Aug 21, 2018

UNPO and its Successful Campaign on Brazilian Indigenous People

For over six years now, UNPO has increased its presence and support on the American continent. Despite not having formal members in the South of the continent so far, the grants provided by the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has allowed the organization to engage with Latin American indigenous peoples through diverse initiatives and in different forms. This connection has been especially important to help increasing international awareness around the struggles indigenous communities have been facing for centuries.

In most cases, the replacement of the colonial administration with new national governments has not implicated in the end of colonial practices. Reflected in a number of oppressions and right’s violations, colonialism seems to be entrenched in national policies and discrimination towards indigenous peoples, a reality in which Europe has its share of historical responsibility. In this context, UNPO has been  playing an important role in promoting their causes and helping bringing their demands into international debates, which could prompt crucial changes in governmental practices.

An incredibly recurrent issue is the lack of autonomy indigenous communities have to manage their ancestral lands and the often displacements that take place with less-than-suitable compensations. Given that Indians frequently share a special connection with their lands and its biodiversity, their removal may implicate in the detachment of individuals from their history and cultural identity, with hazardous implications to their livelihoods, practices, and religion, as well as their subsistence and survival.

Aiming at having on-ground information about the indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá community’s reality, in 2016 UNPO organized a fact-finding mission to Brazil that has increased to remarkable levels the support the European Parliament has directed to indigenous peoples in Brazil. The programme included meetings with federal institutions, public hearing at the Brazilian Congress and visits to indigenous communities, which gave the delegation the opportunity of hearing stories that translated the disregard and violence endured by them, such as murders, enforced disappearances of leaders, cases of suicide, and extreme poverty. The visit has also allowed the delegation to see in first-hand some of the problems that keep the demarcation of indigenous lands from concretizing itself, as the presence of small farmers, the lack of federal budget to buy off lands that should integrate indigenous territories, and the interests of oil companies and the soy agribusiness. 

Furthermore, UNPO has been notably active by organizing conferences on the matter of land and environmental rights of indigenous peoples, as well as by urging the international community to take a stand on the issue by pressuring national governments to change their policies. For instance, “the Guarani-Kaiowá and the Assault on Indigenous Rights in Brazil”, which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on 31 May 2017, has sought to raise awareness and share evidences of the damaging effects corporate interests and governmental impunity have had over indigenous communities in Brazil. Posing that much of the violence faced by Indians in the country has economic motivations and is either directly or indirectly funded or initiated by the government, it was also discussed the role the European Union could play in preventing indigenous rights violations by recognizing indigenous peoples as legitimate interlocutors in discussions related to their rights. UNPO has helped stressing that the European Union, as a supporter of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), is required to prompt initiatives to secure those rights through dialogue with Brazil. Moreover, UNPO’s representatives at the conference have pointed out the complex, multi-faced character of the challenges faced by the Guarani-Kaiowá, which refer to a history of impunity and oppression that has led to a structural and systemic inequality that continues to oppress indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Among other initiatives, UNPO has actively supported indigenous struggle to have their voices heard in the international sphere. By sharing news concerning their issues, keeping track of the situation, and denouncing violations, UNPO has helped spreading the word on how oppressions against indigenous peoples seems not to show signs of coming to an end in the near future. Rather, threatened by infrastructural projects such as the dam in the Xingu River, as well as by economic interests that culminate in deforestation and land disputes, indigenous communities have also been facing political setbacks under Michel Temer’s administration. Condemned by UNPO, these setbacks include the establishment a timeframe limitation that would impede communities from regaining control over lands from which they were displaced prior to the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution, which consequently fails to acknowledge the centuries of violence indigenous peoples have endured.

Faced with the recent tendency to weaken instead of strengthen indigenous’ rights and protection, indigenous communities have been increasing efforts to bring their struggle to the public debate while crucial elections approach in October 2018 in Brazil. Amid national political tensions, UNPO hopes to promote awareness and to shed light on a currently mostly hidden conflict, strengthening pressures on national and international institutions and organisations in order to prompt positive impacts and the accountability of the incessant oppression against indigenous peoples.