Human Rights and Resource Conflicts in the Amazon
The Amazon comprises the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the world. Numerous indigenous peoples have traditionally inhabited this region, and 25 percent of its total land area is formally recognised as indigenous territories. Such territories are an effective means of protecting the forest. Deforestation and problems related to illegal logging have a lower incidence in indigenous territories than other areas, including protected areas.
The rainforest and the indigenous territories are rich in natural resources such as timber, water, oil and gas, gold, and other minerals. The high price of energy and raw materials ensures that these resources are in high demand. Current developments in the Amazon are characterised by intensive natural resource exploitation and heavy investment in infrastructure development, to a large extent coordinated on a regional basis. The intensified hunt for resources is leading to increased pressure on the land, territories and way of life of native peoples. Their right to participation in decision-making processes on the adoption of measures that directly impact on their living conditions is constantly being challenged, and reports of heightened violence against human rights defenders gives great cause for alarm. At the same time, many small-scale conflicts such as those arising from illegal logging and gold mining persist. The aggregate scope of these conflicts is placing massive pressure on indigenous peoples and their lands, as well as on organisations and individuals working to safeguard human rights and the environment.
All of the Amazon states acknowledge that indigenous peoples inhabit their territories, and that these have distinct rights. Most of the states have signed and ratified the fundamental human rights conventions, as well as international agreements on indigenous rights, such as the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There has also been progress on the national level regarding the development of the legislative framework for the protection of indigenous peoples and their rights to land and to self-determination. On paper, then, native peoples have seen important progress over the last decades.
In reality, the situation is a different one. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders reports that human rights defenders working on land and environmental issues in the Americas are more exposed to physical attacks than those in other parts of the world. Many activists are being killed because of their efforts to safeguard fundamental rights, and conflicts often arise over extractive projects and competition over land. This is confirmed by a survey on the killing of persons working to safeguard the right to land and to natural resources over the last decade. These numbers are on the rise, and almost 80 percent of all killings in this period occurred in the three Amazon countries of Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
Author: Torkjell Leira and Rainforest Foundation Norway
Orginal publication date: Februrary, 2014
Publisher: Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN)
Other ELLA knowledge materials relating to Extractive Industries and Conflict Management:
GUIDES AND BRIEFS
LEARNING ALLIANCE HIGHLIGHTS