A new attack on indigenous rights in Brazil could have major consequences
Indigenous peoples’ rights are yet again under attack in both Congress and the Supreme Court in Brazil. The consequences could be catastrophic for indigenous peoples, the rainforest and the global climate.
The fight is over a legal thesis claiming that only indigenous peoples who lived on their ancestral lands when Brazil's constitution was adopted in 1988 have rights to these areas. The thesis, called Marco Temporal, means ‘time frame’ and does not take into account that many indigenous peoples were displaced from their territories when the constitution was adopted. Such an interpretation could therefore also impact the areas demarcated as indigenous territories in recent times.
A bill proposing to make this interpretation legally binding was voted through in the lower house of Congress earlier in June and will be considered in the Senate soon. At the same time, the Supreme Court is assessing whether the Marco Temporal thesis is deemed unconstitutional.
"If this becomes law, it will be the most significant setback for indigenous rights in recent times, putting the conservation of the Amazon rainforest at risk. No rainforest areas are better preserved than those managed by indigenous peoples. The future of the Amazon and the world's climate is at stake," says Toerris Jaeger, executive director of Rainforest Foundation Norway.
During the brutal era of the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985), several thousand indigenous people were killed in conflicts or due to invasions and contact with the outside world. Many indigenous communities were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands before the constitution was adopted in 1988, often due to road construction, deforestation, conflicts or government policies. The bill does not take this into account.
Large-scale mobilisation against anti-indigenous forces in Congress
Brazilian President Lula da Silva has made stopping deforestation and strengthening the rights of the country's many indigenous groups a key political project, and he has already started the process of demarcating several indigenous areas. Nevertheless, there is great concern that the controversial bill will be passed, as Lula does not have a majority in Congress.
Marco Temporal is part of Bill 2903, which also opens up indigenous territories for the development of roads and other projects without consultation with affected indigenous groups.
A large-scale mobilisation is now taking place in Brazil and internationally to ensure that indigenous people's rights are not undermined and that the politically strong deforestation sector is not given free rein to access indigenous areas and destroy more of the rainforest.
An international coalition of environmental and human rights organisations that includes Rainforest Foundation Norway has asked the UN's special rapporteur for human rights to get involved in the case. Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo have shown their support.
"Everyone who has influence in Brazil needs to raise their voice now to prevent this law from being passed. We especially ask Norwegian parliamentarians to actively make contact with their Brazilian counterparts. The world's largest rainforest and their guardians are at stake," says Tørris Jæger, executive director of Rainforest Foundation Norway