Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Brazil blocks Indigenous activist from UN Permanent Forum

Brazil has blocked an outspoken indigenous advocate from attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where she was set to present her criticism of the controversial Bello Monte Dam hydroelectric project in Brazil at an event co-sponsored by UNPO.

Confronted on all sides by criticism and legal challenges to its Belo Monte dam project, Brazil has now blocked a human rights advocate from attending a United Nations conference on indigenous issues. It had recently come to Brazil’s attention that the indigenous activist Azelene Kaingáng would be attending the meeting and was expected to address Brazil’s legal missteps surrounding the hugely controversial hydroelectric project at a side event.
Stand in Line to Criticize
Most recently, the human rights body at the Organization of American States joined the chorus of critics when it asked Brazil to suspend its Belo Monte project until it had engaged in appropriate consultations as required by international standards, with the relevant documents translated into indigenous languages, and had taken specific steps to protect affected indigenous peoples. But similar criticisms have been coming from a variety of sources, some of them from within Brazil’s own bureaucracy.
Less than a year ago, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, made very similar allegations in an official report. Seemingly at each step in the licensing process criticism has come from one or another of Brazil’s agencies, IBAMA (Brazil’s Institute for Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources) or FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), or in the form of a lawsuit filed by a federal prosecutor (ten such have been initiated). Two presidents of IBAMA have even resigned, citing overwhelming pressure from higher-ups to expedite Belo Monte in spite of various legal concerns.
Shutting Down a Knowledgeable Indigenous Voice
Ms. Kaingáng, a sociologist by training, has been a Brazilian civil servant for over two decades and is currently employed by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Ms. Kaintáng is also herself indigenous and is, independently, an advocate for indigenous human rights who has participated in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues regularly since its establishment some 10 years ago. Although she is currently employed by FUNAI, Ms. Kaingáng would have been participating in the Forum as an independent advocate.
Ms. Kaingáng co-chaired the Indigenous Caucus at OAS negotiations on its draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until quite recently, and is exceedingly knowledgeable about the protections of indigenous rights as delineated in international instruments — from the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation and the Organization of American States — and as enumerated in Brazil’s national legislation and its 1988 constitution.
The side event where Ms. Kaingáng was scheduled to speak about Brazil’s problems surrounding Belo Monte will be on mining, dams and energy and the violation of indigenous rights. It is being co-sponsored by two non-governmental organizations, the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). Perhaps Brazil feels it has had enough criticism. Perhaps it particularly dreads a critical voice that is unusually independent, outspoken, knowledgeable and is indigenous and Brazilian to boot. And so, the day before Ms. Kaingáng was to leave for New York, she was informed that she would not be allowed to go.
None of the criticisms or various legal measures have resulted in any slow-down or pause in Belo Monte’s progress. It seems not even to understand what the fuss is about. On its own website, Brazil describes its reaction to the OAS human rights commission request to suspend Belo Monte as one of astonishment. And in response to that request, say headlines in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has cut off relations with the commission and has recalled Brazil’s ambassador to the OAS, Ruy Casaes.
On the other hand, a growing chorus of critics of Brazil’s behavior, concerning other hydroelectric projects as well as Belo Monte — 70 large dams are planned for the Amazon basin — have been comparing today’s government to the military dictatorship from decades past. Interestingly, Brazil’s environmental legislation was initially enacted during that dictatorship, and was later included in the Democratic Constitution of 1988.
Held during the 10th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, this event will address contentious issues surrounding the development of energy resources in indigenous regions. photo courtesy of Rebecca Sommer
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
13:00 – 15:00
777 United Nations Plaza, 2nd Floor
New York, NY

