COVID-19: Over 200 organisations sign statement on protection of indigenous Amazonians

They demanded a ban on all industrial activity and proselytisation in indigenous territory in addition to proper health services and law enforcement

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 21 April 2020

Governments and other entities should enact urgent policies to ensure that the novel coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) does not result in massive deaths within indigenous communities, especially in the Amazon, over 200 international organisations demanded on April 21, 2020.

The open statement made by the organisations supports crucial demands that indigenous organisations have made in recent weeks as the existential threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) bears down on their communities.

These demands include:

  • A moratorium on all industrial activities on or surrounding indigenous lands including mining, oil drilling, logging, and agribusiness operations
  • The barring of all religious proselytisation
  • The affirmation of the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and self-protection during the pandemic
  • Adequate and culturally-appropriate public health services
  • Rigorous law enforcement on organised crime threats in and around indigenous territories
  • The creation of urgent action working groups to deal with the health, food, and security emergencies that have arisen during this pandemic

Around 7,349 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Pan Amazon region as of April 20, 2020, resulting in 383 deaths, according to the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network or REPAM. These numbers can be assumed to be below the actual number of cases and deaths.

The threats posed by COVID-19 to indigenous communities vary over the enormous expanse of the Amazon rainforest. They are compounded by ongoing invasions of indigenous territories and the targeting of indigenous leaders with violence and intimidation.

In Brazil, encouraged by the Jair Bolsonaro government, illegal loggers, miners, land grabbers and hunters have fanned out into the Brazilian Amazon's federally-protected forests, putting indigenous peoples and traditional communities in grave danger.

According to the Hutukara Yanomami Association, more than 25,000 illegal miners have invaded Yanomami territory where they are suspected of transmitting the coronavirus to a 15-year old Yanomami boy, who died of the disease.

In Ecuador, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed profound weakness in public health infrastructure, particularly for historically marginalised communities such as indigenous peoples.

There are 10,128 cases of COVID-19 in Ecuador, with 1,333 deaths reported.

The COVID-19 emergency in the Ecuadorian Amazon has been compounded with the unprecedented flooding of indigenous communities and the recent rupture of two oil pipelines.

These pipelines spilled crude oil into the Coca and Napo rivers and polluted the water sources of more than 90,000 people, including 2,000 indigenous families.

In Peru, the country's premier Amazon indigenous umbrella federation, AIDESEP, has been calling on the government of President Martin Vizcarra to implement a national strategy for attending to indigenous peoples amid COVID-19, which has not been published to date.

COVID-19 is advancing into indigenous territories, with initial cases of infections being documented in the Shipibo community of Nuevo Bethel in the central Amazon region.

Without guidance from public health agencies, many indigenous groups are taking preventative measures on their own to stop the coronavirus from entering their communities.

These include voluntary social distancing, use of proper hygiene practices, suspension of major protests, events, travel and even the closing of traffic between villages to prevent the disease's progression.

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