If nothing is done to curb the devastation and violation of rights that occur in the Brazilian Cerrado – a region that comprises 22% of the national territory – the disaster will be irreversible.
With this appeal, the Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado, composed of 50 social organizations, had the petition made to the Permanent People’s Court (TPP) for a Special Session in Brazil to judge the crime of ecocide against indigenous, quilombolas and other traditional communities of the Cerrado.
The TPP, an international court of opinion based in Rome, was created in 1979 as a way of supporting and promoting peoples’ struggles in defense of the right to self-determination. Over its decades of existence, the Court held 48 public sessions on critical situations of massive repression around the world and, on September 10, began the judgment on the Brazilian Cerrado, which should last until the end of 2022.
The accusatory piece presented by the movements denounces the Brazilian State as responsible, in conjunction with foreign States and national and international private agents, for the practice of ecocide and cultural genocide in the Cerrado over the last half century.
The multidisciplinary jury from Brazil and abroad is composed of nine people, with names such as the former attorney general of the republic Deborah Duprat; Professor Antoni Solé at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona; indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara and journalist Eliane Brum.
With thematic hearings that will be broadcast live from November, the judgment will analyze 15 specific cases. To name some of the peoples who will be heard, are the Guarani and Kaiowá and Kinikinau indigenous peoples of Mato Grosso do Sul; representatives of the Traditional Retreat Territory Mato Verdinho do Mato Grosso; the Gerazeira communities of Vale das Cancelas in Minas Gerais; as well as the quilombola communities of Cocalinho and Guerreiro do Maranhão.
To understand the details of this trial, the details of what is defined as ecocide and cultural genocide, and what is expected of the Brazilian session of the Permanent People’s Court, Brasil de Fato spoke with Diana Aguiar, advisor to the Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado.
Brasil de Fato: What is the Permanent Court of the Peoples of the Cerrado?
Diana Aguiar: The Permanent Peoples Court dates back to the so-called Russell Courts that were organized by philosopher Bertrand Russell in the 1970s on the Vietnam War and the war crimes committed by the US at that time. Since that time, it has held several international sessions and followed the most important themes of the last half century of humanity. Because they judged very different crimes and were able to witness the transformations and struggles of the postcolonial era, the advance of economic neocolonialism, of globalization.
The initial declaration of the TPP, which is the Charter of Algiers or International Declaration of Peoples’ Rights, dates from 1976 and made direct reference to that historical moment where there was a prevalence of states of exception in Latin America. And it has an innovation because it recognizes peoples as holders of rights and often that States can commit crimes against their own peoples.
Why convene a session of the People’s Permanent Court for Brazil at this historic moment?
Many of these elements, so important at the beginning of the TPP, returned to predominance with the democratic ruptures that Brazil has experienced in recent years and the violations of the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities. Not only, but it’s the emphasis we’re trying to give. What we see is how the Cerrado and the reality of these peoples have been an especially brutal expression of the reality in Brazil today.
At the same time, the idea of an opinion court is that it is a non-binding court: independent of the state justice system. On the one hand, this may seem like a weakness because it doesn’t have the ability to enforce a verdict. But on the other hand, it has very powerful things, because it goes far beyond the established justice system. At the present time, it ends up being a space for claiming and reaffirming rights that were hard won since the 1988 Constitution and that are under attack.
Before actually entering the special session of the Court that must judge the Cerrado case, there are some terms that appear in the complaint and that it would be interesting to hear about their meanings. What do you understand by ecocide and cultural genocide?
According to the statute of the Court, ecocide is the serious damage, destruction or loss of one or more ecosystems in a given territory, whether for human or other causes, whose impact causes a severe decrease in the environmental benefits enjoyed by the inhabitants of such territory.
