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The EU should support the defenders of the amazon – CIDSE

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The EU should support the defenders of the amazon

On June 18 and July 5 CIDSE and its member organizations CAFOD and MISEREOR welcomed two delegations of Brazilian partners advocating for the EU to uphold its commitments on behalf of the protection of the Amazon and its peoples. Jose Batista from CPT Marabá (Land Pastoral Commission of Marabá) and Cleber Buzatto and Adriano Karipuna from CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council), shared firsthand information about the realities and pressures faced by local communities and indigenous peoples in two distant corners of the Brazilian Amazon. Such similar drivers and practices put into evidence the systematic nature of the dynamics between corporate abuse and State negligence, fueled by corruption and impunity, that foster the trail of devastation.  

Large areas of Pará State suffer from illegal deforestation, land grabbing and ever-increasing slave labor, mostly due to cattle raising and large-scale farming. Intense conflicts between the government, peasants of the area, indigenous groups, and ranchers over land rights have been exacerbated by the demand for beef from Europe and soya from China among other commodities.   

Pará is a region also rich in mineral resources, it exports aluminum, wood, ores of iron and other metals extracted both through legal and illegal mining. Lack of government oversight and stricter Due Diligence demands from international markets makes it impossible to know how entangled their production is. In addition, the Belo Monte Dam proposed to be built on the Xingu River is an imminent threat to the habitat of a relatively untouched area of Pará’s rainforest, and would endanger several endemic species, ultimately to the detriment of the whole of the rainforest.  

Brazil represents the region’s clearest example of regression on human rights manifested by a security-focused public agenda and hate speech towards HRDs. Major achievements in all realms of human rights in the last twenty years risk being undone by a right-wing, conservative politician.”

Frontline Defenders 2018 Report

 Moreover, domestic political changes going from the dismantling of the Ministry of Environment and the attempts to change the forest code to institute a Rural Land Policy -promoted by land owners and cattle grazers- to the review of the current land demarcation with the purpose of ending Indigenous reservations, are some of the expressions of the rapid deconstruction of environmental and minorities protection policies.

Consequently, the situation of human and environmental rights defenders has dramatically worsened, according to the CPT, 2017 was the deadliest year on record with about 71 killings1. Nevertheless, the EU-Mercosur agreement has been concluded at a time of little to no guaranties for communities defending its territories from the negative impacts of international trade within a regime bare of international binding legislation to protect human and environmental rights.

Similarly, in Rondônia State, the Karipuna Indigenous group face increasing expulsion, loss of their territory and swelling violence2 due to illegal logging and land grabbing – 1300-4000 ha in the last two years by armed invaders, who have been explicitly supported by the current leader of the government Jair Bolsonaro3. Indigenous groups all across Brazil are resisting a new phase of evictions from territories already demarcated. This has been aggravated by recurrent attempts of the Brazilian president to transfer the task of demarcating indigenous lands from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture where the interests of large-scale landowners are powerfully represented4

The environmental impacts of the new government manoeuvrers have also been abysmal. Comparative measurements from June 2018 and 2019 show that there has been an 88% increase in the deforestation of the amazon (approx. 2072,03 km2 of the rainforest)5 and new agro toxics have been found in the soil and water sources directly affecting livelihoods and impacting negatively the health conditions of the communities and the Amazon6. Such tremendous devastation indicates clearly that the Brazilian government is not taking the necessary measures to fulfill the commitments of the Paris Agreement, a condition said to be crucial for the conclusion of the Mercosur Agreement which is yet to be ratified by the Member States but agreed by the EU indistinctly.  

These are extremely threatening and sensitive circumstances for the Indigenous peoples in Brazil protecting their territories and nature. “Non-indigenous prioritization of profit over life and nature results in several types of death, from physical death to the spiritual death of our existence. Indigenous peoples have been resisting for over 500 years and will continue doing so to protect the forest” said the indigenous leader Adriano Karipuna during one of the meetings with EU representatives. 

