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Brazil: UN human rights expert appeals that Supreme Court must uphold indigenous land rights

A UN human rights expert called on the Brazilian Supreme Court to secure the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and to reject a legal argument being promoted by some businesses that want to exploit natural resources on traditional indigenous lands. Brazil is in the process of examining 237 Indigenous lands for demarcation. Under Brazilian law, demarcation sets out clearly what land belongs to indigenous peoples, and provides them with secure collective legal rights over that land. Many demarcation requests have been pending for decades. The bill expressly states that its provisions would apply to all those cases, which could delay them even more or impede demarcation altogether.

“Acceptance of this argument would result in significant denial of justice for many indigenous peoples seeking the recognition of their traditional land rights, and under the Constitution indigenous peoples are entitled to the permanent possession of the lands they traditionally occupy,” said Francisco Cali Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Special Rapporteur affirmed that it is vital that the Supreme Court – and all public institutions and authorities – abide by legal standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

Meanwhile, the NGO Human Rights Watch stressed the importance for indigenous peoples to reclaim their right to land, appealing to the Brazilian government to reject the bill that would prevent indigenous peoples from obtaining legal recognition of their lands. Human Rights Watch also points out that the Constitution recognises the right of indigenous people to the land they historically occupy, without time limits.