Our Voices

Alessandra Korap Munduruku: ‘I will never stop fighting and defending my river’

Each year in April the world celebrates Earth Day, but the need to really tackle environmental protection has never been more urgent than now. While States and businesses continue failing to articulate and follow through on actions to address the climate crisis and protect from its impact the communities most affected by it, the World needs to recognize and highlight the role of Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in working on and protecting the right to a safe environment.

The global climate crisis has caused more frequent and extreme natural disasters, giving countries – large and small – a role and obligation to take part in the efforts to address it and to create sustainable development strategies. But climate and environmental experts also recognize that there’s no solution to the climate crisis without Indigenous peoples and the protection of their rights. Indigenous peoples are amongst those that face the biggest impact and threats from the climate crisis, even though they contribute very little to greenhouse emissions themselves. Supporting Indigenous peoples to protect and manage their lands and natural resources should be a high priority on the global agenda of any serious commitment to fighting the climate crisis, yet, it continues to be overlooked.

In their struggle to confront States resistant to take action in favor of the environment, as well as multinational companies and other groups whose activities directly impact the environment, Indigenous peoples face severe risks to their lives and livelihoods. According to a report by Global Witness, Indigenous people make up a third of the total number of environmental defenders killed across the globe, despite being a total of 4 percent of the world’s population. In Brazil, for example, between 2021 and 2022 assassinations of Indigenous leaders and activists on Indigenous lands in Brazil increased by 61 percent.

Alessandra Korap Munduruku is a Brazilian Indigenous leader, who in 2020 won the RFK Human Rights award for her courageous defense of the rights, ancestral lands, and culture of Indigenous peoples in Brazil. She has also played a key role in advancing women’s leadership in her tribal community. She even began to study law in 2019 to use legal tools in the fight for land demarcation and the preservation of the Tapajós region. She and other indigenous leaders continue to fight against the ongoing rollback of indigenous rights and environmental safeguards, despite constant threats and a hostile environment.

To support the work of Alessandra, and the protection of indigenous peoples, more generally, RFK Human Rights has been assisting in bringing cases of violations of their collective rights, and in fostering advocacy opportunities at the international level in order to guarantee that Indigenous peoples voices and concerns are heard around the world.

The international community must ensure that the issues regarding the climate crisis and vulnerable communities are included in their agendas and properly addressed. At the same time, States must develop and follow global, regional and national strategies in order to face the climate crisis and protect the rights of those most affected by it. The climate crisis is a matter of global concern and only through the commitment, coordination and proper articulation of the international community, including States, intergovernmental institutions, civil society organizations, and the private sector, can we stop this crisis and effectively protect human rights and the environment.