At the UN, indigenous leaders accuse the Federal Government of negligence in fighting Covid

In a statement at the Human Rights Council, a representative of the Yanomami people said that remarks made by the president were serving as an incentive for illegal goldmining

At the UN, on Friday 25, leaders of the Yanomami people condemned the negligence of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government in fighting Covid-19 in indigenous communities.

In a video statement shown at the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Maurício Yekuana, of the Hutukara Yanomami Association stated that remarks by President Jair Bolsonaro had been serving as an incentive for illegal goldmining and he asked the international community to help Brazil´s indigenous people.

“The government is making comments that encourage illegal goldmining on indigenous territory in Amazônia which is leading to increased threats towards us.” Said Yekuana.

Ministry of Health data shows there have been 709 cases of Covid-19 among around 27 thousand indigenous people. Of these, 162, had to be transferred to the Indigenous Health Centre, in Boa Vista and seven have died of the disease.

However, Apib (Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) is carrying out independent daily research, as the government´s official sample is skewed and does not include indigenous people living in urban settings. According to the organisation, the figures are much more alarming: up to September, there had been 33,412 confirmed cases of infection among indigenous peoples, with a total of 825 deaths and 158 peoples affected. 

Illegal goldmining

A study carried out by the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) and the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) indicates that Yanomami Territory is the most vulnerable of the indigenous regions in Amazônia, to the novel coronavirus. The main reason for this is the intensity of illegal goldmining in the region which is responsible for spreading not only Covid-19, but also other diseases such as malaria.

According to the aforementioned researchers, 20 thousand illegal goldminers are working in the region. In July of this year, almost four months after the onset of the pandemic in Brazil, Federal Government presented a plan to tackle Covid in the indigenous populations. However, the plan was criticised for being generic and inadequate.

In June, the Forum for Yanomami and Ye´kwana Leaders launched a campaign “Out with Goldmining, Out with Covid!” condemning the presence of over 20 thousand goldminers on their land, and calling for these people, who are the greatest contributors to the transmission of the novel coronavirus among the indigenous populations, to be removed – a bitter déjà vu of the incursions of the 1970s and 1980s, when 13% of the Yanomami population died of diseases such as malaria and measles

The campaign, supported by Conectas and a coalition of organisations, includes a petition to the legislative authorities, Rodrigo Maia and Davi Alcolumbre, Eduardo Fortunato (president of IBAMA), Ministers Fernando Azevedo (Defence) and André Mendonça (Justice) and vice-president General Hamilton Mourão. As a means of putting pressure on the Brazilian government to remove illegal goldminers, Conectas, a member of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), contributed to a request for a precautionary measure together with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR). 

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