IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights Stress That Brazil Must Ensure the Survival of the Yanomami People

February 8, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) are appalled about the serious humanitarian crisis caused by ethnic-racial discrimination that has caused the deaths of 570 Yanomami children. Both institutions call on the State to do its best to ensure the survival of the Yanomami people.

Over four years, children and older persons have died of causes linked to malnutrition and lack of medical care to treat preventable diseases that could have been treated in their territories. Of these, 99 children died in 2022, up 29% compared to the previous year. According to the authorities in the Brazilian state of Roraima, 30,400 individuals belonging to the Yanomami people became infected with malaria, out of a total of 44,069 cases of the disease in that state over the past two years. This implies that several individuals became infected more than once.

Women and girls face specific risks, as shown by the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in the Aracaçá community in 2022, in a case where the investigation appears to have made little progress so far. Concerning cases of gender-based violence, the State reported progress made by two police investigations, a police complaint, a criminal case, and a proven event, all of them on Yanomami land.

The IACHR and its SRESCER note that hunger and severe food insecurity affecting the Yanomami people are directly linked to the ethnic-racial discrimination they suffer. This discrimination in turn enables invasion of their land by illegal miners, and an estimated 20,000 individuals are believed to be currently occupying indigenous land, where they have already damaged thousands of hectares and affected the traditional sources of food and livelihoods of the Yanomami people. Illegal mining has also contributed to the spread of infectious diseases and to the increase in violence among different communities. The death toll and the number of people who have become ill in this context could in fact be higher, given the prevailing underreporting and lack of official information in Yanomami areas where illegal mining has prevented the work of healthcare workers and even destroyed healthcare facilities.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship note that, following the recent visit to these areas of representatives of Brazil's federal government and given the seriousness of the situation, federal decree 28/23 has been passed, to declare a public health emergency and create a public health control center to coordinate a response to the crisis. According to the available reports, more than 1,000 indigenous Yanomamis in critical condition have been taken to healthcare facilities to save their lives.

The crisis allegedly followed omissions by the authorities over two years. Despite numerous complaints and requests for protection filed by the Yanomami people, the authorities allegedly ignored the violence, murders, and other attacks against members of these communities. Allegations of omissions led to the launch of a Federal Police investigation into whether a genocide may have been perpetrated by officials of Brazil's previous government.

Brazil is a party to various inter-American and international human rights instruments that involve obligations to protect and ensure life and physical and mental integrity, to prevent violence and genocide, and to enable the best possible enjoyment of physical, mental, and spiritual health by indigenous peoples. In 2022, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights granted temporary protection measures that required the adoption by the State of measures to effectively protect the survival of members of the Yanomami, Ye´kwana, and Munduruku peoples, given the extreme and urgent risks they have historically faced.

The IACHR and its SRESCER urge the State of Brazil to step up its efforts to provide redress for and to solve the humanitarian and human rights crisis affecting the Yanomami people. Specifically, both institutions call for the protection of the rights to life, personal integrity, health, food, water, and a safe environment of members of these communities, as well as of their land, territories, and natural resources. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship call on the State to investigate all crimes and human rights violations perpetrated against Yanomami persons and to punish the people responsible for them, including private individuals and State officials who may have incurred in omissions. The State must also ensure access to justice and reparations, with an intercultural, intersectional, and intergenerational perspective.

The State of Brazil must comply with its obligations to prevent, audit, investigate, and punish the business activities of private stakeholders and ensure reparations for any wrongdoing, as required in the report . Brazil needs to adopt all necessary measures to stop illegal mining in Yanomami territories.

The IACHR and its SRESCER call on Brazil to urgently ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), to strengthen safeguards of the rights of environmental defenders to access justice and protection from illegal mining.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship offer to cooperate with the State of Brazil to address the critical situation of the Yanomami people. Both institutions express their interest in conducting a working visit as soon as possible, to see on site the extent of this crisis and to be able to contribute to ensuring rights-based solutions.

The SRESCER is an autonomous office of the IACHR and was especially created to brace the Commission's compliance with its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

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. 015/23

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