The fate of the Amazon is the fate of its peoples

Proposals on indigenous peoples for the Summit of Presidents of the Amazon


Formed more than 30 million years ago, the Amazon has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for more than 11,000 years. The evolutionary history of the Amazon biomes is significantly intertwined with the management practices of indigenous peoples who play a fundamental role in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. [1]

The Amazon is home to approximately 47 million people, of whom approximately 2.2 million are indigenous (4.6%), consisting of at least 410 distinct ethnic groups or nations, including some 80 peoples who remain in voluntary isolation. . [2]  More than 3,000 indigenous lands and territories have been recognized throughout the Amazon under various tenure systems which, when added to formally recognized protected areas, represent approximately 45% of the region and protect almost half of the forests remaining. Over 80% of the area occupied by indigenous peoples in the Amazon is forested, and 35% of all remaining intact forests in Latin America are occupied by indigenous peoples. [3]

There are a series of extractive activities and far-reaching projects in the region that threaten the cultural and territorial integrity of Amazonian indigenous peoples, the situation of highly vulnerable peoples, of initial contact and in voluntary isolation who are threatened in its very existence. In this regard, the Report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, 2019) indicates the following as activities that represent significant threats to the lives of peoples: (1) mining, legal or illegal , which deforests, accumulates residues on the surface, consumes and contaminates river water and groundwater, and modifies population settlement patterns; (2) infrastructure projects, waterways, highways and railways, with enormous impacts on land and water; (3) hydroelectric plants, the construction of which completely redefines the ancestral territories of the peoples; and (4) hydrocarbon energy projects; with similar impacts to mining projects. Added to this is the expansion of agribusiness, extensive cattle farming and monoculture plantations.

It is known that, between the years 2000 and 2020, the total area devoted to agricultural activities in the Amazon has registered an increase of 81.5%, that is, two decades ago the agricultural area was 794,429 km2 and that extension has been added 647,411 km2. This conversion of forests to pasture for agricultural activity and expansion of the agricultural frontier occurred with force on Indigenous Territories (TI) and Protected Areas (AP). In the year 2000, 6% of the agricultural area was within these protected territories, a proportion that increased in the following years: between 2001 and 2018, the increase in new areas for agricultural use within PAs was more than 220%. , transforming 53,269 km2 of protection areas. During the same period, in IT the increase was more than 160%, transforming 42. 860 km2 of these territories in new areas for agricultural use. This expansion is produced mainly by the redistribution of land and the advancement of agricultural activity generated by the private sector.[4] , as well as initiatives called «climate-smart agriculture» that are promoted by agribusiness with support from state levels and international cooperation.

Public incentives in favor of expanding the agricultural frontier (financial, institutional, and regulatory) that favor large-scale producers and agro-industry, to the detriment of family producers, generate a systematic abandonment of subsistence agriculture and encourage the deforestation and pollution.

For its part, mining affects 17% of the Amazonian territory, is present in all the countries of the region and covers more than 1.4 million square kilometers. 9.3% of the mining developments in the Amazon are superimposed on protected areas and a similar percentage on indigenous territories, a number that tends to grow since there are currently requests for mineral exploration and prospecting in an area of ​​182.1 thousand km² overlapping indigenous territories.

Gold mining is particularly worrying. Gold extraction requires a combination of logging, soil mining, destruction of riverbanks, and the use of liquid mercury for processing, posing a serious threat to both aquatic and terrestrial Amazonian biodiversity, human health, and to the resilience of the ecosystem. Mercury toxicity in Amazon rivers now constitutes one of the greatest threats to fisheries, diets, and the livelihoods of Amazonian peoples. [5]

9.4% of the Amazonian surface is affected by oil lots, most of them (369) are located in the Andean Amazon (Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador), home to several indigenous peoples, including the uncontacted or in voluntary isolation. 43% of the oil areas in the region are within Protected Areas (88,926 km2) and indigenous territories (259,613 km2).

Between 2012 and 2020, the number of hydroelectric plants in operation and/or construction within Protected Areas in the Amazon has increased by 77% (from 13 to 23); while, in the same period of time, there is a four-fold increase (from 6 to 26) in the total number of hydroelectric plants currently in operation and construction within indigenous territories, while those planned increased by 60% (from 10 to 16).

Hydroelectric dams have cumulative and cascading effects on the downstream hydrological cycle, including massive losses of biodiversity and of the ecosystem functions on which society, and particularly indigenous peoples, depend.

The road infrastructure, in general, has affected 4.6 million km2 of the Amazon, equivalent to 55% of its total surface.

