Davi Kopenawa Credit: Christian Gustavsson/Right Livelihood Foundation

The Right Livelihood Foundation condemns killing of two indigenous persons by miners in Brazil

Press releases 30.06.2020

The Right Livelihood Foundation is shocked by news of the recent killing of two members of the Yanomami indigenous community by illegal miners in Brazil. The Foundation urges the government of Brazil to promptly investigate the incident, protect indigenous people from threats and remove all illegal miners from their land.

“The killings are absolutely appalling,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation.

“They come at a time when the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples in Brazil are increasingly under threat by miners, backed by the government, who not only kill them and plunder their land but might even wipe entire communities out by spreading COVID-19. We call on the Brazilian government to once and for all put an end to the illegal exploitation of indigenous land and protect lives.”

The recent killings come amid a recent escalation between Brazil’s indigenous peoples and prospectors invading their land, who enjoy impunity under the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Indigenous peoples’ lives are now also in danger from the spread of COVID-19 – often brought into insular communities by miners – which could wipe out entire populations.

The Hutukara Yanomami Association, which received the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, has been an outspoken critic of Bolsonaro’s policies. The organisation, which unites and represents disparate Yanomami communities in Brazil, has condemned the recent killings and called on the government to put an end to all mining operations.

“We call on Brazilian authorities to thoroughly investigate the murders committed in June and prosecute the perpetrators,” von Uexkull said.

“The government must also take action to end the cycle of impunity, remove and prosecute all illegal gold miners and to effectively protect the demarcated Yanomami territory from invasions, especially those connected to illegal mining and deforestation.”

Given the way Yanomamis traditionally exert justice, the families of the victims might decide to retaliate against the perpetrators, which can result in a cycle of violence. This is a familiar pattern that has resulted in massacres in the past.

Since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, violent attacks on communities, destruction of property and land invasions due to the presence of illegal miners have increased at an alarming rate. The president has even discussed the possibility of legally allowing miners to enter Yanomami territories and of reviewing the 1992 demarcation of the land.

Such a step could potentially end in a genocide of indigenous peoples, especially as the miners don’t only bring violence, but also diseases such as malaria or more recently, COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the Hutukara Yanomami Association and other Yanomami leaders launched a global campaign called MinersOutCovidOut, which includes a petition to rid Yanomami land of miners who bring in dangerous diseases, such as COVID-19.

“Our Yanomami communities are seriously threatened by COVID-19,” the campaign states. “If the miners continue operating on our lands, we will all be infected. Get the miners out now.”

The petition has already received more than 300,000 signatures.

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