IACHR and OHCHR Regional Office for South America Urge Brazil to Ensure Comprehensive Protection of Yanomami and Munduruku Indigenous Peoples

May 19, 2021

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Washington, D.C./Santiago — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office for South America of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed their extreme concern over the acts of violence that have affected the Yanomami and Munduruku indigenous peoples in Brazil. In response, they urged the State to comply with its duty to protect these peoples' lives, personal integrity, territories, and natural resources.

The IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Office became aware of the confrontation in a Yanomami territory in Roraima on May 10, 2021. The clash was caused by illegal miners who, according to public information, opened fire on members of the Palimiú community in the presence of children. According to the first statement made to the press by indigenous leaders on May 15, two children aged one and five were killed in the attack. Likewise, on March 25, reports were received concerning an attack on the Munduruku Wakoborûn Women's Association in the city of Jacareacanga in the southwest of Pará state. In response, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office has issued urgent instructions to federal forces to stop the invasions of armed groups of illegal miners, but no such action has been taken.

On this point, the IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Office have been closely monitoring the serious violations of the human rights of the Yanomami and Munduruku peoples as a result of activities being carried out in their territories without their consent, mainly by illegal mining and logging operations and agribusiness. According to the information received, in yellow mummy territory alone—the largest protected indigenous reserve in Brazil, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners. In the words of a young Munduruku woman describing the serious effects of these activities: "We are watching our forests being turned into vast pools of mud. We are seeing the sources of our rivers silting up and their courses being diverted. We are seeing how the shadows of the trees disappear, how there are less and less fruits for us to gather, and how the crystal clear waters of the Tapajós River and the streams and springs here are becoming murkier every day. We are seeing the smoke from the fires darken our sunsets."

On top of this already grave situation, the IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Office noted with concern that on Thursday, May 13, Brazil's Chamber of Deputies passed Bill No. 3729/2004, which relaxes environmental requirements for agribusiness and energy enterprises. If the law is enacted, the human rights of indigenous peoples, including the Yanomami and Munduruku peoples, will be further impacted, as will their territories. Similarly, both organizations are extremely concerned by Legislative Decree Bill No. 177/2021 of April 27, 2021, which would authorize the President of the Republic to overturn International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, and Bill No. 191/2020, which seeks to authorize mining activities on indigenous lands.

The IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Office reminded the state that the unique relationship between indigenous and tribal peoples and their territories has been widely recognized in international human rights law, as evidenced in the American Convention on Human Rights, ILO Convention 169, and the UN and OAS declarations on the rights of indigenous peoples. Likewise, indigenous peoples' right to self-determination, which is recognized by international law, is closely related to the use and availability of lands and territories, which generate specific obligations on the part of States regarding protection and the adoption of special measures to recognize, respect, protect, and guarantee the rights to communal property. On this matter, the two organizations noted that both the Yanomami and Munduruku peoples are beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures that seek to protect them.

Both the IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Office urged the State of Brazil to comply with its duty to protect the lives, personal integrity, territories, and natural resources of the Yanomami and Munduruku indigenous peoples. This is urgently needed to put an end to the serious effects caused by the actions of trespassers who seek to seize their natural resources. These actions have led to the death of members of these peoples, the contamination of their sources of subsistence, and the deforestation of large swathes of their territories, which has resulted in the destruction of large areas of these and is posing a permanent risk to their cultural and economic survival as indigenous peoples.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN entity on human rights. The UN General Assembly has entrusted both the High Commissioner and her office with a mandate to promote and protect all human rights for all people. The OHCHR provides assistance in the form of technical expertise and capacity-development to support the implementation of international human rights standards on the ground. It assists governments, which bear the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights, to fulfill their obligations and supports individuals to claim their rights. It also speaks out objectively on human rights violations.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 129/21