The dimension of the impacts and cumulative damages of the extractive activities deployed and deepened in the territorial jurisdictions that make up the Amazon biome seriously affect the natural restoration capacity of the ecosystems of life, generating the disappearance of the peoples and putting the integrality at serious risk. of indigenous territories and the physical and cultural survival of the peoples, in particular there is alarm about the risk that this entails for indigenous peoples in isolation, initial contact and in a situation of vulnerability.

Noise pollution from extractivist activities affects the environmental quality of indigenous territories, having negative consequences for fauna and affecting different activities such as hunting and fishing of indigenous peoples.

It is important to highlight the health situation of women, children and older adults due to extractive activities, particularly those who live in indigenous communities located on the banks of rivers due to mercury poisoning and other chemicals.

The Report on the Situation of the human rights of the indigenous and tribal peoples of the Pan-Amazon presents and develops six fundamental standards to guarantee the full exercise of the rights of these groups: (1) the right to self-identification and recognition; (2) the right to self-determination, which includes the ability to freely define their own development; (3) the right to collective property, understanding the territory in its various dimensions: economic, cultural and spiritual; (4) State obligations to protect against extraction, exploitation, and development activities through regulations, prevention and mitigation policies, oversight mechanisms, community participation, and access to justice when rights violations occur;[6]


  • First of all, it is important to point out that the  national Constitutions of the Amazon States  have recognized the human right to live in a healthy environment as a basic and fundamental right, in the case of indigenous peoples this is a sine qua non condition to guarantee their survival. . [7]
  • Convention  No. 169 of the International Labor Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples  that recognizes, among others, the right to the environment, subsistence, development and protection of natural resources. In its articles 4.1 and 7.4, it imposes on States the obligation to adopt measures to protect the indigenous environment. In this regard, it is the obligation of the governments to ensure that studies are carried out, in cooperation with the indigenous peoples, that make it possible to determine the social, spiritual, cultural and environmental impacts that development activities may generate in these peoples. Likewise,  it recognizes the right to self-determination, safeguarding the power of these peoples to establish their development priorities.. Article 15.1 recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to the natural resources existing on their lands and imposes on States the obligation to especially protect these rights and guarantee indigenous participation in the use, administration and conservation of said resources.
  • The  United Nations Declaration on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples  recognizes the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples (art 3) and  autonomy or self-government  in their internal and local affairs (art 4). Likewise, it establishes the consultation with a view to prior, free and informed consent, before the approval of any project or measure that affects their lands or territories and other resources (article 32).
  • The  jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights it has raised the standards of enforceability of the rights of indigenous peoples through the development of jurisprudence that is important to highlight. Regarding indigenous communal ownership of lands and natural resources, the Court has ruled on conflicts generated by the States or by individuals with State support, as a result of the exploitation and affectation of natural resources, forests, water and minerals, among others, existing in the territories where indigenous and tribal peoples live, which belong to them by ancestral right. The property rights of indigenous and tribal peoples extend to the natural resources present in their territories, as a necessary consequence of the right to territorial property. [8] The Inter-American Court has determined that the protection of indigenous property over natural resources is necessary to maintain their ways of life and customs; therefore, the protection also extends to cultural rights and imposes the obligation to guarantee indigenous activities related to the resources. natural resources such as fishing, hunting or gathering. [9]
  • In particular, Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has specified the scope and substantive content of the right to the environment. It is established that the standards required of the State for the application of the principle of prevention, in the face of activities potentially harmful to the environment, are: i) regulate; ii) supervise and supervise; iii) request and approve environmental impact studies; iv) establish contingency plans; and, v) mitigate in cases of occurrence of environmental damage. Due diligence means taking charge of the circumstance that environmental problems can affect towns, groups and people in a differentiated way in a condition of vulnerability,
  • The Inter-American Court explains that indigenous peoples have the right to own their territory without any type of external interference from third parties. It specifies that the titling and demarcation must imply the peaceful use and enjoyment of the property, this means that the indigenous collective property right must be free from interference by the State and third parties, including bona fide third parties, even when they belong to groups vulnerable who depend on the land for their livelihood. [10]
  • In 2012, the OHCHR Office presented and published a document “Guidelines for the protection of indigenous peoples in isolation and in initial contact”, the result of consultations with the countries of the region and which validates the right to isolation.
  • On June 4, 2016, the member states of the Organization of American States adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is the most specific instrument in the region regarding indigenous peoples.
  • The Andean Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Andean Community – CAN, through Decision No. 896, created the Andean Committee of Government Authorities on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a body for coordinating public policies on indigenous peoples that allows improving the effectiveness in the construction of subregional strategies, programs and policies for the promotion and respect of their rights.
  • On April 22, 2021, the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (“Escazú Agreement”) entered into force, which is the first regional treaty of Latin America and the Caribbean and the first in the world to contain specific provisions for the protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters.
  • For their part, indigenous peoples have been creating cultural consultation and self-consultation protocols as mechanisms to guarantee autonomous decisions through their own rules and procedures on the measures that affect them.


