Indigenous Peoples, local communities, social movements, environmental activists, and women’s groups from 25 different countries today kicked off a week of protests, meetings, and events to demand respect for community land rights. A new policy brief highlights mounting scientific evidence that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the best guardians of their lands and forests, yet governments are giving the go-ahead to hydroelectric dams, industrial mining, predatory logging, extensive cattle ranching, and palm oil plantations that rob the forests’ customary owners of their homes and livelihoods, and threaten the climate and resources we all depend on. These mobilizations are part of the Land Rights Now initiative, a global campaign launched in March 2016 to double the amount of land owned or controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities by 2020.
“If you want to take care of the forest, you need to invest in us—Indigenous Peoples—because no one takes better care of the forest than we do,” declared Antonio Dace, a member of the Munduruku community along the Tapajós River in the Brazilian Amazon.
Brazil’s indigenous movement launched an international online petition to pressure Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio to end the government’s attack on indigenous rights and the environment as part of the Land Rights Now initiative. In coordination with the annual Terra Livre indigenous rights mobilisation, thousands of Indigenous Peoples and community leaders from across the country will hold events in Brasília from April 24-28 to raise awareness of their critical role in climate change prevention and biodiversity protection, and the threat posed by the government’s infrastructure projects and rollback of rights. Signatures from the petition are expected to be delivered in person to Minister Serraglio’s office next week.
“If it weren’t for us,” Dace continued, “the cattle and the soy would have taken this whole forest. I know we are only of the size of a grain of sand but we make a huge difference. The air you breathe comes from [the Amazon]. The water you drink comes from here. And so, by killing us, you are killing nature and therefore yourselves.”
Communities like the Munduruku have successfully safeguarded many of the world’s forests for generations. Research shows that where communities have secure rights, carbon storage and biodiversity are higher and deforestation rates are lower. Yet communities worldwide only have legally recognised rights to one-fifth of their customary lands, according to research from the Rights and Resources Initiative. The insecurity of indigenous and community tenure rights poses a significant threat to global efforts to prevent the climate crisis: at least one-tenth of the carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests is in community lands that lack formal, legal recognition, leaving them vulnerable to land grabs that can destroy livelihoods and devastate the environment.
Brazil was once considered a leader in protecting indigenous land rights, but today regressive government and business interests are recklessly targeting Amazonian indigenous lands for infrastructure and resource exploitation projects, leading to an unprecedented rollback of hard-won protections of their rights.
The São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam threatens the Munduruku and other indigenous communities in some of the most biodiverse and environmentally valuable forest in the world. And a proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC 215) would effectively stall the titling of indigenous lands. In response to these threats, the country’s indigenous movement today called on Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio, a former leading member of Brazil’s agribusiness congressional bloc, to stop the assault on indigenous rights and to protect indigenous lands.
“Indigenous lands help regulate the planet’s climate, for they are obstacles to deforestation. There is ten times less deforestation in indigenous lands than in non-titled lands,” said Sônia Guajajara, National Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples (APIB). “The section of the Amazon Forest under our protection stores 13 billion tons of carbon. Without these reserves, Brazil will not comply with the goals established in the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Yet recent actions by the government are putting these carbon stores at risk. “The [Brazilian] government is coming here to get rid of everything—the natives, the forest and the river,” said Chief Juarez Saw of the Munduruku.
Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Unite For Global Mobilisation
Today’s actions are part of a growing movement by indigenous and local communities around the world demanding respect for their rights, mobilising to ensure that their voices are heard, and highlighting the role they play in the global struggle to prevent climate crisis.
The Munduruku people in the Brazilian Amazon as well as other indigenous and local communities—such as in Lamu in Kenya, the Maya Qéqchi people in Guatemala, and the Pinuyamayan community of Kasavakan in Taiwan—are demanding respect for their rights in response to threats from powerful business and government interests who seek to expropriate their territories for agribusiness or infrastructure projects. Today, these communities called on their governments and the private sector to respect their rights in order to safeguard communities’ role in protecting the world’s biodiversity and preventing climate change.
“The power of the Land Rights Now initiative is its unifying call to respect the rights of approximately 2.5 billion people, which includes around 400 million Indigenous Peoples,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Recognising these rights also means reducing conflict, fighting against climate change, promoting sustainable development, preserving cultures, and protecting the world’s most fragile ecosystems.”