Despite some advances in their conditions and the Government's commitment to improve their situation Brazil's indigenous peoples still struggle to exercise real control over their lives and lands. This according to a United Nations human rights expert wrapping up a 12-day visit to that country.
S. James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, said in a statement that indigenous people in Brazil are likely to be poor, to endure low health and education standards and to face discrimination that sometimes results in violence.
While the Government has promised to advance indigenous rights in line with the recently struck UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and with national constitutional protections, a significant part of Brazilian society opposes Government policies that try to respond to the aspirations of indigenous peoples.
"Reforms are needed to ensure that indigenous peoples are better able to exercise their right of self-determination within the framework of a Brazilian State that is respectful of diversity," he said.
"It is evident that indigenous peoples frequently do not control the decisions that affect their everyday lives and their lands, even when their lands have been officially demarcated and registered, because of invasions and mining by outsiders and other factors."
During his official visit, Anaya met with senior Government officials, human rights experts and with representatives of indigenous groups and civil society organizations and toured various areas in the states of Amazonas, Roraima and Mato Grosso do Sul, which have large indigenous populations.
The Special Rapporteur found that while indigenous communities have some input into the delivery of services to them by government agencies, they do not have adequate control and sometimes suffer from paternalistic attitudes from government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"While culturally rich, indigenous peoples remain impoverished economically, without sufficient power or opportunities to develop on a sustainable basis, are continually suffocated by discrimination."
Health and education standards remain poor at best, especially for indigenous women and children, while Mr. Anaya said he also heard of persistent discrimination and "alarming accounts" of violence against indigenous individuals – particularly their most vocal leaders.
He added that a mechanism is missing for ensuring indigenous groups are adequately consulted on major development projects, such as the construction of highways, hydro-electric dams and large mines, that lie outside their lands but still affect them.
More broadly, too many Brazilians are unaware of the rights of indigenous peoples, even when they have been enshrined in the national constitution.
"A national campaign of education on indigenous issues and respect for diversity, guided by the Government in partnership with indigenous peoples, and with the support of the news media, would likely help build bridges of mutual understanding," Anaya concluded.
The Special Rapporteur, who assumed his post in May this year, serves in an unpaid and independent capacity and reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.