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Guarani and Kaiowá tekohá steps into the IACHR

Guarani and Kaiowá leaders from Brazil and supporting organizations will attend the 159th period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stand up for their right to ancestral territory, also known as tekohá.

After recently overcoming the most critical financial crises in history, the IAHRC will hold its next ordinary session in Panama from November 29th to December 7th to further the Commission’s work in the promotion and protection of human rights in the American hemisphere. IACHR interventions and jurisprudence around the strong connection between the right to ancestral territory and cultural identity are of the largest and most influential at international level, and have even inspired similar developments within the African human rights system. As a matter of fact, indigenous peoples’ movements in the Americas have frequently turned to the IACHR to pursue their fight against long standing historical discrimination. 

Hopes on IACHR for right to Tekohá

The situation the Guarani and Kaiowá have been facing, of increasing violence and criminalization, is not new for the IACHR. While the case has been brought to their attention on several occasions, the Commission has noted with concern that the “State of Mato Grosso do Sul has the highest murder rate of indigenous leaders in the country” and has requested Brazil to adopt protection measures and conduct a thorough investigation into cases of violence. 

To this effect, Guarani and Kaiowá leaders (Consejo del Aty Guasu), as well as supporting organizations, will travel to Panama city to attend the sessions and participate in a series of advocacy activities. They will stand up for their right to ancestral lands, where basic resources for feeding themselves, living in dignity and cultural identity are inseparable. These are crucial aspects required, for the right to food and nutrition be fully accomplished.  In some communities more than 82% of children younger than five years old live in households facing either moderate or serious food insecurity, food shortages and hunger.

The tekohá is the physical place – including land, jungle, fields, watercourses, plants and remedies – where the Guarani and Kaiowá way of life develops. The term refers to the strong connection between cultural identity and ancestral territory. The prefix teko represents a series of norms and customs of the community, while the suffix ha has a connotation of place. Both need each other to exist.

The fronts of the struggle

The Guarani and Kaiowá have been fighting for the access to and control over their territories for decades. More specifically, the 50.000-community has requested the State to implement the demarcation and homologation of indigenous territories, complying with the Brazilian Constitution (particularly, Articles 231 and 232) and the Decree 1775/96, which boosts the protection of human rights of indigenous peoples and the natural environment throughout the country.

In addition and, despite existing provisions, Brazil undergoes political and legal processes that have the potential to violate indigenous human rights. The Proposed Amendment to the Constitution no 215 of 2000, known as “PEC 215”, proposes that the demarcation of indigenous territories should be transferred from the Executive Power to the Legislative Power (National Congress). This change might not seem threatening at first sight but, the truth is, if the PEC is approved, the right to indigenous lands would be entirely conditional on the political majority in Parliament, which rather prioritizes the interests of agribusiness and large landowners.  By the same token, controversial interpretations of the so-called Marco Temporal on the indigenous peoples’ right to territory are also on the table.

And with increasing violence in Mato Grosso do Sul against indigenous peoples, there is a need for independent, proper and trustful investigations into crimes against the Guarani and Kaiowá. According to CIMI, in 2007, 92 Guarani and Kaiowá indigenous leaders were murdered. This number has been increasing throughout the last years, reaching a peak of 138 killings in 2014. Currently, Mato Grosso do Sul accounts for the highest number of deaths of indigenous peoples in Brazil. With the current political turmoil in the country, their rights are even at higher risk.

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