International Advocacy

Under traditional international human rights law doctrine, the state is obligated to protect human rights in its territory, and it is the state that bears responsibility for human rights violations committed by private actors. When those rights are not respected or protected, raising concerns and calling for action at the United Nations (U.N.) and the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), especially in their human rights bodies and procedures, can be effective in changing government actions and policies. The use of international human rights law and international fora has been and is increasingly an important method for changing unjust domestic laws and for reducing the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights. There is a very long history of highly successful human rights advocacy work led by indigenous peoples and organizations in Brazil and throughout Central and South America. Although no advocacy project can guarantee results, we know that international human rights advocacy does work. Governments, even repressive or authoritarian governments, respond to political pressure administered through international organizations.

The Indian Law Resource Center (the Center) has a long history of work with indigenous peoples in Brazil, beginning in 1979 when we brought the first indigenous rights case the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing for the demarcation and protection of Yanomami lands in the Amazon Rainforest. Though we won the case and progress was made toward demarcation, illegal gold miners invaded the area with the acquiescence and support of the local and federal government when gold was discovered there in 1987. One expert found that during a single two-year period at the height of the invasion, some 15% of all Yanomami died to due diseases and killings. The Center moved quickly to respond to this crisis, working with all available international mechanisms to compel the government of Brazil to change its policies, to enforce existing laws, and to adopt new measures to protect the Yanomami territory. Our efforts were successful; Brazil forcibly evicted the illegal miners and demarcated the 23+ million-acre Yanomami Indigenous Territory. While implementation remains an ongoing struggle, there is no doubt that Yanomami lives were saved, lands were legally protected, and that much environmental damage was averted.

Though the Yanomami case is an emblematic example of many years of advocacy in the O.A.S. and the U.N and a successful international campaign, the rights and protections for the Yanomami and hundreds of other indigenous peoples in Brazil are being threatened, especially in the Amazon. The current government has instituted policies that severely weaken the governmental agencies that oversee protections for indigenous peoples and the environment to allow agribusiness, mining, and logging interests to exploit the country’s natural resources, most of which are found on indigenous lands. The Center is currently working with and assisting indigenous leaders and advocates in Brazil to bring international attention and pressure to bear on Brazil to ensure that the government upholds the rights and protections guaranteed in Brazil’s Constitution and international law and policy standards. As was proved with our work in the Yanomami case, pressure from outside of Brazil can be a tipping point to protecting indigenous lands and communities.

RESOURCES

National Congress of American Indians Resolution #ABQ-19-022 on Supporting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Brazilian Amazon (November 2019)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Panamazon | Español (October 2019)

Indigenous Organizations advocate for enhanced protections before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (September 2019)

Invitation to Roundtable Discussion on Brazil (September 2019)

Interview with Luiz Henrique Eloy Amado and Pacifica Radio (September 2019)

Interview with Luiz Henrique Eloy Amado and Cultural Survival (September 2019)

Media Advisory (September 2019)

Update on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (September 2019)

Interview with Robert Coulter and Native American Calling (September 2019)

Report on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil | Español | Português (February 2019)

Indigenous organizations denounce Bolsonaro’s policies before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights | Español | Português (February 2019) 

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Country Visit to Brazil | Español | Português (November 2018)