Our Voices

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ advocacy and litigation teams testify to plights of Black migrants in U.S., Brazil’s indigenous population

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearings laid bare the plights of Black migrants in the U.S. and Brazil’s Indigenous communities when the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ international and U.S. advocacy and litigation teams testified last week.

During the hearings, Daniel Tse, joint legal fellow with RFKHR and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, spoke of his own harrowing journey fleeing Cameroon in 2017 after experiencing political persecution.

Over the course of three months, he traveled through 11 countries — by plane, bus, and on foot — suffering attacks by gangs and wild animals, and contracting malaria before making it to the U.S.- Mexico border to request asylum.

Instead of being released to family and friends, however, Tse was incarcerated and detained by U.S. immigration officials, suffering inhumane conditions, discriminatory reactions, and insults from detention officials. Proceeding pro se, he eventually won his asylum case.

“There are several concerns about the anti-Blackness and double standards,” Tse told the commission. “United States border policies operate to create a racial double standard, subjecting Black asylum seekers to mass expulsions while providing favorable treatment to asylum seekers from non-majority Black countries like Ukraine.”

Furthermore, he said, the United States uses military-style tactics and state violence at its border with Mexico to deter Black migrants from seeking asylum. The humanitarian crisis in Del Rio, Texas, in 2021, he noted, is just one example. “To date, there has been no accountability for the human rights abuses against Black migrants in Del Rio.”

And in order to punish and deter arriving asylum seekers — especially those from majority Black countries — the federal government uses harsh detention at the border, followed by detention inside the U.S.

RFKHR urged the Commission to use every tool at its disposal – including the petition and case system, protective measures, and working visits – to address these ongoing concerns.

“We urge you to center the abusive targeting of Black people on the move as a central priority for the Commission as you consider your strategic plan,” he said.

Later the same day, RFKHR, together with organizations Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (COIAB), União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (UNIVAJA), Terra de Direitos, Conectas, Greenpeace Brazil, Amazon Watch (AW), Washington Brazil Office (WBO), and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), condemned the violence toward indigenous peoples that continues — and has deepened — during this year’s general election period in Brazil.

In the month of September alone — the last month of the campaign period — eight members of indigenous communities were murdered in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Maranhão, Bahia and Pará.

The petitioners told the Commission about the threats toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples, especially violence against the Vale do Javari, the Guajajara, and others belonging to COIAB, as well as the Pataxó and Guaraní-Kaiowá in Guapó. They particularly expressed concern over the political violence that has characterized the year of general elections in Brazil, which intensified during the campaign period.

Similarly, petitioners explained the risks presented by some of the pending bills before Brazil’s National Congress regarding the territorial rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil, particularly the bill PL 191.

They also drew attention to the threat posed by adopting the Marco Temporal, an unofficial and illegal policy the current Brazilian administration has been using to infringe on indigenous ancestral lands. The Marco Temporal, or “timeframe” thesis, contends that if indigenous peoples can’t provide proof they have consistently lived on their land since 1988, when Brazil’s Constitution was adopted, the land won’t be deemed indigenous. This is problematic as these native communities, while they have lived for generations on their ancestral lands, generally do not have legal documents proving that.

The representative of the IACHR, Jan Jarab, reiterated his concern over the attacks, threats and intimidation denounced by representatives of Brazil’s indigenous population.

Indigenous lawyer Kari Guajajara of COIAB stated: “(The attacks) are not isolated cases. From 2003 to 2019, at least 57 indigenous peoples were killed in Maranhão. As we do not have a public body that counts these deaths, they are being silenced … Indigenious peoples in Brazil are killed not only for being guardians of the forest, but also for their status as indigenous.”

While the representatives of the State and FUNAI, a Brazilian governmental body tasked with establishing and carrying out policies related to the country’s indigenous peoples, presented unrealistic images of the country, deforestation, agribusiness, and the advance of mining and high-impact activities, they continue to increasingly put the lives and territories of indigenous peoples at risk. The anti-indigenism of the so-called “new FUNAI” is a sad episode in the history of the country and of what was once the main indigenous protection agency.

The IACHR commissioners also ingeminated the problems related to territorial and environmental defense, emphasizing its commitment to the indigenous peoples of Brazil and its desire to visit the country next year.

To view the recording of the public hearing, click here.