IACHR Adopts Precautionary Measures in Favor of Members of the Guajajara and Awá Indigenous Peoples of the Araribóia Indigenous Land in Brazil

January 13, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- On January 4, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) adopted Resolution 1/2021, through which it granted precautionary measures in favor of the members of the Guajajara and Awá indigenous peoples of the Araribóia Indigenous Land. The petitioners alleged that the beneficiaries are at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in view of their particularly vulnerable predicament, shortfalls in health care, and the presence of unauthorized third parties in their territory. The Awá indigenous people live in voluntary isolation and are thus particularly vulnerable.

In reaching its decision on the requirement of seriousness, the IACHR took into account the fact that the alleged events have taken place in a specific context that is characterized not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by the fact that the Guajajara and Awá have allegedly suffered long-standing discrimination due to their efforts to defend their rights. On this point, the IACHR reviewed the information put forward by the petitioners regarding various murders over the years, at least five of which took place recently. Likewise, the IACHR took into consideration the allegations concerning the health of indigenous peoples, which is connected to the presence of large numbers of people conducting illegal activities in their territories. In the organization's opinion, this makes indigenous peoples living within the Araribóia Indigenous Land particularly vulnerable.

According to the petition, the Maranhão Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI), which is responsible for providing the beneficiaries with health-care services, had become the epicenter of COVID-19 cases among indigenous peoples in the region by early July 2020. Indeed, the IACHR noted that according to the available information put forward by the parties, there were allegedly between 25 and 69 confirmed COVID-19 deaths despite widespread underreporting. The infection rate among the Guajajara population is estimated at 50%, according to the Awá Ethnoenvironmental Protection Front. Furthermore, according to information provided by the State, as of August 2020, more than 8% of the population of the Araribóia Indigenous Land had already been diagnosed with COVID-19 (1,394 positive cases); and by September it was found that the DSEIs with the highest infection status were in municipalities in states such as Maranhão.
The IACHR took note of the information provided by the state and observed that different action plans for indigenous peoples had been developed at the national level, as well as specific initiatives that would have a positive impact on the beneficiaries. However, it was noted that these plans are broad-reaching and/or policy-related and the state has not clarified how they are being implemented in favor of the beneficiaries and whether or not they are affected. In response, the IACHR noted that the information put forward by the state did not allow the petitioner's allegations to be refuted.

With regard to the Awá People, who are in voluntary isolation, the state alleged they would receive special care from the Awá Ethnoenvironmental Protection Front. However, it did not clarify how this care fitted into the initiatives to protect indigenous people from the COVID-19 pandemic and the alleged presence of unauthorized third parties near the areas occupied by members of the Awá indigenous people.

In view of the parties' arguments and given the multiple, complex risks in question, the IACHR deemed that there was no evidence to indicate that State has taken sufficient, effective action to protect indigenous peoples living in the Araribóia Indigenous Land, particularly considering that indigenous peoples in Brazil have historically proved particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections. Consequently, based on Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR requested that Brazil adopt the necessary measures to protect the right to health, life, and personal integrity of the members of the Guajajara and Awá indigenous people of the Araribóia Indigenous land by implementing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from a culturally appropriate perspective and provide them with adequate medical care that complies with the conditions of availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality, in accordance with the applicable international standards; that it agree on the measures to be adopted with the beneficiaries and their representatives; and that it report on the actions it takes to investigate the events that led to the adoption of this precautionary measure and thus prevent these from being repeated.

The fact that this precautionary measure has been granted and its adoption by the state does not entail a prejudgment on any petition that may eventually be filed before the inter-American system to allege that the rights protected by the American Convention and other applicable instruments have been violated.

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. 009/21