Direct threat to Indigenous territories of Mato Grosso and Brazil

26 June 2020

Cuiabá, June, 22nd 2020 

Civil society organisations are concerned about Brazilian State Bill 17/2020, proposed by the governor of Mato Grosso, Mauro Mendes. Contradicting the federal legislation, this Bill authorises the registration in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR in Portuguese, from Cadastro Ambiental Rural) of properties which overlap with Indigenous lands that have not yet finished their land tenure registration processes. If approved, 27 of the 86 Mato Grosso Indigenous territories will no longer appear on CAR maps. As a consequence, non-Indigenous people will have CAR documents registered on those territories and will be able to produce and sell their agricultural production from there. The measure will increase deforestation and aggravate conflicts, violence, and invasions in at least 27 territories, as well as in 29 other areas being claimed by the Indigenous Peoples of Mato Grosso as their original lands. It also clearly violates the norm of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), as it has not been discussed with Indigenous Peoples or their representatives. 

The project has been underway since April this year and has already provoked negative impacts for Indigenous Peoples living in Mato Grosso. Since the text has been discussed in the state legislative assembly, Indigenous Peoples have been living with threats of land invasions in the midst of the pandemic of the new coronavirus (Covid-19). This is, for instance, the case for the Chiquitano people of the Indigenous Land (TI) Portal do Encantado, who have at least 12 overlaps with illegal properties, or the Myky people of the Indigenous Land Menku with 95 overlaps with illegal properties. In these territories, conflicts between Indigenous populations and farmers have already been reported. Likewise, analyses of the Land Tenure System (SIGEF in Portuguese from Sistema de Gestão Fundiária) database, the federal land tenure cadaster, showed that since April 2020 private certification requests on Indigenous lands increased by 690%, with more than three quarters of these being medium and large rural properties of more than 400 hectares. 

As highlighted in the recommendation sent on 13 May 2020 by Federal Prosecutors to Mato Grosso Parliamentarians, this Bill violates the Brazilian constitutional order, since it is not the State's responsibility to legislate in Indigenous Lands. Additionally, this will increase the legal uncertainty, not only of the Indigenous territories but also of rural properties. In addition to posing a direct threat to Indigenous Peoples, the Bill will tarnish commodities from Mato Grosso with the threat of land-grabbing at a time when threats of boycotts of Brazilian production are multiplying. 

Finally, the proposed measures are in contradiction with the commitments assumed by the State in several international forums such as the Produce, Preserve and Include (PCI) Strategy launched at the 21st United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) in 2015, the REM REDD Early Movers Mato Grosso / MT Programme signed in 2017 or the environmental conditions of the loan granted by the World Bank in 2019, amongst other environmental issues. 

When asked about the relevance of this Bill and about the urgency of having it debated during a time of public confinement, the State government replied that these measures would help to better monitor and implement police operations against deforestation on Indigenous lands. This statement does not make sense since inspections of Indigenous lands is a federal competence. In addition, deforestation in Indigenous lands today accounts only for 1.1% of total deforestation in Mato Grosso, hardly making it a priority. The pandemic moment that Brazil is going through will not allow a process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the 43 Indigenous Peoples of Mato Grosso, as required by International Labour Organisation Convention 169. 

The civil society networks listed below, in solidarity with Mato Grosso Forum on Environment and Development ((FORMAD) a network representing 32 NGOs), urge public and private European institutions to use any influence they have to urge the  Mato Grosso government not to pass this law due to its economic, social and environmental consequences. 

This letter is supported by three international networks and forest experts who gathered online during the Forest Dialogues between 22-24 June 2020, and includes organisations based in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Estonia, Finland, France, Ghana, Germany, Indonesia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, UK, Ukraine, and the USA. 

Categories: NGO Statements, Brazil

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