Advocacy Trainee Tatiana Antoni

Indigenous people’s existence can’t rely on political favours: Brazil must take action

News 30.03.2023

At the UN Human Rights Council’s 52nd session in Geneva, Right Livelihood and 1989 Laureate organisation Survival International issued a joint statement raising concerns about the rights of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. The statement stressed the importance of implementing permanent measures to protect indigenous peoples and their land so that their survival is secured independently of political volatility. 

You can read the full statement here.

Even though Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency has ended, the human rights abuses carried out by his administration continue to impact Brazil’s indigenous peoples. 

The Yanomami are among those most severely impacted by the former administration’s abuses. In 2019, Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa received the Right Livelihood Award for protecting his land and people amidst high political pressure in Brazil to exploit the Amazon’s natural resources. 

Under Bolsonaro, illegal mining operations expanded by over 500 per cent in the Amazon region. His administration not only encouraged illegal mining on indigenous lands but systematically dismantled the agency that was paramount in protecting them and suspended all land demarcation processes.

In the context of indigenous peoples’ rights, demarcation refers to the process of legally protecting indigenous territories by defining their boundaries through official land titles. The suspension of such processes, coupled with the government’s encouragement of mining activities, has had catastrophic consequences.

In the short term, illegal miners inflicted violence on indigenous peoples with impunity. Meanwhile, the mining activities themselves deforested indigenous land and polluted rivers with mercury.

In the long term, the state-sanctioned destruction of indigenous life has had devastating effects on their health and access to food. Exposed to the illegal miners’ infectious diseases and heavily contaminated waters, the Yanomami people now face a humanitarian crisis.

Brazil’s current administration, led by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has begun efforts to address this crisis. In the country’s fourth Universal Periodic Review, the government accepted all recommendations on indigenous people’s rights. 

Our joint statement delivered a clear message to the Brazilian government: indigenous people’s survival and well-being must be secured independently of political volatility.

The statement echoed the report that we, along with 9 other civil society organisations, submitted ahead of Braizl’s UPR earlier this year. The report detailed the hazardous situation of mining in indigenous territories.  

To achieve sustainable protections for indigenous peoples, we urged Brazil to take immediate action. This includes reinstating a permanent monitoring and protection program for indigenous land, holding perpetrators legally accountable for crimes against indigenous people, and restructuring indigenous healthcare districts to aid those most affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Moreover, it is crucial that indigenous people are actively involved in all decision-making processes that affect them, especially those related to their land, health, and future.

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