Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, a Brazilian Indian shaman from the Yanomami people, delivered a letter this Wednesday, October 17, to the British government calling on the UK to ratify ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention 169, the key international law on tribal peoples.
In the letter Davi says, "Yanomami land in Brazil is threatened by loggers, miners and ranching. My people are suffering and our survival is threatened at every moment. But this international law could protect us.
"Our own country has signed the convention, but we are very unhappy that other countries, such as yours, have not. The more countries that ratify it, the more weight it will have in international law, and the more we can rely on it to protect our lands and our people.
"I have heard that your government does not want to sign the convention because there are no indigenous people in the United Kingdom. But indigenous people in other countries can still be affected by development projects funded by the UK. British businesses working in other countries must also be encouraged to abide by ILO 169.
"It is therefore essential for indigenous peoples such as the Yanomami that your government ratifies ILO 169. I ask you to support the millions of others like us around the world by agreeing that our rights are important and signing the convention."
ILO Convention 169 is the most important international law on tribal peoples. It recognizes their land ownership rights and says they should be consulted on developments that affect them. Unlike the recently-adopted UN Declaration on indigenous peoples, ILO 169 is legally binding on governments that have ratified it.
Davi, winner of the UN Global 500 award, went to London with his son to launch a new report by Survival (an international organization that supports the human rights of tribal peoples) about the crisis in indigenous peoples" health.
The report "Progress can kill" details for the first time how separation from their lands leads to the physical and mental breakdown of tribal peoples.
The Yanomami leader will also travel to Germany to talk to senior politicians there.
Speaking about the desperate health situation of his people, Davi argues that the only way to save the rainforest is to save the Indians, by recognizing their land rights:
"You napí«pí« (whites) talk about what you call "development" and tell us to become the same as you. But we know that this brings only disease and death. Now you want to buy pieces of rainforest, or to plant biofuels. These are useless.
"The forest cannot be bought; it is our life and we have always protected it. Without the forest, there is only sickness, and without us, it is dead land. The time has come for you to start listening to us. Give us back our lands and our health before it's too late for us and too late for you."
Growing concern about global warming has led to an increase in organizations buying up areas of rainforest, often claiming that it can help offset carbon emissions. One of the best known is Mayfair-based Cool Earth, set up by millionaire businessman Johan Eliasch and MP Frank Field. It urges the public to "protect an acre" for about US$ 140 and would like it to believe that this will help contribute to "saving the world".
But new research from Survival reveals that more than 162 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest have already been secured – through their protection as indigenous territories. This is over 15,000 times more rainforest than is involved in the Cool Earth scheme.
Research by Brazilian and US scientists shows that the most effective way to stop logging in the Amazon is to protect Indian lands, which occupy one fifth of the Brazilian Amazon. But the lands of many tribes remain unprotected.