Indigenous community seeks justice after nearly 40 years of human rights violations

The indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá community of Brazil has not had access to their ancestral land since the 1970s. The case is being heard before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights this month.

The most populous indigenous community of Brazil has continuously been forced out of their ancestral land. An estimated 30,000 Guarani-Kaiowá people now live in less than one percent of their original territory, according to FIAN International reports.

Beginning in the 1970s, and continuing ever since, the indigenous people of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil have been victims of land grabbing due to soy and sugar cane monocultures. Land grabbing is a human rights violation, and a common tool of colonization used against indigenous people.

Photo: FIAN Internatioal, Mark Erminio
The coffin carrying the body of Semião Vilhalva is delivered to the community.

Despite efforts from international groups, the Guarani-Kaiowá have continued to suffer for nearly four decades.

Most recently, after they endured yet another forced eviction, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case this month.

Without access to their land it is impossible for the Guarani-Kaiowá to feed themselves. The infant mortality rate is twice as high for Guarani-Kaiowá people compared to the national average, and the average expectancy is 45 years for Guarani-Kaiowá and 74 for the national average, according to FIAN International reports.

Human rights violations against indigenous people are not uncommon. Considering the violations the Standing Rock community will face if the Dakota Access Pipe is built, people in the U.S. are now confronted with the realities indigenous people face everyday.

Sascha Scott, an art historian and member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies faculty at Syracuse University, consults with indigenous groups who reside in the continental U.S. She said while there are distinct differences in cultural identity among groups in North and South America, the violations of their rights are committed and ignored in similar ways.

"There is a long history of dominant societies in North and South America failing to acknowledge human rights violations of indigenous people,” she said. “This is an issue in the U.S. that is directly related to a lack of education about the darker sides history.

"School kids are taught that pioneers 'settled' the West, a narrative that elides the government’s culpability in the violence and oppression indigenous people endure as a result of the pursuit of resources and land."

Indigenous people are defined internationally by having a specific set of rights based on historical and cultural ties to territory.

"Even if people have some idea these spaces were taken immorally, many think that it happened so long ago that Native people should just 'get over it,' " Scott said.

Indigenous communities continue to depend on their land for food, so when they are displaced they often face hunger, malnutrition and extreme illness. While legal protections exist, violations made by corporations and development projects go unpunished.

While the Brazilian government agreed back in 2007, to preserve and protect 36 different plots of land to the Guarani-Kaiowá, this was never fulfilled and violations have only increased. In fact federally-enforced evictions have taken place in 1990, 1999, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2014 and most recently in August of 2016.

Following the eviction several months ago, FIAN International released a statement saying, "The eviction infringes upon article 231 of Brazil's Constitution blatantly and implies a breas vis-a-vis the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and this situation requires immediate reaction of the UN authorities in order to demand the Brazilian state to comply with its human rights." 

The Inter-American Court of Human rights is hearing the case month in Panama.

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