IACHR Takes to Inter-American Court of Human Rights Case Involving the Collective Property of Alcântara's Quilombola Communities, With Regard to Brazil

January 12, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on January 5, 2022, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Alcântara's Quilombola communities, with regard to Brazil. The case concerns the impact on the collective property of 152 communities caused by the failure to issue title deeds for their land, by the creation of an aerospace facility without the prior consultation and consent required, by the expropriation of their land and territory, and by the lack of judicial remedies to redress this situation.

These traditional peoples, mostly of indigenous and African descent, live in the municipality of Alcântara, in Brazil's north-eastern region. They form an interdependent network of hamlets based on reciprocity and demand approximately 85,537 hectares of ancestral land and territories. In 1980, 52,000 hectares of this land inhabited by 32 Quilombola communities were declared "of public interest." The Brazilian State expropriated the land, resettled residents in seven farming villages, and created the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA) to develop a national space program.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR examined State obligations concerning the traditional property of Quilombola communities. Concerning communities who were not resettled, the Commission noted that they currently lack collective title deeds for their traditional territories, although they have tried to obtain the relevant documents. The IACHR further noted that the lack of the relevant titles has prevented these communities from peacefully using and enjoying their land.

Concerning resettled communities, the Commission found that the State had failed to comply with its international obligations by not ensuring that restrictions of the right to own property based on public interest criteria respected the rights to ancestral property and prior consultation. The IACHR further concluded that the State had failed to conduct adequate resettlement, to grant the relevant communities comprehensive reparations that enabled them to share in project benefits, and to conduct socio-environmental research to identify the impact of its actions on the rights of Quilombola communities.

The IACHR also found that the development of the CLA had changed the way of life of Alcântara's Quilombola communities, since this was based on exchanges of goods and resources that enabled their development and survival. The Commission stressed that bans and other restrictions had prevented these communities from freely accessing their land and sacred sites, and had therefore affected their traditions and their cultural and spiritual survival. Resettled communities currently lack access to dignified housing and face various difficulties due to the poor quality of the land they were granted in compensation, the environmental degradation caused by logging, and the restrictions that prevent them from accessing certain places, including the sea. All these aspects have affected their farming (including subsistence crops), hunting, and fishing practices. This has happened in a context of various vulnerabilities, which deepen these communities' systematic discrimination, territorial defenselessness, and lack of access to justice, as well as the neglect, indifference, and absence of the State in terms of solving problems for these extremely poor and historically excluded communities.

The IACHR therefore concluded that the State is liable for violating the rights to humane treatment, judicial guarantees, freedom of expression and association, family protection, property, political rights, equality before the law, and judicial protection, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights, held in the American Convention (Articles 1.1 and 2) and several rights held in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

The IACHR recommended that the State of Brazil take measures to ensure boundary-setting, demarcation, and complete titling of the ancestral lands of Quilombola communities in Alcântara, ensuring they safely enjoy their lands within acknowledged boundaries in keeping with their own cultural identity, social structure, economic system, customs, beliefs, and traditions; adopt measures to ensure that alternative land currently held by these communities enables the free movement of resettled community members; protect the self-determination of these communities and their right to live peacefully according to their traditional way of life; and provide comprehensive reparations for the consequences of the rights violations mentioned in the Merits Report.

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. 013/22

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