The Summit of Presidents of the Amazon must adopt for the first time a strong and effective resolution to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples based on the following proposals.

  1. Amazon States  must comply with current legislation, agreements and international obligations such as ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1989), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement, 2018) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People who Work in Rural Areas (2018) and the favorable jurisprudence that Their advocacy efforts have resulted in the national ratification of this regulation, as well as in the achievement of legislation and constitutional rulings favorable to the exercise of their rights, the participation and exercise of the self-determination of the peoples.
  2. The Amazon States must  respect the forms of self-identification, self-organization and self-determination  of indigenous peoples and nations, as subjects of law and populations that pre-existed the colony and the current States.
  3. Finalize within a period of no more than two years and through expedited procedures the process of  recognition, demarcation and titling of Indigenous Territories  with a gender approach in those Amazonian countries that still have these legal processes pending, prioritizing this objective in  financial agreements  derived from this summit, be it with international cooperation or multilateral banking. 
  4. Prohibition, moratorium or redefinition of extractive activities  and commercialization of the natural spaces that make up the territories and lands of the indigenous peoples and native peasants respectively, particularly in those territorial spaces of peoples in a situation of vulnerability, initial contact or voluntary isolation . 
  5. Guarantee, through timely and effective mechanisms, the  conservation of Protected Areas,  prohibiting any extractive activity and/or project that is incompatible with the zoning and limitations of established uses.
  6. Recognize the  consultation and self-consultation protocols  carried out by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon as mechanisms of political participation through their own norms and procedures, guaranteeing respect for their autonomous decisions, without the need for a single national rule, guaranteeing that women be an active part in decision making.
  7. Guarantee the integral security (legal and physical) of the  collective property of indigenous territories , taking all necessary measures to make the rights of indigenous peoples prevail over other actors (companies, mining cooperatives, intercultural cooperatives, cocaleros, others) and, especially, the protection and defense of defenders in the face of the growing violence of legal and illegal extractivism.
  8. Establish  protection mechanisms for women defenders  of the territory who continue to be victims of discrimination and devaluation, due to the multiple expressions of systemic violence based on gender, origin and social class.
  9. Promote a process of  differentiated treatment with respect to the highly vulnerable indigenous peoples of the Amazon  to guarantee their territorial rights; as well as the intangibility of the territories of the peoples in isolation and initial contact
  10. Guarantee indigenous autonomies and self-governments  by establishing expedited pathways for their recognition that in no case should be greater than a period of 3 years.
  11. Guarantee the  intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples , combating biopiracy and assuming indigenous proposals on collective and transgenerational intellectual heritage.
  12. Ratify and comply with the Escazú Agreement for the protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters. And guarantee a safe and conducive environment in which people, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters can exercise their rights without restrictions. 
  13. Prioritize public policies with the allocation of human and financial resources to make prevention and adequate care sustainable for indigenous women in the Amazon region
  14. Strengthen, through public policies, programs and projects, designed in a participatory manner and with budget allocation, the economies that indigenous peoples develop in their territories and/or promote new activities in accordance with the vocation and potential of the Amazon.
  15. Guarantee that there are defined spaces for the binding participation of organized civil society in the elaboration and implementation of policies, programs and projects, as well as for the exercise of oversight and supervision of these initiatives; ensuring specific spaces for women in the Amazon.
  16. Guarantee the participation of traditional and indigenous peoples, and organized civil society, including women’s organizations, in the council and in the management of environmental financing funds for the Amazon, at the national and regional levels.

[1]  Scientific Panel Summary Report for the Amazon, chapter 10.

[2]  The Indigenous World, Issue No. 34 IWGIA, 2020.

[3]  Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information. Amazon under pressure, 2020. Forest governance by indigenous and tribal peoples: An opportunity for climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean. FAO, 2021.

[4]  Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information. Amazon under pressure, 2020.

[5]  Scientific Panel Summary Report for the Amazon, Part II, Chapter 14.

[6]  Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon. OAS/Ser.L/V/II. Doc. 176, 2019, p. 12 and 13.

[7]  Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia article 33, Federal Constitution of Brazil article 225, Political Constitution of Colombia article 79, Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador article 14; Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana article 36; Constitution of the Republic of Peru article 2.22; Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela article 127 and Constitution of Suriname article 6 establish obligations to the States in relation to the environment.

[8]  Make a list of main sentences.

[9]  I/A Court HR, Case of the Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua. Case of the Saramaka People v. Suriname, Case of the Yakye Axa Indigenous Community v. Paraguay, among others.

[10]  I/A Court HR, Case of indigenous communities members of the Lhaka Honhat Association v. Argentina.

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