Approximate location of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation or first contact

Similarly, Lino Joao and Beatriz Huertas from the delegation on Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation of REPAM (Ecclesial Pan Amazonian Network) expressed concerns pertaining particularly to these groups. It is calculated that about 200 peoples in isolation exist in the American continent,7 some estimations indicate that 1508 out of them live in the Amazon region. However, the vast majority of them are not recognized by the national governments, depriving them of protection under judicial and territorial frameworks that specifically establish, for instance, the demarcation of their traditional transboundary territories assuring them the right to exist. Considering that these peoples do not maintain contact, are not in contact with each other and, therefore, they don’t even know the law that protects them, their opportunities for self-defense and the observance of the Precautionary Principle is practically inexistent9. Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, also called Free Peoples, are subject to serious threats, such as deforestation, illegal logging, industrial and artisanal mining, large-scale agriculture, land grabbing resulting in increased pressures over their access to food, water and forcible detachment from their sacred sites among others. Free Peoples have made this decision because of traumatic situations they have experienced and they should be guaranteed the right to self-determination and a dignified existence. 

Following the presentation of the realities they and their communities are facing, the delegates of CPT and CIMI Brazil articulated clear recommendations and requests to the EU to act in support of their struggles by leveraging its position in three areas related to: 

Business and Human Rights 

  • Make European companies accountable to European legislation in their operations overseas and throughout the full extent of their supply and value chains. Hard law on European-wide mandatory Human and Environmental Rights Due Diligence is necessary.
  • Engage constructively on the negotiations for a UN Binding Treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights as a viable instrument to enshrine in international law the primacy of Human Rights and the urgent mechanisms for access to justice and prevention absent in the current Trade and Investment regime.
  • Demand that EU companies do not source their products from suppliers linked to deforestation, land grabbing of native lands or human rights violations. Control mechanisms and procedures shall be as strict as those to fulfill safety and sanitation criteria.
  • In accordance with the promotion of European values demand European Businesses to exert the necessary measures to guarantee that Indigenous peoples are properly consulted and their voice is heard in the negotiations and process.
  • In regards to indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, the expression of ILO 169 is also the recognition of their right to self-determination. Appropriate exercise of the right to consent is to not be contacted and their territories kept preserved for any consideration of an extractive project.

Trade and Investment

If the EU-Mercosur agreement is to go ahead,

  • Demand the primacy of a Human and Environmental Rights clause.
  • Protect the peoples who have protected the forest for centuries by enforcing international legal frameworks such as the Paris Agreement, the EU sustainability Charter and the ILO Convention 169. In complement, support the own economic activities of the indigenous peoples as central part of the implementation and within the European development cooperation frameworks.
  • Strengthen the precautionary clause. As it currently stands it falls insufficient for the challenges of the commercial dynamic. An efficient monitoring system, appropriate participation mechanisms for civil society and indigenous groups, and explicit sanctions are also required.
  • In terms of the specific impact to indigenous peoples, there should be a special clause and mechanism to estimate and address the risks and impacts on indigenous territories.
  • Liability/responsibility clause for the government to guarantee the legality of products imported into the EU and that their origin is not from invaded territories. 

International Politics 

  • Compel the Bolsonaro government to abide by international Human Rights and Environmental protection standards and impose the corresponding sanctions upon failure to comply.
  • Contribute to a multilevel response harnessing the role of the governments, the CSOs, the church and the private sector to end negative impacts of commerce on nature and human rights
  • Support Pope Francis and the synod on the Pan-Amazon regio opening the door to a higher level of protection of the amazon from the church worldwide.
  • Increase international pressure and accountability to the Bolsonaro regime. Call on the Brazilian government to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
  • Amazonian peoples protect the Amazon for all humanity. Support and protect the Amazonian peoples and human and environmental rights organizations defending the region.

Requests for the Synod 

  • CSOs are called to politicize the Instrumento Laboris and emphasize on the church’s responsibility from one jungle/forest to the other.
  • Raise the message of the absolute need to stop destroying the amazon and its peoples as a premise for institutional action within the church.
  • Intra-ecclesiastic relations shall be fostered, Christians of other denominations are majority in the Brazilian amazon, followed by Catholics and not evangelized peoples. The church however has to take a clear and strong stand on the side of the communities and not turn tail to conflicts
  • To give direction to solidarity and support with a perspective to the future after the synod
  • To be the church of the people, our experience shall resonate with their experience, therefore the church should be able to see the devastation consequences of extractive activities in the lives of those most vulnerable.