Indigenous Peoples

Kawahiva indigenous tribe wins battle against illegal logging in Brazil

Brazil will demarcate Kawahiva territories in order to protect indigenous people’s right to land in Amazonia.

Protected areas to safeguard the Kawahiva people – one of the uncontacted indigenous tribes of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state – from the risk of extinction. These will be created according to a decree issued last month by Brazil’s recently appointed Minister of Justice Eugênio Aragão.

illegal logging
Wood cleared by illegal loggers © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Survival International’s campaign

This decision came after months of campaigning by indigenous rights protection NGO Survival International. The aim was to sensitise public opinion on the exploitation of Kawahiva territories and the human rights abuses faced by them.

The threat of illegal logging

Illegal logging is the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national law. This phenomenon occurs even in protected areas and is fuelled by the increasing international demand for timber, paper and their derivative products.

The Kawahiva are endangered by illegal logging practices and other external menaces to their ancestral territory. These are compromising their right to land and self-determination. Over the years, the tribe has been forced to live on the run, escaping from loggers and ranchers’ attacks aimed at stealing their land and resources. This has amounted to a genocide targeting the community, according to Survival. Outsiders also affect indigenous people’s health by introducing diseases like flu and measles against which the Kawahiva, an uncontacted tribe, have not developed immune defences.

illegal loggers
Scouring the Amazon jungle to seek out illegal loggers © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Land for the Kawahivas

The Brazilian government’s decision will implicate a demarcation of their territory, officially recognising it as a “protected indigenous area”.  In the next few months, FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Department, will establish the limits of the indigenous territory and establish how many funds and field workers will be designated to protecting it.

Stop Brazil’s Genocide

Survival International played a key role in mobilising international public opinion and putting pressure on the Brazilian government. The campaign was launched last October and fronted by Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance. More than 14,000 emails were sent to Aragão.

A few months before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Survival also inaugurated the Stop Brazil’s Genocide campaign. This is aimed at preventing the annihilation of the country’s tribal peoples and stopping PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would seriously undermine indigenous land rights. It would delegate the Brazilian Congress the duty of demarcating indigenous territories, as well prohibiting the expansion of already existing indigenous areas.

felled tree
A felled tree on a construction site © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Brazil’s duty to protect indigenous rights

States have the duty to protect human rights from abuses at the hands of companies and private interests, according to the 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They must adopt appropriate measures “to prevent, investigate but also punish and redress such abuses through effective policies legislations, regulations and adjudication”.

In Brazil, there are about 100 uncontacted indigenous tribes. Brazilian authorities’ commitment will be fundamental to safeguarding them and ensuring permanent protection of their land.

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