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The Human Rights Situation of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples: 5 things to know before Wednesday’s IACHR Hearing

Brazil is home to almost 900,000 Indigenous persons from over 305 ethnic groups and speaking more than 250 languages!

Brazil is home to almost 900,000 Indigenous persons with more than half of those people living in rural areas. Many of Brazil’s indigenous territories are in the Amazon rainforest, and the country has more Indigenous communities in isolation than any other country in the region, heightening the need for robust human rights and land rights protections.

Many of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples are currently at risk of displacement and land exploitation.

The current Brazilian administration has been illegally using an unofficial policy known as Marco Temporal to infringe on Indigenous communities’ ancestral lands. The Marco Temporal thesis asserts that if communities cannot prove that they have consistently inhabited their lands since before October 5, 1988 (a date signaling the adoption of the Brazilian Constitution), their lands will not be demarcated as Indigenous land. This unofficial policy has the power to harm many Indigenous communities who often do not have written proof, such as land titles or property contracts, even if they have consistently inhabited their lands for several generations. Additionally, five draft laws, referred to as the Pacote da Destruição or “Destruction Package,” are currently pending before Brazil’s Congress. If passed, the Destruction Package will allow commercial activity, such as mining and deforestation, on Indigenous lands.

Both Marco Temporal and the Destruction Package strive to displace Indigenous communities in favor of exploiting their lands and natural resources.

There has been increased violence against Indigenous Peoples during the recent electoral period.

There has been a marked increase in violence against Indigenous Peoples in Brazli in recent years. This violence includes land invasions and illegal mining, as well as physical attacks, sexual violence, and murder. During the recent electoral period, this violence has coincided with presidential decrees easing gun restrictions and an uptick in gun ownership, leaving Indigenous communities all the more vulnerable to political violence. In September alone, there were eight recorded murders of Indigenous persons across four Brazilian states: Mato Grosso do Sul, Maranhão, Bahia, and Pará. One of the victims was a 14-year-old boy who was shot during an attack on disputed Indigenous territory.

In response to state sanctioned repression, record numbers of Indigenous candidates ran in the recent elections to take back power and advocate for their rights.

In Brazil’s most recent elections, there were a whopping 180 Indigenous candidates running for various federal and state positions. Notably, Sônia Guajajara, former Executive Director of the country’s largest Indigenous organization, APIB, and Célia Xakriabá, a prominent Indigenous environmental activist, were both elected to the National Congress, representing São Paulo and Minas Gerais, respectively. Guajajara, Xakriabá, and many other candidates from marginalized communities have pledged to advocate for the preservation of democracy and human rights, and to put an end to the systematic and targeted repression.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear from representatives of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples on the current human rights situation.

October 26th’s hearing before the IACHR will feature testimony from newly-elected Congresswoman Sônia Guajajara and representatives from Indigenous civil society organizations Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (COIAB) and União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (UNIVAJA). They will present to the Commission the situation of increased violence and coordinated governmental opposition which they face, and government representatives will have an opportunity to respond. The hearing will also have the participation of a United Nations specialist. It is hoped that the hearing will spread awareness of the dire situation Brazil’s Indigenous peoples are facing, especially during this electoral period. You can register here to view the hearing live.