Press Release

IACHR Grants Precautionary Measures in Favor of Members of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Indigenous Peoples

July 20, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued Resolution 35/2020 (only available in Portuguese) on July 17, 2020, to grant precautionary protection measures in favor of members of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana indigenous peoples. The Commission considered that beneficiaries face a serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable damage to their rights.

The request filed by the Hutukara Yanomami Association and by Brazil’s National Human Rights Council refers to residents of Yanomami Indigenous Lands, comprising 321 villages that include recently contacted peoples and some who remain in voluntary isolation. These beneficiaries are said to be particularly at risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, given that they are especially vulnerable to respiratory diseases and that the number of infections is rising fast within their territory; given the shortcomings of the healthcare system aimed at indigenous persons, which have increased in the context of the pandemic; given the illegal presence of around 20,000 miners on their land, which increases the incidence of the virus brought in from urban communities; given the impact of mercury poisoning on these indigenous peoples; and, finally, given the violence perpetrated by miners against indigenous peoples, and particularly their leaders.

In accordance with Article 25.5 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR asked the State for information. The Commission was told of measures adopted to seek a relaunch of Ethno-Environmental Protection Bases and was informed that one of the three bases in the area was again active. The IACHR was also informed of the food and healthcare support that the authorities are providing or trying to provide to these peoples, and of efforts made to ensure territorial protection for indigenous land in Brazil.

The Commission took into account the differentiated risks faced by indigenous peoples (particularly recently contacted peoples and peoples in voluntary isolation) in the context of the ongoing pandemic, given their specific immunological vulnerability, the critical condition of the healthcare system targeting the beneficiary groups, and the presence of unauthorized outsiders in their territory. The IACHR noted the existence of a court order requiring the relaunch of the three Ethno-Environmental Protection Bases in the area and the fact that only partial compliance has been attained by reopening one of them. The IACHR considered that the information provided by the State was too general and forward-looking and did not give details about direct action taken in favor of beneficiaries.

Consequently, in keeping with Article 25 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked Brazil to take all measures necessary to protect the rights to health, life, and personal integrity of members of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana indigenous peoples. The State should adopt culturally appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to provide these peoples with adequate medical assistance that is available, accessible, acceptable, and good quality and that complies with the applicable international standards. The IACHR further asked the State to come to an agreement with beneficiaries and their representatives regarding any measures that need to be taken and to report on any actions adopted to investigate the allegations, in order to prevent such events from happening again in the future.

The fact that this precautionary measure has been granted and its adoption by the State do not entail a prejudgment on a potential petition that may be filed before the Inter-American system to allege violations of rights protected by the applicable instruments.

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. 168/20