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‘Legislated genocide’: Brazil’s new bill restricting recognition of tribal land

sparks massive protests

Law will be devastating for indigenous rights, increase illegal deforestation, biodiversity loss, violence against forest dwellers, say experts

[Photo for representation: iStock]

Protests by tribal people have erupted across Brazil as the country’s Chamber of Deputies approved a new land bill May 30, 2023 that will restrict the new recognition of ancestral land of indigenous people.


A major highway to Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city and industrial centre, was blocked by hundreds of demonstrators from the Guarani tribe ahead of the development, news agency Associated Press (AP) reported. The protesters sang songs and slogans, while some burnt tyres, as people stranded for hours in a long traffic tailback. With the approval of Bill 490 by 283 votes to 155, tension continues to simmer.


According to the new law, tribal people can get recognition only for land they have been occupying since before the constitution of the country came into effect in 1988.


This change in titling rules will make the tribal communities vulnerable to land sharks who will find it easier to divert forest land for natural resource exploration and mining, experts said. This will threaten their lives and livelihoods.


It will also increase illegal deforestation, habitat loss and violence against forest dwellers.


Also, there was no prior consultation before its passage, noted Amazon Watch, a California-based non-profit that works on the protection of rainforests and tribal rights.


This development comes at a time when the rights and wellbeing of indigenous communities has taken centre stage at recent global climate and health conferences.


The contentious bill has also been criticised by the global community who have expressed solidarity with the affected tribes of Brazil.


The indigenous people have been expelled from their traditional territories in the past as well, community leaders and activists told AP.


“The right to territory is a fundamental Indigenous right, and therefore this bill violates not only the Brazilian Federal Constitution but also international standards such as the International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the organisation said in a press statement.


The indigenous people are the sentinels of the natural environment. Some 300 different ethnic groups live on 730 territories that they consider ancestral lands, mainly in the Amazon rainforest, according to a report by news agency Reuters.


Removing them from territories will also pose a direct threat to the Amazon rainforest and other biomes, which they protect, according to researchers with Amazon Watch.


The environmental policies of former Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro were criticised to be devastating for the rich ecology of the country. The election of leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2022 made conservators and climate change activists across the world hopeful of change because environmental protection was a part of his agenda.


After coming to power, Lula lived up to his promise and appointed activists who have been at the forefront of the fight for environmental conservation and human rights as ministers. He also formed a new ministry for indigenous people, with tribal rights leader Sonia Guajajara as the head.


The latest regulation, however, received the strong backing of conservative representatives.


Tribal land needs to be recorgnised and demarcated for Brazil to meet its climate goals and commitments to protect the rights of indigenous people, Guajajara told the media, criticising the new law. Otherwise, the country’s economy will also be affected, she added.


The Associations of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples in their official statement reinforced that “the fight continues” and that the mobilisations of the indigenous movement against this anti-indigenous proposal will continue in the senate, according to Amazon Watch.


Outraged experts have termed this move by the Brazil congress as “legislated genocide” and called its agenda “ecocidal”.

 

(c) 2023, DownToEarth


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