After years of waiting—during which they suffered from violent attacks and the degradation of their ancestral lands—the Ingaricó, Macuxi, Patamona, Taurepang and Wapichana indigenous peoples of Raposa-Serra do Sol in Brazil’s Roraima state have received a favorable decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). During its last session at the end of October, the IACHR issued an admissibility decision in their case against the government of Brazil. The decision signaled that the government’s treatment of indigenous peoples in Raposa may constitute a violation of their human rights. The IACHR is next set to issue a formal judgment on the matter.
On behalf of the indigenous peoples of Raposa Serra do Sol, the Indigenous Council of Roraima and the Rainforest Foundation-US submitted the case to the IACHR in 2004. Since then, through testimony and on-site visits in Brazil, the IACHR learned in depth of the 30-year struggle advanced by the indigenous peoples of Raposa to secure title to their lands and remove the rice growers and others who have encroached upon them. During that time, the IACHR issued precautionary measures requiring the Brazilian government to take a number of steps to protect the lives and well-being of the indigenous peoples in Raposa. A Presidential Decree was issued in April 2005 ratifying the demarcation of Raposa; non-indigenous occupants were removed in 2009, following a critical Supreme Court decision. However, for several years Brazil tried to have the IACHR case declared inadmissible and dismissed.
“In its time before the Commission, the case has brought positive change for the peoples of Raposa,” stated Christine Halvorson of the Rainforest Foundation-US. “However, much must still be done, not the least of which includes the full investigation and bringing to justice of all those who perpetrated violence against the indigenous peoples in Raposa. The government must also modify its laws to ensure that no other indigenous communities will have to suffer again in this way, and be deprived of their lands and other human rights as protected in the national constitution and international law.”
After the Brazilian government and the petitioners submit their final observations and comments, the IACHR will issue a final ruling. If violations are found, the government of Brazil will be given recommendations to remedy the problem. If Brazil does not comply, the Commission may refer the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, which has the power to issue binding decisions and award of monetary compensation. (Rainforest Foundation, Nov. 17)