Brown urged to ratify convention protecting tribal ownership of land

By staff writers
October 25, 2007

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been urged to ratify an international convention to protect tribal ownership of land.

He was presented with a letter by the president of a Brazil partner to the Catholic Aid Agency CAFOD, urging him to take action.

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, president of CAFOD partner Hutukara, was on a visit to the UK to highlight the plight of the Yanomami people and ask the UK government to ratify an international convention (ILO169), which seeks to protect tribal ownership of land.

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 ILO169.

"It is therefore essential for indigenous peoples such as the Yanomami that your government ratifies ILO169.

"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."

Davi, who handed this to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his visit to London which was organised by Survival International, also urged the global community to put pressure on the Brazilian government to make good on pledges to protect the Yanomami.

Indigenous lands occupy one-fifth of the Brazilian Amazon, but the lands of many tribes remain unprotected. Protecting such territory in the Amazon is essential for the global response to climate change, as research has shown that indigenous land provides greater biodiversity and decreased logging of the Amazon.

The Brazilian congress is currently debating a draft bill that, if approved, will legalise large-scale mining on indigenous lands. Yanomami land holds what is thought to be one of the world’s richest mineral deposits.

Hutukara (meaning "the part of the sky from which the earth is born") says increased mining will have devastating effects on the people and the environment of the Amazon.

Davi says 600 miners have already entered protected lands, and more are arriving every week bringing diseases such as flu, and malaria (to which the Yanomami have no resistance), as well as alcohol, drugs and prostitution.

Davi recently confronted Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, at a conference, and says: “I looked into his eyes and said 'Yanomami don’t want mining in indigenous lands. The machine which digs the hole will damage the lungs of the earth and leave the whole world bleeding'."

He adds: "The Brazilian government has a duty - it promised to protect the Yanomami, to protect our environment and nature, and to preserve our culture and our language.

"This is important for everybody, for the white people, for the Indians and for future generations."

Keywords:mining | brazil
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