Afro-Descendent Communities Bring Petition Against Brazil under International Labour Organisation Indigenous Rights Mechanism, for Systemic Violations of Land Rights


The Afro-descendent (“quilombo”) communities of Alcantara, State of Maranhao, Brazil, represented by the Trade Union of the Rural Workers of Alcantara, the Trade Union of the Workers of Family Agriculture and the Quilombo Association of the Community of Mamuna, have presented a Communication to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) detailing violations by the Brazilian State of Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) provided legal support to the organizations. The Communication was presented in September to the International Labour Standards Department of ILO in Geneva.

Since the 1980s, the quilombo communities of Alcantara have been resisting the development of a spaceport, slated for placement on their territory. The quilombo communities at issue were originally villages set up by slaves who had sought their liberty by fleeing from the farms and plantations of their colonial masters. These villages became the areas of residence, resistance and social organization, and were managed according to the rules and customs of these indigenous peoples. Most of these communities have existed for more than 250 years.

In 1987, 1,350 people were forcibly evicted from their original communities and were resettled in seven agro-villages, where the quantity and quality of the land precluded them from having the same living conditions they had previously had. The resettlement plan was implemented without the consent of the families, and the government acted with reckless

shedisregard by turning a blind eye to the socio-cultural and ethnic reality of the community, effectively sending the message that the state could act with impunity.

Currently, the Brazilian State is implementing a range of measures, within its National Police of Space Activities, to develop launch services of vehicles to the outer space from the Launching Centre of Alcantara (CLA). The planned expansion of CLA, set to occur after the conclusion of a bilateral treaty between Brazil and Ukraine, will result in the displacement of quilombo communities and in the depletion of the natural resources available. The food reserves of these communities will also be negatively affected. The Treaty for the Long-Term Cooperation on the Use of the Launching Vehicle
Cyclone-4 between Brazil and Ukraine was signed in 2003 without any consultation with quilombo communities.

Alcantara is an ancestral ethnic territory comprising 152 villages that have economic autonomy and live by very traditional means. Ninety of these villages are located in the area expropriated by the Brazilian Government to settle the CLA. The total number of people living in these villages, a total area of 85,537 hectares, amounts to
12,941 inhabitants, corresponding to 83% of the rural population.

The Communication lodged in September with the ILO aims to challenge violations of the right of these communities to their ancestral territory, to natural resources and to participation on decision-making process affecting these peoples.

The displaced of the quilombo communities of Alcantara carried out without consultation amounts to forced evictions under international human rights law, implicating inter alia Arts. 4(1), 16(1) and (2) of ILO Convention 169.

The failure of the Brazilian government to consult or obtain consent for the displacement, the construction of the CLA and the signature of the agreement with Ukraine undermined the endeavours of the quilombo communities to counter the incursion of third parties in their territory, which violates Art. 6(2) of ILO Convention 169.

Furthermore, the Governmental proposal to reduce the extension of the area to be titled would have an irreversible negative impact over their fundamental rights, and amounts to a violation of Art. 13(1) of ILO Convention 169.

The communities demand the suspension of the project of expansion of CLA, the titling of the integral ethnic territory, the right to use the natural resources of this territory, the payment of compensation for the losses resulting from the forced displacement from their original villages, and the right to participate in the profits resulting from launch activities carried out from CLA.