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Brazil: UN experts deplore attacks by illegal miners on indigenous peoples; alarmed by mercury levels

02 June 2021

GENEVA (2 June 2021) – UN human rights experts* today expressed concerns about a series of attacks, resulting in the deaths of at least two children, by illegal miners in the Munduruku and Yanomami indigenous lands, and called on the Brazilian authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

Miners are intensifying attacks that threaten and intimidate Munduruku indigenous peoples who oppose illegal logging and mining in indigenous territories in southwestern Pará. On 26 May 2021, armed miners invaded the Fazenda Tapajós village, shot at houses, attacked the indigenous community and set fire to the house of the coordinator of the Munduruku Wakoborũn Women’s Association. The Association was previously subjected to several other attacks in March and April 2021.

The Yanomami indigenous peoples have also reported continuing acts of intimidation and shooting attacks against the Palimiú community by illegal miners. Two Yanomami children were later found dead in the Urarucoera River after an armed attack reported in May 2021. Armed miners also shot at seven Federal Police officers, who were investigating violent incidents in the area.

“The Yanomami and Munduruku peoples are highly vulnerable and among the indigenous communities most affected by the pressure from illegal mining in the Amazon,” the UN experts said. Indigenous peoples are calling for effective Federal Police protection of their communities as a collective and also of individual indigenous leaders.

“The Brazilian Government should take immediate measures to protect the safety of Munduruku and Yanomani indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, including women leaders, and conduct investigations into all attacks against Munduruku indigenous peoples, and bring perpetrators to justice,” the experts said.

Concerns have also been raised over mercury contamination on the Amazon indigenous lands. Illegal mining activities and the associated mercury pollution threaten the health, water and food sources of the Munduruku and Yanomami indigenous peoples. Local fish, the main source of protein in the indigenous communities, are contaminated, and unsafe high levels of mercury have been reported among the communities, including in children.

The experts also expressed concerns over a draft bill to regulate mining in indigenous lands. The proposed legislation fails to contain environmental and social safeguards, omits redress for indigenous peoples and does not address social, cultural, or healthcare services.

Scientific research indicates that if turned into law, the proposed bill may affect more than 863,000 sq km of tropical forests and cause major social and environmental degradation, including the loss of biodiversity and extensive deforestation which in turn aggravate global climate change.

“We call on the Government to develop and implement actions to guarantee the environmental protection of indigenous lands, including their natural resources, and provide appropriate healthcare services to indigenous peoples,” the experts said.

The UN experts further emphasised that the Brazilian Government must ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in policy and decision-making processes, as well as their free, prior and informed consent with respect to the draft Bill no. 191/20.


*The experts: Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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