“The murder of Emrya Wajãpi, leader of the indigenous Wajãpi people, is tragic and reprehensible in its own right. It is also a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil.
The Brazilian Government’s proposed policy to open up more areas of the Amazon to mining could lead to incidents of violence, intimidation and killings of the type inflicted on the Wajãpi people last week.
It is essential that the authorities react quickly and effectively to investigate this incident, and to bring to justice all those responsible in full accordance with the law. Furthermore, effective measures should be taken to save the lives and physical integrity of the Waiãpi people, including through protection of their territory by the authorities.
The protection of indigenous peoples, and the land on which they live, has been an important issue all across the world, not just in Brazil. While some progress has been made in recent years, we have also seen weak enforcement of existing laws and policies, and in some cases the dismantling of existing environmental and indigenous institutional frameworks, as appears now to be the case in Brazil.
I urge the Government of Brazil to act decisively to halt the invasion of indigenous territories and ensure the peaceful exercise of their collective rights to their land. When indigenous people are pushed off their lands, it is not just an economic issue. As the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples* makes clear, it affects their entire way of life.
I call on the Government of Brazil to reconsider its policies towards indigenous peoples and their lands, so that Emrya Wajãpi’s murder does not herald a new wave of violence aimed at scaring people off their ancestral lands and enabling further destruction of the rainforest, with all the scientifically-established ramifications that has for the exacerbation of climate change.”
*The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, used or acquired, as well as their right “not to be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned” (article 10). Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their lands, and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard. Indigenous peoples also have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands. In this regard, they have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands. According to the Declaration, States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. In addition, ILO Convention 169, ratified by Brazil in 2002, also guarantees that, under article 16, “…the peoples concerned shall not be removed from the lands which they occupy… Where the relocation of these peoples is considered necessary as an exceptional measure, such relocation shall take place only with their free and informed consent.”