Crime & Justice

Brazil’s high court puts indigenous land rights case on hold

Brasilia, Jun 7 (EFE).- Brazil’s Supreme Court suspended consideration Wednesday of a case seen likely to create a precedent regarding indigenous peoples’ attempts to secure title to ancestral lands.

Judge Andre Mendonca requested a pause to allow time for further reflection on the “very complex” issue.

The court is being asked to rule on the so-called temporal framework, a theory that contends indigenous people can only lay claim to land they occupied as of Oct. 5, 1988, when Brazil’s present constitution was enacted.

The case concerns lands in the southern state of Santa Catarina that indigenous people occupied until they were driven off by force in the mid-20th century.

A lower court ruled that the current occupant, a state-affiliated institution, can retain control of the territory, rejecting the claims of the Xokleng, Guarani, Kaingang peoples.

Mendonca moved for an extended recess after one of his colleagues, Alexandre de Moraes, argued for a “middle path” that would acknowledge the rights of non-indigenous people who settled “in good faith” on land made available to them by the government.

While rejecting the temporal framework, De Moraes said that the judges cannot “close their eyes in the face of settlers who have been working their lands for more than 100 years.”

He mentioned several possible approaches to resolving such conflicts, including paying compensation to non-indigenous settlers to vacate the lands – thought not if those settlers had seized the the territories by force.

Alternatively, he said, authorities could offer the indigenous claimants other territories equal in size to their former lands.

Some indigenous leaders took encouragement from De Moraes’ position, yet they urged communities to remain mobilized to defend their rights.

Lawmaker Celia Xakriaba told reporters at an indigenous encampment in Brasilia that it was a “day of joy.”

Even so, she called for “vigilance” ahead of a vote in the Senate on a bill that already passed the lower house of Congress meant to enshrine the temporal framework in law.

Since 1988, the Brazilian government has created 487 indigenous reserves that together account for nearly 14 percent of the country’s territory.

The process of designating reserves was suspended for four years under rightist President Jair Bolsonaro.

But upon taking office Jan. 1, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reactivated the process and created a Cabinet-level department of indigenous affairs.

And the head of that ministry, Sonia Guajajara, was in the Supreme Court for Wednesday’s session along with some 50 representatives of indigenous communities.

Brazil’s 1.6 million indigenous people belong to 305 distinct groups and speak 247 different languages. Around 500,000 of them live on designated reserves.

EFE ed/dr

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