Brazil is one of the nine countries that share the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon region occupies roughly 60% of the Brazilian territory, shared among the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins, Pará e do Maranhão. As of 2020, the total population is 28,1 million inhabitants or 13,3% of the Brazilian population.
According to the 2010 Brazilian Demographic Census, 0,4% of the population declares to be indigenous, which equals 817.000 people. It is noted that 37,4% of this indigenous population lives in the North Region and/or the Amazonian Environment. The state of Amazonas is the only state to possess more than 100.000 self-declared indigenous inhabitants, and the state of Roraima has the highest percentage of indigenous persons among the population (11%). It must be noted, however, that Indigenous communities are present in each of the country’s five geographical regions.
Indigenous communities have long suffered gross Human Rights violations in Brazil, dating back to the beginning of the colonial period when a significant number of Indigenous people were enslaved in raids. Contemporarily, despite numerous protections awarded by the Brazilian Constitution, domestic laws and international treaties, Indigenous communities continue to suffer from violations and discrimination. The Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) points out that Indigenous peoples currently suffer from "territorial and environmental invasions and degradation, sexual exploitation, drug abuse, labour exploitation, including children, mendicancy and disorderly exodus".
The Brazilian Constitution forbids artisanal mining (“graimpo”) by non-Indigenous persons within Indigenous lands. This activity may be exclusively undertaken by Indigenous persons, according to Law 6001/1973 (The “Indian Statute”). On the other hand, formal mining may be carried out under the authorization of the National Congress, given that the affected communities are compensated.
Nonetheless, Indigenous Communities have been long affected by illegal mining on their lands. In the 1960s, communities of the “Cinta-Larga” Indigenous people were massacred to allow the advancement of miners into their territory. Recently, the Yanomami territory, the largest demarcated Indigenous land in Brazil, has been suffering from conflicts involving artisanal miners – according to estimations, the disputed land amounts to an area larger than the State of Belgium. Since June 2020, these conflicts between Indigenous communities from the Yanomani territory and heavily armed miners have escalated, leaving many Indigenous persons dead. The Brazilian Army and the Federal Police have been deployed to the region.
A report, published by the Hutukara Yanomami Association and the Wanasseduume Ye’kwana Association, with support from the Socioenvironmental Institute (Instituto Socioambiental – ISA), informs a 30% growth in illegal mining within the Yanomani Territory in 2020 alone. The publishers fear incidents similar to the 1993 Haximu Massacre, which resulted in the first [and only] conviction of genocide in Brazilian Courts. The report also describes the proliferation of infectious diseases, such as malaria and COVID-19.
The current Brazilian federal administration supports mining in indigenous lands. The President has proposed draft legislation (PL 191/2020) to regulate mining and energy exploitation within Indigenous lands, in accordance with its campaign promises. The opposition has strongly condemned the proposed bill. It is of uttermost importance that the Brazilian National Congress rejects the proposed bill, respecting the rights of the affected communities.
In connection with illegal mining, but not restricted to it, claims for recognition of ownership of traditional lands have been under attack. In a landmark case (Extraordinary Appeal 1017365), which will serve as a guideline for future cases, the Supreme Court is analysing if there is a time-frame for Indigenous communities to claim their traditional lands. It is estimated that 310 land-demarcation proceedings may be affected.
When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in 1500, the land was already inhabited by Indigenous pre-columbian populations. During the vast majority of the country’s history, since it was a colony until after the independence from Portugal, Indigenous peoples have been dispossessed of their lands by settlers. Despite the legal protection awarded by the Brazilian Constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation Convention 169, communities from all parts of the country have long (and not always successfully) fought for the enjoyment of their land rights.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has already held the State of Brazil liable for delays in demarcation proceedings. In the Case of the Xucuru Indigenous People and its members v. Brazil, the Court ruled that the country breached its international Human Rights obligations (specifically the rights to judicial protection and to collective property) due to almost two decades of administrative proceedings for the demarcation of the Xucuru land.–
For this reason, it is imperative that the Brazilian State, including the Supreme Court in the case mentioned above, guarantees the enjoyment of land property rights.
The recent rate of deforestation in the Amazon region is alarming. According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, between August 2019 and July 2020, the Brazilian Amazon Region lost 10.851 km2 of rainforest, which means a 7,13% increase in comparison with 2019.
A recently published report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) demonstrates that “the forests in the indigenous and tribal territories have been much better conserved than other forests in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their low carbon emissions reflect that.” Nonetheless, deforestation in indigenous lands has sharply risen: in the biennium 2019-20, deforestation in indigenous lands grew 48,31% in comparison with the 2017-18 period, which has been attributed to policies adopted by the Ministry of Environment.
The current Brazilian Federal Administration has been openly hostile towards Indigenous Peoples’ rights, especially regarding land demarcations, in accordance with one of President Bolsonaro’s campaign promises – not to demarcate a single centimeter of Indigenous lands/territories. Supported by large landowners, the President has effectively interfered in State entities responsible for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, such as FUNAI, while supporting the expansion of agribusiness and mining into their lands.
The Federal Government’s policies have prompted Indigenous associations to submit to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court a request for an investigation of President Bolsonaro for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. It must be pointed out that the former Minister of Environment (for most of the current administration, until June 2021) is under investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police for alleged exports of illegal timber to the United States.
Nevertheless raising awareness and attention for the indigenous people and the Amazon is of utmost importance. GHRD- Amazon tries to achieve these goals through writing reports, articles and making documentaries. But also by launching fundraising projects and lobbying events.