Sixty one indigenous people from Brazil and other Latin American countries met in BrasÀlia last week to discuss how the definitions set out in the US Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights can be adopted by the Brazilian State. Representatives of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Branches were invited to participate in the discussions.
According to Conceição Pitaguary, from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples from the Northeast region, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santos (Apoinme), one of the main challenges involved in implementing the Declaration in Brazil is disseminating the information contained in it to indigenous communities.
On February 12, a book called Um olhar Indígena sobre a Declaração das Nações Unidas (An Indigenous perspective on the UN Declaration) was launched for this purpose.
The book is a Portuguese version of the document with texts that explain the meaning of the articles contained in the Declaration. In addition, indigenous people expect to hold regional meetings for discussing and better understanding the Declaration. They will also use the Declaration as a benchmark in discussions on the Statute of Indigenous Peoples.
"Make sure that the Declaration will become a law, as in Bolivia, and that it will be complied with," stressed Jecinaldo Sateré Mawé, from the Coordinating Board of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon Region (Coiab), when he delivered a copy of the book to representatives from the State who attended the event.
Senator Fátima Cleide (Workers' Party-State of Roraima) pledged to request a public hearing at the Senate with the aim of discussing the contents of the Declaration with other senators.
Manual Castilho, secretary-general of the presidency of the Supreme Federal Court, will propose to the court that the Declaration's contents should be more widely disseminated within the Judiciary Branch.
"There are some judges who still don't recognize ILO's [International Labor Organization] Convention 169 as a law; we want the Declaration's contents to be seen as a right of ours," reinforced Sandro Tuxá, from Apoinme.
Indigenous people who attended the event complained about the absence of representatives of the Executive Branch in the discussions and in considering their proposals. They registered this absence and demanded more respect for indigenous peoples in the final letter of the meeting.
In different countries of Latin America, those who are against the Declaration have been arguing that it is not an actual law and that it is not binding.
"The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is not binding either, but it is the mother of many laws throughout the world," recalled Juan Leon Alvarado, from the Maya-Quiché people, who is the ambassador of Guatemala to Ecuador and former president of the OAS Committee which is discussing the American Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights.
The event was organized by Apoinme, by the Coordinating Board of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon Region (Coiab), by the Indigenous Council of Roraima (Cir), and by the Warã Institute.
The Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights was approved on September 13, 2007 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, after 20 years of discussions between the countries and much pressure from indigenous peoples.
It addresses the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination; their right to a land of their own, to their territories and natural resources; to prior, free and informed consent; to the non-written rules which govern the life of indigenous communities internally; to intellectual property.