Representatives of Indigenous peoples attended the hearings organized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas - Tribunal de Justiça do Amazonas

Representatives of Indigenous peoples from Latin America and the Caribbean took advantage of the hearings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) held between May 27 and 29 in Manaus, Amazonas state, to denounce to the Court cases of rights violations targeting native peoples. Indigenous leaders highlighted the urgent need to demarcate Indigenous lands and the failure to comply with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which guarantees the right to prior consultation and whose signatories include Brazil.

The event took place in the state of Amazonas. After three days of hearings, the IA Court left the city of Manaus with a complex set of civilian reports, legal suggestions and scientific findings on the catastrophic consequences of human actions on the planet and traditional Indigenous lands. Among the impacts reported are killings, threats, land invasions and forced displacements, water contamination, destruction of rivers and forests, disease, hunger, cultural erasure and persecution.

Land demarcations

On the occasion, Brazilian Indigenous leaders called for mechanisms to ensure more protection for their lands. Junior Anderson Guarani Kaiowá, an Indigenous leader from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, told the IACHR about his people's dramatic struggle for survival in the face of environmental racism and the attempted genocide committed by large estate owners and agribusinessmen. For decades demanding the demarcation of their ancestral lands, many Guarani Kaiowá individuals have already been murdered in a context of conflicts that includes public and private agents in favor of businessmen’s interests.

“We are the second largest Indigenous population in Brazil. Mato Grosso do Sul, which is considered ‘the Brazilian Gaza Strip’, is where most of the murders of Indigenous leaders take place. We were almost thrown into a pigsty with 13,000 people living on a territory of 2,400 hectares – that’s too small. We lost our language, beliefs and traditions,” said Junior Anderson Guarani Kaiowá.

“In the last couple of years, many leaders have lost their lives because they crossed the border into territory where soy and corn were planted. There's no wall – but guns serve as a wall. It happened to Alex [Recarte Vasques Lopes], who went to collect firewood in a cornfield and was shot several times. The murderers have still not been punished. All the state agencies that could protect us don't do so. I presented my reality to this hearing and I hope that the Court can put pressure on the Brazilian state to demarcate our territory,” he said.

Protecting the land

The demarcation of Indigenous lands is the main banner of Brazil's Indigenous peoples. Indigenous lawyer Carla Baré, legal advisor to the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab, in Portuguese), also called on the IA Court to protect traditional lands.

“Our lands are seen as mere resources to be exploited without considering that their [the land's] integrity depends on our presence. We did not choose to be guardians of the environment. That’s inherent to our existence. Our way of life – rooted in the right to self-determination – is what preserves humans and the environment,” he said.

On May 27, Baré presented a letter denouncing the consequences of climate change, also addressing the importance of Indigenous peoples in protecting the environment and biodiversity.

“We are asking states to protect our way of life and, as a consequence, to protect the environment. We need a comprehensive response from countries to guarantee the legal security of our territory, such as the demarcation of Indigenous lands, one that rejects laws that put us in danger, such as the one based on the timeframe limitation thesis, and that creates and implements mechanisms to protect environmental defenders in collaboration with us,” concluded Carla Baré.

Escazú agreement

At the IACHR's public hearing, civil society representatives suggested the Escazú Agreement as a standard tool to guarantee the protection of human rights leaders and defenders and respect for free, prior and informed consultation. Currently, it’s only guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to which Brazil is a signatory, but which is rarely taken into account in studies and licensing of works and projects.

As the first environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean on access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, besides being the first international treaty to provide for specific protection mechanisms for environmental and human rights defenders, the Escazú Agreement has still not been ratified by Brazil, even though it was signed in 2018. On May 11, President Lula sent the text of the regional pact to Congress, which, if approved, could become national law.

Edited by: Geisa Marques