The extraction of global resources has grown more or less steadily over the past 25 years. The expanding population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, is increasing demand for food, water, energy and land. The effect of the increasing use of these resources on the earth’s climate and environment is a frequent topic of discussion in spaces ranging from the centers of international power to popular media outlets. However, the affect of the development and extraction of valuable resources on the lives of indigenous peoples in many regions of the world is frequently absent from such conversations.
In the context of indigenous populations’ “systemic exclusion from political and economic power,” (State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2010) how can indigenous people assert their rights? This event will highlight some of the major issues facing indigenous populations attempting to assert their rights in the natural resource development process. It will explore the reasons why these actions are so frequently unsuccessful, and attempt to outline what can be done to ensure that governments and corporations meet their obligation to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.
Jill K. Carino, Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice-Chairperson for External Affairs, will speak on the experience of the indigenous Ibaloi and Kankanaey people of Benguet province, Cordillera Region Philippines with mining and dam projects, which have had serious impacts on the land and water of the people.
Karim Abdian, Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization will be discussing the exploitation of the vast oil resources of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) province by the Iranian regime. While Ahwazi ancestral lands produce over 4.5 million barrels of oil daily- 90% of total Iranian oil production- indigenous Ahwazi-Arabs live in abject poverty and receive no part of the billions of dollars in annual revenue generated by this resource.
Hector Huertas of the National Union of Indigenous Lawyers of Panama (Kuna Yala), will discuss international complaint procedures with a particular focus on the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN system. Mr. Huertas is also President of the OAS Indigenous Caucus.
Ms. Azelene Kaingang was also scheduled to take part in the event, presenting the case of indigenous resistance to Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam. However, Brazil has now blocked this prominent human rights advocate from attending the UNPFII. Ms. Kaingang was "expected to address Brazil’s legal missteps surrounding the hugely controversial hydroelectric project" (Earth Peoples “Brazil Bars a Critic from UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues”).

"The Right to Water and Indigenous Peoples" Photo Exhibit at UN
Photo by Wayne Quilliam, Australian Aboriginal photographer
An exhibition entitled “The Right to Water and Indigenous Peoples” will open with a cultural event and reception on Tuesday, 17 May, at 6:30 p.m. in the Main Gallery of the Visitors Lobby, at United Nations Headquarters, marking the tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The exhibit showcases photographs, films and a full-sized watercraft, which convey indigenous peoples’ relationship with waters, lands and resources for their cultural vitality and resilience, as well as their social and economic well-being. It includes contributions from indigenous artists worldwide, as well as indigenous individuals and organizations actively involved in promoting indigenous rights at the national and international levels.
The Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reached out to the indigenous community to submit photographs on the theme of indigenous peoples’ right to water, to give indigenous photographers and artists an opportunity to exhibit their work during the Permanent Forum’s session. Out of the 140 photographs received, a total of 56 from 25 indigenous individuals and four indigenous organizations were selected for display in the exhibition.
Wayne Quilliam, one of Australia’s most respected indigenous photographic artists, is featured in the exhibit. Other artists whose works will be on display include Brian Adamd ( United States), Ina Hume ( Bangladesh), Troy Donovan Hunter ( Canada) and David Hernandez Palmar ( Venezuela).
Also featured in the exhibit are two short films from the National Geographic “All Roads Film Project” and a full-sized seal-skin boat called an “umiak”, which is on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The exhibition and cultural event are organized by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Public Information, and the NGO Committee on the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
For more information about the Permanent Forum, please see contact Broddi Sigurdarson, tel.: 917 367 2106, e-mail:; or Sonia Smallacombe, tel.: 917 367 5066, e-mail:
For more information on United Nations exhibits, please contact Jan Arnesen, tel.: 212 963 8531, e-mail:; or Liza Wichmann, tel.: 212 963 0089, e-mail:
All are invited to participate in this event which includes the presentation of three short films, dialogue on the condition of sacred water, earth and health, and presentations by Indigenous activists and our allies regarding environmental impacts caused by mining corporations to the Lakota Oyate and all human beings, water, air, land, and sacred life.
This is not an INDIGENOUS issue - it's everyone's issue. We need your voice, your energy, your thoughts.
Thursday May 19th, 2011 @ 7:00 p.m., Bluestockings Book Store, 172 Allen Street, 212-777-6028
They are 1 block south of the F train’s 2nd Avenue stop and just 5 blocks from the JMZ-line’s Essex / Delancey Street stop. From the United Nations walk to 50th Street & 2nd Avenue. Take the M15 Bus and get off at East Houston & Allen Street. Ask the Bus Driver to say "when." It's about a 20 minute ride through the East side and a very good way to see that part of the City.
Owe Aku International Justice Project
Kent Lebsock or Debra White Plume

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