On March 3, the Brazilian government was denounced at the 43th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland, for the high risk of genocide of isolated Indigenous peoples and for the dismantle of Brazil’s State structure to combat deforestation. The complaint was filed by the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and the Comissão Arns (Brazilian Human Rights organizations).
In February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, had included Brazil on the list of countries with concerns about human rights due to “significant setbacks in policies to protect the environment and indigenous peoples rights”.
The Brazilian indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami also attended the UN session, where he declared that: “President Bolsonaro wants to extinguish Indigenous peoples in Brazil. [The government] treats the land and us as merchandise“.
Dismantle of environmental programs and operations
Since president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, there was a number of setbacks of governmental programs for the protection of the environment and Indigenous peoples rights.
Between January and August 2019, the inspection operations of illegal mining and deforestation in the Amazon dropped by 70%, while the rate of applied fines for environmental crimes against fauna and flora dropped by 42%, the lowest register since 2010 .
Last year, the budget for the federal firefighting program was reduced by 38,4% . In August, the Amazon registered over 30 thousand fires spots, the worst result for the month since 2010 . This event resulted in a global mobilization illustrated by the trending topics #prayfortheamazon and #amazonfire.
These are few examples of the deep dismantling of Brazil’s state structure for the protection of the environment and of Indigenous peoples and land rights, with direct and short to long-term consequences for those who rely on the State for their safety.
Indigenous peoples rights under continuous pressure
The government plans to halt the demarcation of indigenous lands in Brazil. The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office sees this as a structural policy to delay land demarcation with requests for re-analysis of cases and changes of officials responsible for studies that demarcate territories. A strategy that will lead to control over the constitutional rights of indigenous people.
Another serious threat is a new bill that should give companies mining opportunities, for example in indigenous territories. Bolsonaro’s proposal has yet to be approved by the Brazilian congress. If it passes, indigenous peoples would no longer have the right to veto these activities on their own territories. Even though this is unconstitutional: the Brazilian constitution is clear on the exclusive right of Indigenous peoples over their territories, with every governmental decision depending on their consent.
Last February, Funai – the Brazilian government agency for the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights, appointed the evangelical pastor Ricardo Lopes Dias as head of the Coordination for Isolated and Recent Contacted Indigenous Peoples. Dias worked for over a decade in the Brazilian branch of the US-based New Tribes Mission, which since the 1950 promotes the evangelization of Amazonian indigenous peoples .
Brazil houses the largest confirmed presence of isolated Indigenous peoples in the world and, in 2019, the 113% deforestation growth rate in isolated peoples’ territories surpassed the average 80% deforestation rise for all indigenous territories .
The critic scenario for deforestation and non-protection of indigenous and territorial rights is also linked to the increase of land conflicts and violence. In 2019, Brazil was ranked as the 4th country with more killings of human rights and environmental defenders worldwide, with 23 killings registered .
Among those, was Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a forest guardian from Arariboia Indigenous Land, in Maranhão state, killed in a conflict with illegal loggers that are constantly invading Arariboia IL. Arariboia is also home to the Indigenous people Awá-Guajá, considered the most threatened isolated people in the world .
Other denouncements in international organizations
Despite being only one year in office, Bolsonaro’s administration already faced other two denouncements in international bodies. In November 2019, Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) filed an urgent appeal at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), denouncing further deforestation, contaminations and deaths resulted from measures promoted by Bolsonaro’s administration in the social and environmental areas .
Yet last November, Comissão Arns and the Legal Collective in Human Rights (Coletivo de Advocacia em Direitos Humanos) filed a representation against Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court, claiming for crimes against humanity. The denounce demands for a preliminary investigation of the president’s actions for inciting genocide and systematic attacks against indigenous populations, and is also based on the dismantle of programs and lack of protection of indigenous rights, as above mentioned .
Indigenous peoples raise their voices
The constitutional right of Indigenous peoples over their land is not only necessary for preserving indigenous culture; it is also the most effective way to protect the forest. Where Indigenous peoples have land rights, the forest remains intact. They therefore play a key role for our planet, because the Amazon forest is essential in the fight against global warming. In addition, the Amazon is home to a wealth of plant and animal species.
Last month, more than 450 Brazilian indigenous and local leaders gathered together to make a stand against the anti-indigenous and anti-environmental policy of the Brazilian government. They released theManifest of Piaracu to continue the resistance efforts and presented it to the President of the House of Representatives in Brasilia.
We need to stand by the Indigenous peoples in the Amazon and support their struggle. Because if we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against climate change. With our program All Eyes on the Amazon, we protect the Amazon rainforest by defending the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
Frontline Defenders. Global Analysis 2019