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Lives of indigenous people living in the burning Amazon must be top priority at G7 summit, says MRG

23 August 2019

As the world responds with outrage and calls for action to address the record number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the lives of one million indigenous people living in the rainforest must remain the top priority, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

‘Many are calling this an emergency for the planet, and they are right, but it is, most immediately a human rights emergency for the one million indigenous people who have lived sustainably on these lands since time immemorial,’ says Joshua Castellino, Executive Director of MRG. ‘Their lives and ways of life have been put at risk for decades due to an administration that continues to dismantle indigenous land rights protections in favour of logging and mining. The deafening silence towards their destruction is only dissipating now in an age of greater climate awareness. The G7 members have a duty to discuss the violations against their human rights while challenging a world order that puts profit before people and planet.’

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have branded the issue an ‘international crisis’ due to the Amazon’s significance in the battle against climate change and have urged it to be a top agenda item at this weekend’s G7 summit.

Arguments for protecting the Amazon, commonly referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’ due to the 20 percent of oxygen it supplies to the planet, are often centred around its environmental value to the world. Despite maintaining their forests for centuries, indigenous peoples and their way of life are often side-lined in discussions regarding conservation efforts, as well as the decision-making process on development plans.

‘The exclusion of indigenous Brazilians from discussions about their and our collective heritage has decimated their culture over the last century, but from a non-anthropocentric perspective, it has also disarmed and disabled the unique custodians of the forests, at a time when the world has finally realised how important these are for the sustainability of life on this planet,’ says Castellino. ‘The consequence is that the world is literally going up in flames.’

Fires in the Amazon have increased by 83 percent so far this year compared with the same period in 2018, according to data released earlier this week by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This is equal to three football fields burning per minute.

‘Action is needed urgently by everyone – global leaders, indigenous activists, civil society, and businesses – to minimise the damage and protect the lives and rights of all starting with indigenous people in the Amazon,’ says Castellino. ‘The action from civil society on the ground is building to a ground-swell through leadership from unlikely sources like Greta Thunberg, while the world’s politicians are distracted with nonsensical shock-inducing politics. Will the leaders of the G7 finally show some gumption to focus on the real issues in exercising their immense power for something other than narrowness of what they perceive as their individual interests?’

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Photo: Members of an indigenous community living in the Acre state, Brazil. Credit: Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre