Press Release

IACHR and U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights express concern over a lawsuit on quilombola peoples in Brazil

February 7, 2018

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Washington D.C. / Santiago, Chile - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the South America Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) express their concern about potential restrictions on the rights of Afro-descendant tribal peoples (quilombolas).

The Federal Decree 4.887/03, enacted in 2003, established a legal framework on the rights of quilombolas peoples, by widening the scope of their right to territory expanding its aims to the physical, social, economic and cultural reproduction of these traditional communities. In addition, in accordance with the Brazilian constitutional framework, it established specific procedures for the titling of their territories. The Direct Action of Unconstitutionality 3.239, which was originally filed before the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court in 2012, could have effects such as the undermining of the rights to territory in cases of lands pending regularization and those already titled.

The Commission and the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights observe that the atmosphere of judicial uncertainty concerning quilombolas' access to territory and, above all, their traditional way of life undermines the defense of their rights.  According to information received by both institutions, since 2015 there has been a consistent increase in violence against members of the quilombola communities.  According to Brazilian civil society organizations, in 2017 14 members of the quilombola communities have been killed.  The judicial uncertainty generated by the lack of territorial recognition exacerbates these conflicts and the situation of vulnerability that these communities suffer when dealing with actors with economic interests in those territories.

Through a communication sent on August 9, 2017 the Commission requested information from the State of Brazil on the public policy and judicial decisions adopted with respect to the land rights of quilombola communities, the request included queries on the Direct Action on Unconstitutionality 3.239. The State of Brazil replied said request for information by affirming that, based on article 5, XXXV of the Federal Constitution, any judicial review of regulatory acts is allowed. Thus, the IACHR and the OHCHR trust that the Brazilian Supreme Court decision will be the most favorable towards the protection of these communities and vulnerable minorities in accordance with the constitutional rules and principles and with the legal standards of the inter-American and universal human rights protection systems.

The IACHR and the OHCHR recall that States have a special obligation to protect and respect the rights of tribal communities, guaranteeing and promoting the full effectiveness of their social, economic and cultural rights, respecting their social and cultural identity, their customs, traditions and institutions. This obligation is reflected in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

At the same time, the Commission and the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterate that all State powers are obligated to implement international human right standards in such a way as to guarantee that the effectiveness of international treaties do not decrease.  The organs of the Judicial Power exercise not only the control of constitutionality, but also the control of conventionality of the laws and internal decrees.

Finally, the Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlight that States have a duty to implement well-articulated legislative, political and institutional measures to protect and guarantee the rights to non-discrimination and equality. Due diligence requires immediate action to prevent, investigate and punish all acts of racism, discrimination and violence.

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 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.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties. OHCHR is guided in its work by the mandate provided by the General Assembly in Resolution 48/141. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The South America Regional Office of OHCHR is located in Santiago, Chile, and covers the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

No. 022/18