Latin America / Cooperación internacional

The invisibility of the human rights of indigenous communities

27 April 2021
Comunidades Indígenas

It is estimated that around 360 million people in more than 70 countries around the world belong to indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. This represents 6,5% of the world population, who are from more than 5,000 indigenous peoples covering 22% of the earth’s surface. It is estimated that they represent 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.

EL PAcCTO, in its fight against transnational organised crime, has found that indigenous communities are on the front line when it comes to environmental crimes as they suffer them on a daily basis, as well as the effects of climate change. Deforestation of their lands has been a fact for decades. Organised groups appropriate the assets and the natural resources found there.

Which is why we have sponsored studies of specific cases in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. In their conclusions, the experts show that the activities of criminal organisations on land belonging to indigenous communities have increased pollution and caused problems affecting biodiversity. These crimes have also had a negative impact on the life and normal functioning of the communities. They are forcibly displaced to escape violence, the disappearance of family members and kidnappings; and they must tolerate crimes such as illegal mining, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, logging and human trafficking.

During the presentation of these studies, it was highlighted that organised crime is motivated by profit and the exploitation of indigenous communities and the natural wealth of the lands they occupy. They are used to exploit and traffic their resources. Drug trafficking is the crime with the greatest impact on the indigenous peoples’ normal way of life.

The situation in Mexico

In Mexico, the indigenous population represents between 8% and 10% of the country’s population. Of these, 70% are below the average level of development, and their economic, health, educational and cultural development is critically low. Crimes in Mexico are becoming increasingly diversified throughout the territory. Drug trafficking in the north of the country, drug cultivation in the west, human trafficking and arms trafficking in the south of the country… all of them cause forced displacement, homicides, isolation and marginalisation that blight the lives and development of indigenous communities.

The expert responsible for the research highlighted a lack of attention from the three levels of government to protecting and providing security by means of efficient public policies to protect these communities and their lands.

The situation in Mexico is complicated by its geographical location. The border it shares with the United States facilitates drug abuse and arms trafficking. This strengthens the groups, helping them to become well established and allowing them to expand their territory.

The situation in Brazil

It is a known fact that deforestation occurs before all the other crimes carried out by criminal organisations and that in 2020 deforestation in Brazil reached the highest levels in a decade. The economic situation and illegal immigration aggravate the situation.

In the Amazon, illegal mining causes serious problems because of the use of heavy machinery and chemical and toxic substances. This has caused the destruction of hundreds of hectares of land and polluted rivers.  Crimes such as poaching protected species and wildlife trafficking hinder the proper development of the habitat surrounding each of the different existing communities.

Drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal logging, illegal mining, land grabbing, violence and the falsification of documents, corruption and money laundering are crimes that seriously affect the entire region and its indigenous peoples. On the other hand, there are no studies that show the activities of criminal groups in indigenous communities and their impact.

The increase in the cultivation of marijuana in certain border lands has also been highlighted with a broad expansion of drug trafficking routes in which a minority of indigenous men participate by becoming traffickers, resulting in prejudice against and stigmatisation of the community.

Human rights and gender violence

Human rights violations is a problem among indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Examples of these are assassinations of leaders, impunity and gender violence against indigenous women who are discriminated against for being women, poor and indigenous. This makes them more vulnerable and more likely to fall into human trafficking and smuggling networks, and to become victims of gender-based violence.

The lack of adequate legal tools means that all these crimes and abuses are on the rise and that women, who are the main voices in the struggle, are subdued and silenced by the criminal groups.

Joint action by governments

According to the expert researcher from Brazil, since governments are neglecting the indigenous problem, in some cases forest stewards are leading self-defence initiatives that are in the government’s purview, forming community police and confronting organised groups that often result in loss of life and community isolation.

It is essential to address the disruption caused to the normal development of Mother Earth and these indigenous communities on all fronts, not only in the area of security and justice but also to alleviate the vulnerable situation of these communities. Both the governments that share territories with affected communities and society, in collaboration with institutions, must join forces and take action to reverse the current situation. They must implement rigorous public policies and community strategies aimed at reinforcing the sense of belonging of these communities that cut through the red tape holding back cross-border cooperation.

The permanent presence of the states is demanded in areas that have now recovered from organised crime, because the criminals return and take back the land that has already been deforested, once again affecting the life of these communities. According to the expert researcher, Brazil is suffering a serious weakening of control orders, which are not adequately focused on finding solutions such as environmental control or fighting against crime.

The EL PAcCTO programme will continue to fight against large criminal groups and will work so that more countries on this continent add their efforts and continue to raise awareness of the problem among governments and societies. It is currently working with Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru to identify the impact of organised crime on indigenous communities in these countries. It is expected to be able to carry out specific activities in this regard in 2021 and 2022.