Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on the Situation of Human Rights of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region

October 8, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published today its report Situation of Human Rights of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region. The report addresses the problems of peoples who live in that region, in light of the standards of the inter-American human rights system. 

In its report, the Commission lays down the context for the complex transformations that are impacting the Pan-Amazon region. The human rights of communities there have been affected by laws, public policies, and practices focused mainly on expanding the frontiers of land eligible for natural-resource extraction and for infrastructure megaprojects, which puts pressure on the ancestral lands of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. As noted in the report, the current panorama involves oil and gas exploitation, mining, forest development, use of genetic resources, dam and oil/gas pipeline construction, industrial fisheries and agriculture, and tourism, as well as the establishment of protected areas and national parks. All this is done without prior consultation of the indigenous peoples and communities in the area, endangering these peoples’ physical and cultural survival as well as their environment.

The report examines how these projects irreversibly impact the livelihood systems and cultural identity of Amazonian indigenous communities and ecosystems. They pollute rivers and other sources of water and restrict access to food and drinking water. They cause desertification and deforestation; a loss of biodiversity and protected natural areas; obstacles to cultural and spiritual practices; impairments to health; murders and other attacks against members of indigenous and tribal peoples; community divisions and fractures to the social fabric; forced displacement; difficulties in access to justice, linked not only to a lack of resources, but above all to the lack of an intercultural approach in national legal systems; and the criminalization of leaders of these groups. The report further addresses the increase in illegal activity—the growing presence of transnational organized crime and the expansion of illegal crops, trafficking in drugs and firearms, and human trafficking, among other issues.

This report has four chapters beyond its introduction and conclusion. The first chapter addresses the international standards, approaches, and principles that States need to take into consideration when designing legislation, programs, and policies to protect the human rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in the Pan-Amazon region. The second chapter provides situational data on the main effects of development projects on Pan-Amazonian indigenous and tribal peoples. The third chapter focuses on impairments to the human rights of peoples in the area. Every subsection in this chapter includes the Commission’s views on the reported issues, complete with examples of specific situations the IACHR has been informed of. The following chapter focuses on the specific situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact, and it highlights the information the IACHR received after publishing its report on these peoples in 2014. Based on all this, the final chapter of the report includes recommendations for States in the region. The background information provided in this report has been supplemented with two annexes. The first annex bears the title “Amazonian countries and peoples,” and it systematically deals with the answers provided by the States of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador to the IACHR’s questionnaire. The second annex, with the title “Pronouncements of the Inter-American Human Rights System on Amazonian Peoples,” illustrates how both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the IACHR have addressed these peoples through their different mechanisms.

“This report is highly relevant, because it addresses the cross-cutting problems that affect the Pan-Amazon region and impact the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples who have lived there for centuries, endangering their physical and cultural survival. We hope that States will assess and implement the recommendations held in this report, and we hope the report can assist the work that civil society organizations and, especially, indigenous and tribal peoples are doing every day,” Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said about the report’s publication. IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño addressed States’ obligation to take measures aimed at ensuring recognition for and strengthening protection of the rights of Pan-Amazonian indigenous and tribal peoples. “This obligation includes, among other aspects, a fundamental duty to respect these groups’ participatory rights, especially those concerning consultation and free, prior, and informed consent,” said Commissioner Arosemena de Troitiño.

In the context of this report, the IACHR distributed in September 2018 its Questionnaire on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region among indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, academic institutions, and any other stakeholders willing to submit information on this issue. The Commission also sent its questionnaire to all Amazonian countries and received responses from the States of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. All the information that was collected was supplemented with the details obtained by the IACHR through its various mechanisms.

The IACHR also enjoyed the priceless support of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM, by its Spanish acronym), in the context of Program 12 in Strategic Objective 3 of the IACHR’s Strategic Plan 2017–2021, which seeks to strengthen agreements with academic research centers and to promote the creation of an academic network specialized in the Inter-American Human Rights System. The Commission appreciates the various meetings and gatherings held with the REPAM and highlights the contributions made by the following academic institutions who are REPAM members: Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL, by its Spanish acronym); Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB, by its Spanish acronym); Pontifical Xavierian University Bogotá (PUJ-Bogotá, by its Spanish acronym); Pontifical Xavierian University Cali (PUJ-Cali, by its Spanish acronym); Pontifical Xavierian University of Ecuador (PUCE, by its Spanish acronym); Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University (UARM, by its Spanish acronym); Pontifical Xavierian University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Río, by its Portuguese acronym). The IACHR further appreciates the contributions submitted by the following institutions with ties to that Network: Pontifical Xavierian University of Peru (PUCP, by its Spanish acronym); Escola Superior Dom Helder Camara, Belo Horizonte; Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI, by its Portuguese acronym); Bolivian Center for Documents and Information (CEDIB, by its Spanish acronym); Amazonian Center for Anthropology and Practical Implementation (CAAAP, by its Spanish acronym), and Guyana Human Rights Association.

Finally, this report deepens the observations about the increasingly acute challenges faced by indigenous and tribal peoples which the IACHR has seen through its various mechanisms to protect and promote human rights and which it already mentioned in earlier publications, including the following: Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent communities, and natural resources: Human rights protection in the context of extraction, exploitation, and development activities (2016) and Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Americas: Recommendations for the full respect of their human rights (2013).

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

No. 250/19