IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C./Santiago – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office for South America of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stress their major concern about the attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation reported by several indigenous peoples in Brazil. Both institutions urge the Brazilian State to investigate these cases with due diligence and to punish the people responsible for them, as well as to take urgent, effective action to protect the lives and integrity both of these peoples and of the individuals who advocate for their rights.
According to civil society organization reports that the OHCHR has had access to, at least six indigenous persons have been murdered in Brazil so far this year, more than the total number for 2021 (four murders).
On June 24, 2022, two Guaraní and Kaiowá indigenous communities in Mato Grosso do Sul were victims of armed attacks conducted jointly by military police officers and civilians. Both incidents happened in the context of processes to evict indigenous persons from land these Guaraní and Kaiowá communities claim as ancestral. During various raids, officers fired shots from the ground and also from a helicopter, reportedly killing one indigenous person and injuring more than 10 (including women and children). These raids were reportedly carried out without the required court warrants, in violation of the Federal Supreme Court ban on forced evictions in Brazil until October 31.
On June 15, a 61-year-old indigenous man was reportedly accused of carrying a firearm and beaten to death by military police officers in Pernambuco, in what would amount to an excessive use of force by officers of the State.
The IACHR and the Regional Office of the OHCHR note with concern police involvement in several instances of violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil, so they urge the State to end discrimination and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. The IACHR and the Regional Office of the OHCHR also demand a swift investigation of allegations that police officers are joining forces with private property owners against indigenous peoples claiming ancestral lands.
The IACHR report noted the serious humanitarian problems faced by the Guaraní and Kaiowá peoples due to the violation of their territorial rights and to the attacks they have suffered while trying to stand up for their rights. The report said that the main issues linked to the defense of territorial and environmental rights were intimidation, threats, attacks, and the criminalization of indigenous rights advocates and of indigenous leaders and communities.
The problem was also reported in precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in favor of the Guajajara, Awá, Munduruku, Yanomami, and Ye'kwana indigenous peoples. In those precautionary measures, the IACHR asked the State of Brazil to take all measures necessary to protect the rights to health, life, and personal integrity of members of these indigenous peoples in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly given the presence of unauthorized persons who exploited natural resources in their territories. Given that this situation persisted and even got worse, the Commission asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to adopt temporary measures in favor of the Yanomami, Ye'kwana, and Munduruku peoples.
In this hostile context for the rights of indigenous peoples, it is worth remembering the brutal murders of expert Brazilian indigenous activist Bruno Pereira and of British journalist Dom Phillips in early June in the Brazilian Amazon. Both men were keen advocates for environmental rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, and they were murdered while they were travelling to an indigenous community in an investigation into the impact of illegal mining and other unlawful activities perpetrated by armed groups in Vale do Javari, in the state of Amazonas. Cases like this show how vulnerable the individuals who defend environmental rights and the rights of indigenous peoples are in Brazil. The State of Brazil said that it acknowledges and values the role of human rights defenders, including the rights of indigenous persons, and that it has adopted protection measures for more than 540 defenders all over the country, including one Yanomami person and three Munduruku persons, all of them community leaders.
The Commission and the OHCHR stress that the State must ensure investigation, punishment, and reparations in all cases involving threats, attacks, and other forms of violence against members of indigenous peoples (whether caused by officers of the State or by private citizens) linked to indigenous peoples' defense of their territory and environment. Both institutions urge the State to protect the role and integrity of individuals and groups who defend environmental rights and the human rights of indigenous peoples. The State said it takes allegations of violence against indigenous peoples seriously, investigates them, and punishes perpetrators of rights violations in these cases. The State further said that law enforcement policies lie within the jurisdiction of local authorities and that, if necessary, federal forces—particularly the National Security Force and the Federal Police—might be deployed in this context in coordination with local authorities.
The IACHR and the OHCHR stress the importance of streamlining resolution of requests for delimitation, demarcation, and titling of ancestral lands and territories, in compliance with international and inter-American standards. The IACHR and the OHCHR urge the State of Brazil to take all measures necessary to review or change the provisos held in court orders and directives that are incompatible with the State's international obligations to ensure and protect the territorial rights of indigenous peoples, like the Temporal Landmark judicial doctrine.
The Regional Office of the OHCHR is the UN's main body in South America in the field of human rights. The General Assembly entrusted the High Commissioner and her Office with the mission of promoting and protecting the human rights of all people. The OHCHR provides assistance, in terms of technical competence and capacity-building, to support the on-site implementation of international human rights standards. The OHCHR helps governments—who have the primary responsibility to protect human rights—to comply with their obligations and supports individuals so they may stand up for their own rights. It also objectively flags human rights violations.
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.