We dialogued with this typification and tried to apply it to the case of the Cerrado. We understand the ongoing ecocide in the Cerrado, and I’m reading here from the indictment, as “the historic and serious damage and vast destruction that resulted from the intense expansion of the agricultural frontier over this immense ecological region (about 1 ⁄ 3 of the national territory) over the last half century”.
So of the three points that would mean ecocide for the TPP, serious damage and destruction is already underway. But the third one, which is the loss, our reading is that given the deepening destruction of the Cerrado that is ongoing today, we are on the verge of extinction as an ecological region.
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The moment the material basis for the social reproduction of the ways of life of the Cerrado peoples is destroyed, the consequence is the threat of cultural genocide of these peoples. Cultural genocide is an idea as old as the idea of genocide itself. Systematic attacks for group destruction may focus on destroying what constitutes the group’s cultural identity, without necessarily aiming at its physical extermination.
So we are talking about cultural genocide, but actually we could be talking basically about genocide. We are raising a deeper reading that was abandoned in the process of constitution of the International Convention, because the States were afraid that, if this reading of the crime of genocide were enshrined, they could suffer interference in their national sovereignty because so many States – if not all – persecute their minorities.
What examples of concrete situations that are happening in the Cerrado that support this complaint?
We present 15 cases in eight Cerrado states of violations of rights, especially of possession and ownership of land and territory and the self-determination of indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities. We understand that there is a systematic violation of these rights, which are widely recognized and protected by various national and international legal instruments. The Constitution itself, but also Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, among others.
And if you analyze the history of the Cerrado as a whole, but also from specific regions, you see a common pattern. Expansion of deforestation associated with land grabbing, conflicts, contamination by pesticides and other diverse situations.
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When is the special session of the Court that hears this case?
The launch was on September 10th and from now on we will have themed audiences. In them, the jury will listen to the testimony and evidence of the 15 cases: they will take place over the next few months.
When there are members of a jury acknowledging the validity of the complaint and the relationship we are making between ecocide and cultural genocide, this in itself strengthens the very political process of struggle for rights that peoples and communities are making.
On the other hand, it is a unique chance for communities that are presenting their cases to get out of their invisibility and be heard about what they have been suffering daily for so many decades. So it has the role of opening a space for voice and testimony so that these communities can tell their story. The final verdict will be one more instrument in this fight, but the process itself is already a result.
How can society accompany this process?
All audiences, as well as the release, are broadcast live on youtube. To follow the schedule, the Campaign’s social networks: @campanhacerrado on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube, as well as the website. There you have all the information.
At each hearing we will have background materials that will be presented as evidence and will be public as well. The jury itself issues, at the end of the hearings, a consideration about what they heard.
So we are building this, which is the jury’s instructional phase, towards the final phase, which is when there will be the verdict.
Do you already have a date for the final verdict?
Our perspective is that it will be in November of next year. Everything will depend on the pandemic and the possibilities of agglomeration.
Taking into account the reasons that made you come to the Court, what is expected?
Among the communities that are presenting these cases, there is great expectation regarding the moment when they will be able to speak to Brazilian society, with wide transmission and with the presence of these members of the jury, about what they have suffered.
For example, at this moment, the quilombola community of Tanque da Rodagem in Maranhão is camped on the side of a road, facing jagunços at the behest of two land grabbers from Paraná who are using tractors to deforest an area of the community’s territory.
They have been in this process for more than ten hours, we have been carrying out many actions to seek visibility, and so far they are basically alone, without the protection of the State. I am giving this example to say: there is no peace. On a daily basis, we receive complaints about intense conflict processes in different regions of the Cerrado.
So there’s also an element of collective learning for many people who are concerned with issues of environmental and agrarian justice, but who are often unaware of the seriousness of the situations that have happened.
It is the expansion of visibility of specific struggles but also of the whole. So it ends up being a process of political articulation between communities in all Cerrado states, which do not necessarily see themselves as part of a collective process and which are between Mato Grosso do Sul and Maranhão.
Edition: Anelize Moreira