Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon and COVID-19

Blogpost by Alice Kasznar, Brazilian lawyer and Research Assistant at the Nature of Peace project at RWI.

Exposing inequalities wherever it goes,[1] COVID-19 has recently found its way to more remote indigenous communities in the Amazon, which is home to approximately 350 ethnic groups.[2] By the end of June, 383 indigenous persons had died from the disease only in Brazil, most of them in the Amazon.[3]

The current state of vulnerability of indigenous peoples in the region highlights the long-term importance of enforcing individual and collective human rights for the full enjoyment of the right to health.

Despite the different levels of exposure and socio-economic realities of communities living in the Amazon biome, which is divided among 9 countries, indigenous organisations identified common factors that increase the risk of contagion among indigenous peoples: social and economic disenfranchisement, decreased access to health services and information, poor sanitation, collective lifestyles, and frequent invasion of indigenous lands. [4]

Apply an Intersectoral Approach

In line with international and regional human rights frameworks,[5] in April, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued Resolution 1/2020 recommending that member states apply an intersectoral approach to their responses to the pandemic, considering specific needs of those groups more vulnerable to the pandemic, among which, indigenous peoples.

Besides approaching urgent containment measures, including specific measures for indigenous peoples,[6] it is noteworthy that the Commission also highlighted the impact of historical and structural socio-economic factors on the enjoyment of the human right to health. According to the Commission, issues such as extreme poverty, inequality, pollution and discrimination have a critical impact on groups’ ability to respond to the pandemic. The Commission also stressed that the basic social determinants of the human right to health are related to the content of other human rights, especially economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, and recommended that states take mitigation measures that consider the protection of these rights.

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