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Brazilian Indians Gain Right to Live in Isolation

Of the 35 articles of the American Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, three have already been adopted on the American continent, which represents a "major advance," according to Azelene Kaingang, co-president of the Indigenous Peoples’ Conclave for South America.

Two of these articles were approved at the 6th Negotiating Meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), held in Guatemala from October 10-14.

"In more than ten years of discussions, only one article from the declaration was adopted. Managing to get two others adopted in toto is a huge advance," Kaingang declared.

One of the articles deals with indigenous peoples’ right to work. "It is a long article that, besides the guarantees that national laws establish on behalf of workers, provides other specific ones, consistent with their cultures," Kaingang explained. "It is an article that will not return for further discussion."

The other article has to do with the right of indigenous peoples to maintain voluntary isolation or have only preliminary contact. According to Kaingang, this point is very important for Brazil, because there are more than 50 groups in this situation in the country.

"It has to do with nation-states’ protection of the cultures, territories, and physical integrity of peoples and respect for their right to continue living in voluntary isolation or, after a preliminary contact, to have no further contact. States must respect and adopt policies and measures to effectuate this protection," she asserted.

Kaingang recalled that the declaration is in the drafting stage and is not yet ready. The indigenous peoples and nation-states are attempting to reach a consensus over the text, she said. The idea is for it to be ready for the 8th Meeting of the OAS, in March, 2007. "We hope this meeting will be held in Brazil."

Besides these items, the Brazilian representatives at the negotiating round suggested that the article on lands and territories and the one on traditional knowledge and intellectual property be adopted in the original wording at the next meeting, set for Venezuela in March, 2006.

Kaingang recalled that, although the declaration has no legal force in Brazil, it is a document of principles, and the nation-states propose to adopt measures that will give substance to the content.

"It will be another specific, international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples that we will be able to tote under our arms and hold the Brazilian State accountable to those who proposed to adopt the measures," she argued.

The meeting was attended by equal numbers of representatives of nation-states and indigenous peoples: 34 from each side. The Brazilian government was represented by a diplomat from the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the president of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), Mércio Pereira Gomes.

Agência Brasil

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