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Brazil’s Supreme Court rules in favour of indigenous people

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
Brazil’s indigenous people have won a remarkable victory before the Supreme Court. The case was about whether the “Raposa Serra do Sol” reservation should remain whole or be split up into several smaller units.

The “Raposa Serra do Sol” in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest is home to some 19,000 indigenous people on 17,000 square kilometres – an area nearly half the size of Taiwan. Approximately 200 non-indigenous rice farmers also live on this land, which borders Guyana and Venezuela.

Eight out of eleven judges voted for the preservation of the entire area. They thus rejected a proposal by the government of the state of Roraima in the North of Brazil to divide the reservation into smaller “islands” where indigenous peoples and farmers would then live together. However, the final judgment has not been passed yet, but was postponed to 2009, as one of the judges requested more time for consideration. The other judges are allowed to reverse their decision, but that seems very unlikely, according to the BBC. President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva made the area an official reservation in 2005.

The Supreme Court’s preliminary decision sets a precedence on how the country will han­dle the rights of it’s indigenous citizens. Even before the decision was made, Joenia Batista de Carvalho, an attorney for the indigenous people, described the ruling as “historical”, in the sense of being “the most important moment since the constitutional change in the year 1988”.

Non-indigenous farmers had argued that the strict reservation ruling would weaken the region’s economy, forcing them to leave their land. Besides this case, a hundred similar cases are still pending a decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the precedent is considered very important. (cir)