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Elections in Brazil on 1st October 2006

Secure ownership of property is the key to the survival of the indigenous peoples - Human rights experts call for effective measures at last for Brazil's 235 indigenous peoples

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, 28. September 2006

Guaranì children It was a ray of hope for the weak when President Lula da Silva took up office in Brazil four years ago. However the situation of Brazil's Indians has not improved significantly according to investigations carried out by the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV). It is true that in March 2006 the National Commission in Indigenous Politics was created, but so far this exists only on paper, criticises the international human rights organisation for ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous peoples and it calls for effective measures at last for Brazil's 235 indigenous peoples. For an improvement of the educational situation and a lowering of infant mortality rates in the indigenous peoples too little has so far been done. Although the Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona after 30 long years have at last been granted the title of ownership for their territory Raposa Serra do Sol in the federal state of Roraima with an area of some 1.6 million hectares in April 2005, the process of recognizing Indian claims of land is being dragged out much too long. For land is still the precondition for the survival of a people whose way of life is closely tied to nature.

A report of the Indianist Mission Council (CIMI), one of the most important human rights organisations in Brazil for the support of the indigenous peoples and a partner organisation of the GfbV, shows that land conflicts have been increasing again in Brazil since 2003. CIMI has investigated among other things with its own teams the situation of the more than 730,000 members of the indigenous peoples of Brazil. One of these reports shows that the situation in the federal state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which borders on Paraguay and Bolivia, is particularly dramatic. Nowhere else in Brazil do the indigenous people possess so little land. The situation is at its worst with the 37,000 Guarani-Kaiowá. In 64 of their 87 territories the process of officially recognizing their land (demarcation) has not even begun. But if they cannot live on the land of their ancestors then they cannot continue their traditional way of life, having neither access to their medicinal plants nor even to clean water. Instead of this the Indians are dependent on the distribution of food and clothing. Misuse of alcohol, prostitution, violence and suicide are widespread. From Mato Grosso do Sul come 29 of the 43 Indians killed in Brazil in the year 2005, 28 of the 31 Indians who took their lives in that year and 31 of the 43 Indian children who died in the year 2005 of malnutrition.

The situation of the Yanomami in the federal state of Roraima remains one for concern, since 20 percent of their children are under-weight and suffer from diseases brought in by gold-diggers. They are facing increasing difficulties in feeding themselves. Fishing is now practically out of the question since the rivers have been contaminated by mercury from the gold-diggers. The situation of the approximately 60 Indian peoples known to the CIMI living in voluntary isolation is also disturbing. They do their best to avoid all contact with outsiders, but even their land is not safe from wood-cutters and big land-owners. 17 of these peoples are threatened according to CIMI with extinction. Headlines are also being made in Germany at present by the conflict between the Tupinikim and Guarani in the federal state of Espirito Santo on the Brazilian coast north of Rio de Janeiro and the Aracruz Celulose Company. In 1967 the National Indian Foundation FUNAI (Brazilian Office for Indian Affairs) recognized the right of 18,070 hectares of land to the Indians, of which Aracruz Celulose holds about 11,000 hectares. The company plants there eucalyptus monocultures for the production of cellulose, which is used for paper handkerchiefs and other disposable articles. The main customers of Aracruz are Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble (P&G), which sell their products in Germany as well.

Four commissions of the FUNAI have established in the past ten years that the Tupinikim and Guarani have been living in this territory for time immemorial. FUNAI studies show that the physical and cultural survival of the Indians depends on the undisturbed use of this land. Aracruz has nevertheless lodged a protest against the demarcation of the area. At the beginning of September the Tupinikim and Guarani grasped the initiative themselves. They felled eucalyptus trees in the area under dispute and set fire to them. In the meantime the FUNAI has sent a positive report supporting the indigenous land claim to the Minister of Justice, who has to announce his decision by 12th October. The GfbV too has supported the Indians with several letter campaigns of protest. "Aracruz is reacting with a smear campaign and doing its best to stir up the local population against the Indians", says Geertje van der Pas, the European representative of the CIMI, in explanation of the explosive situation. "Poster campaigns and serial advertising are being used to discredit the Indians as pseudo-Indians, barbarians, criminals and thieves. Information sheets are being distributed in the town of Aracruz with the motto: Aracruz brought progress, FUNAI the Indians. Enough Indians, threatening our workers!"

The UN also views the native affairs policies of Brazil with concern. "The indigenous peoples feel abandoned and persecuted by public authorities", says the UN Special Correspondent Doudou Diène, who in October 2005 carried out a visit of investigation to Brazil and published a report in February 2006. "On the one hand there is a total lack of dialogue with the Government, and on the other hand a conflictual relationship with FUNAI. The president of FUNAI asserts that the trusteeship regime still exists, in blatant violation of the law, makes discriminatory statements against the Indians, decides who is Indian and who is not in violation of the Indigenous and Tribal People Convention, 1989 (No. 169), and does not provide the assistance required".

So the GfbV and the CIMI call on the new government of Brazil, which will be elected by 122 million Brazilian voters on 1st October, to at last fulfil promptly the duties arising out of the Indigenous and Tribal People Convention, 1989 (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization ILO of the United Nations. These are: application of the right on the building of the individual future, on cultural identity and communal structures and traditions, on land and resources, on work and adequate working conditions, on training and access to the means of communication, on participation in all decision-making which concern these peoples and on equality before the authorities and courts. Brazil ratified Convention 169 of the ILO in July 2002.

The CIMI report in the original version is: 'Violência contra os Povos Indígenas no Brasil' published in

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