Supreme Court upholds Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ historical right to land

Brasilia, Sept 21 (EFE).- Brazil’s Supreme Court declared Thursday that Indigenous people have a constitutional right to the lands that they have occupied “historically,” “traditionally” and “permanently.” Large rural businessmen and ultra-right political groups are opposed to this claim.

The decision, adopted by nine votes in favor and two against, rejects the so-called “Temporary Framework”, which sought to limit Indigenous land rights to those territories occupied by Indigenous peoples on the date of promulgation of the Brazilian Constitution, October 5 1988.

This stance, considered unconstitutional by the Indigenous peoples because it does not recognize their rights to lands they occupied long before 1988 and from which they were, in many cases, violently expelled by settlers, was supported by only two of the judges, the only ones in the court with a clear conservative profile.

The majority of the justices upheld Article 231 of the Constitution, which defines Indigenous lands as those “permanently inhabited, used for productive activities and essential for the conservation of environmental resources,” as well as “customs and traditions.”

The ruling was loudly celebrated by hundreds of Indigenous people who crowded outside the courthouse gates and watched the proceedings on large television screens.


After declaring itself in favor of Indigenous land rights, the Supreme Court of Justice will begin discussing next week legal formulas for the many landowners who have occupied for decades lands claimed by Indigenous Peoples, even if they do so under dubious legality.

According to one judge, these are people who “in good faith” paid for these lands to regional or municipal administrations, which sold them under the protection of legal loopholes before the 1988 Constitution.

Judge Alexandre de Moraes has proposed an intermediate formula to resolve these disputes, suggesting that in these cases the occupants of lands claimed by Indigenous peoples should abandon them and be compensated, or that the Indigenous peoples should be compensated with other lands of equivalent size.

This would not apply to those landowners who forcefully occupied the disputed lands and violently evicted the indigenous peoples, who would be evicted without any recourse.


The question of Indigenous land rights is also being debated in a Senate commission that is analyzing a bill in favor of the recognition of the “temporary framework.”

The commission intends to vote on it next week and, if approved, send it to the plenary of the upper house for final discussion.

Senator Eliziane Gama, a member of this commission, has already warned that if the bill is approved in the Senate, it will certainly be rejected as “unconstitutional” and “will fall before the Supreme Court”.

According to official data, Indigenous Peoples occupy about 14% of Brazil’s territory, through about 500 demarcated areas and another 200 areas that are still being analyzed by state institutions.

The demarcation of indigenous lands, a constitutional obligation of the State, was suspended between 2019 and 2022, during the administration of the right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, and resumed on 2023 by the government of the progressive Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who opposes the “temporary framework.”

Throughout his term, Bolsonaro justified his refusal to recognize Indigenous lands by arguing that it would make further development of the agricultural sector “unfeasible.”

According to Indigenous and environmental movements, the Supreme Court’s ruling is an act of “historic justice” that will also promote greater environmental protection, since Indigenous lands, many of which are located in the Amazon, are the best preserved in the country, according to official data.EFE


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