By: Tamara Castro Marquez
(translated from Spanish by Isaac Morales)
Set of civil society organizations expose on the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Amazon and Gran Chaco via Flickr user inter-American Commission on human rights.
In the table of Commissioners: Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli (Commissioner Chairman and Rapporteur on indigenous rights); James L. Cavallaro (Commissioner); Maria Claudia Pulida (Deputy Executive Secretary)
Petitioners: Set of organizations related to indigenous peoples and civil society; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples); Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for the United South America
Despite a long history of fighting for their rights, the indigenous peoples of the Americas rights still face challenges and threats to their own existence. In the 165th period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a set of organizations related to indigenous peoples and civil society presented statements on the situation of human rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact in the Amazon and Gran Chaco. This group, composed of representatives of organizations of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela, sought to update the information on their respective territories from the meeting that took place in June 2017 in Lima, Peru. This working meeting, which brought together representatives of these organizations, the States, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and the Inter-American Commission on human rights, addressed how to protect peoples in voluntary isolation.
Absent the presence of any representative of the States named by the petitioning organizations, the session focused on positions of each organization on the current situation of their territory. There was also action from the Special Rapporteur on the rights of peoples indigenous and from the representative of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights for South America. All those who spoke emphasized the threats to the existence of indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact. Common threats in the countries that petitioners identified are the illicit extraction of natural resources, forced integration, and transnational organized crime. At the regional level, petitioners urged States to take measures to recognize people in isolation by adopting cross-border protection mechanisms, developing instruments for the prevention of undesirable contacts, establishing forced contact as genocide, prohibiting activities of extraction of natural resources in territories of peoples in voluntary isolation, and respecting the principle of non-contact.
In Brazil, the protections for indigenous peoples in isolation have been insufficient. Indeed, their rights have increasingly been violated by the destruction of their land, which creates environmental and health problems. In Peru, native peoples’ existence has been threatened, specifically by elevated levels of mercury in areas where they live. In Ecuador, indigenous peoples are threatened by a reduction of territory resulting from activities of third parties such as loggers, oil tankers, and people involved in illegal hunting. Petitioners called for a study of all peoples in isolation in Bolivian, because five peoples in voluntary isolation and five in initial contact have been identified, and the law that the State has established to guarantee their rights is not being enforced. In Colombia, more peoples in isolation have been identified than previously expected, and these villages are threatened by oil tankers, coca growers, and armed groups. In Paraguay, the legal process by which indigenous right should be protected, which have existed since 1993, have not been adequately implemented and peoples are threatened by the augmentation of farming and deforestation. In Venezuela, although indigenous communities are recognized by the Constitution, there is no express mention of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, much less any mention of their protection, which is affected by illegal mining.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, reiterated the ideas that had emerged from the meeting in Lima, Peru in June. She explained that indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact experience serious threats to their lives, health, culture, territory, and resources due to external actors such as miners, loggers, and organized criminal activity. The Rapporteur emphasized that under the guidelines of the United Nations on indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact States must establish a framework to protect these people. In addition, protection mechanisms should be, by nature, transnational efforts, as the territories of peoples in isolation do not conform to national boundaries. In the specific case of the Amazon and Gran Chaco, established protections under the Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization (Convention concerning indigenous and tribal peoples) and the case law of the Inter-American Court of human rights apply and should be enforced.
For his part, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights for South America expressed the importance of working this issue as a cross-border issue. Within the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, it is established that indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation have the right to remain isolated, land rights, and right to health. Currently, due to the lack of institutional protections, these people are at risk of disappearing.
Two questions were made at the end of the session. First, what processes have been developed to demarcate the territories of indigenous peoples? Second, what are some of the positive experiences with the States and their institutions? The answers involved combined experiences. While some States have attempted to implement comprehensive measures of protection and respect for the self-determination of indigenous peoples in isolation, in some cases has been left half and in others, such as Brazil, those efforts have suffered cuts from the national budget and have been without execution. What is clear is that much domestic work remains at the regional level to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and in initial contact in the Amazon and Gran Chaco lack.