Camilla Argentieri delivering the statement at HRC45

HRC45: Indigenous Yanomami people in Brazil are facing a social and environmental catastrophe

On 25th September 2020, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the new Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr Francisco Cali Tzay, who presented reports compiled by his predecessor, Ms Victoria Tauli Corpuz. During the debate, the Right Livelihood Foundation delivered a statement denouncing the disastrous impact of illegal mining activities in the Yanomami territory.

In his address to the HRC, the new Special Rapporteur emphasised that COVID-19 represents a significant threat against indigenous peoples all over the world, as they are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to inadequate access to health care and clean water. He also expressed concern that that “the escalating evictions of indigenous peoples from their lands and the loss of their traditional livelihoods, combined with the hardships of COVID-19 is aggravating extreme poverty and malnutrition in indigenous communities”. Lastly, he called for the early inclusion of indigenous peoples in crisis management and recovery planning, to ensure that their needs are included in national programmes and policies.

During the interactive dialogue, 29 members and observers took the floor, including two joint statements. The European Union expressed concern over the lack of implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples and the criminalisation of indigenous human rights defenders. A concern that was also shared by Denmark, on behalf of the Nordic Baltic countries, which deplored the criminalisation and the violent attacks against indigenous peoples when defending their collective rights. Brazil highlighted its successes on the matter, such as the suspension the licensing procedure for the São Luiz do Tapajós dam project in 2016, following the former Special Rapporteur’s visit. Chile highlighted that despite progress has been made regionally and internationally, a lot has to be done yet to ensure the respect of indigenous peoples’ rights across the world.

Camilla Argentieri delivering the statement at HRC45

The Right Livelihood Foundation took the floor to draw the Special Rapporteur’s attention to the worrying situation of the Yanomami people in Brazil, who are facing a social and environmental catastrophe due to land invasions by illegal miners. As repeatedly denounced by 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Davi Kopenawa and the Hutukara Yanomami Association, they are responsible for the destruction of the environment, mercury poisoning and other diseases in their land. Therefore, we asked Mr Cali Tzay, how the Council should act to ensure that Brazilian authorities fulfil their responsibility to protect the Yanomami people and their demarcated territory. Read the full statement below.

In response to the statements by the Right Livelihood Foundation and other NGOs that took the floor to denounce the country’s disregard for indigenous peoples’ rights, Brazil replied stating that the government has taken consistent measures to tackle the pandemic, and especially to mitigate its impact on indigenous peoples. It also claimed that the government has suspended access to indigenous lands amid COVID-19, thus denying the presence of illegal miners. Lasty, with regard to the bill proposed by President Bolsonaro to legally allow commercial mining in indigenous territories, which we specifically denounced in our statement, Brazil argued that there is a “misunderstanding”, as the bill “is still under consideration”, in an attempt to minimise the potential devastating impact of the bill.

In his concluding remarks, the newly appointed Special Rapporteur called on the States to continue their efforts to promote and implement the rights of indigenous peoples. He argued that recognising the identity of indigenous peoples is crucial to effectively fight climate change.

Oral Statement delivered at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council

The Right Livelihood Foundation would like to bring to the attention of the Special Rapporteur the grave situation of the indigenous Yanomami people in Brazil, who are currently facing a social and environmental catastrophe as a consequence of land invasions by illegal miners.

Their presence has had a devastating impact on the Yanomami territory: it destroys the environment, contaminates the eco-systems with mercury, and brings diseases, such as, among others, COVID-19. It also fuels dangerous cycles of violence, as shown last June by the shocking killing of two Yanomami men from the community of Xaruna, in the Parima region, by a group of illegal armed gold miners.

Yanomami leader and Right Livelihood Laureate Davi Kopenawa has been denouncing illegal mining activities in the territory for decades. Despite the official demarcation of their lands in 1992, the number of miners has increased dramatically in recent years and the authorities have done little to tackle the problem.

We are seriously concerned at the bill proposed by President Bolsonaro to legally allow commercial mining in indigenous territories and his declared intention to review the official demarcation of the Yanomami territory. We also take this opportunity to deplore the criminalisation of indigenous peoples in his recent speech at the UNGA. They are the victims, not the culprits, of the country’s destructive environmental record.

Mr Special Rapporteur,

What actions should the Council undertake to ensure that Brazilian authorities fulfil their responsibilities towards indigenous peoples and effectively protect the demarcated Yanomami territory, with due respect to Brazilian law and the Constitution?