Hope for Indians as international law on tribal peoples ratified

October 1, 2002

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The Brazilian senate has finally approved ratification of the most important international law concerning tribal peoples, the International Labour Organisation's Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The convention recognises tribal rights: including to land; to participation in decisions affecting them; and to their own culture, religion and way of life. Its ratification – after more than a decade of delays by politicians – is a major victory for Brazil's Indians. In recognition of its importance, an Indian delegation went to the senate to witness the decision in June 2002.

Crucially, the convention recognises tribal land ownership rights – Survival has long been campaigning for recognition of such rights in Brazil. Brazil's national law only allows tribes the right to use and occupy their ancestral land, not own it. While some fear national law will still take precedence, Brazil must comply with all the convention, and its ratification offers a crucial tool in the Indian struggle for land ownership. Survival's report, Disinherited – Indians in Brazil, presents the case for legal recognition of tribal land ownership in Brazil.

Brazil's Indians now have many more legally recognised rights. Only communal, inalienable, land ownership rights can offer them long-term security in the face of increasing invasions and theft of their land. This too is a step closer.