Brazil’s Senate should reject harmful Bill 490 on land and Indigenous rights

June 1, 2023

On May 30, 2023, Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved a bill that could be a death sentence for the Amazon and the Indigenous communities who protect it. In the coming days the bill will be put to a vote in the Senate. Hivos expresses its deepest concern about this piece of legislation and calls upon Brazilian senators to stop it from passing.

The Amazon and it inhabitants still under attack

Amongst others, Bill 490 annuls Indigenous claims to huge areas of land whose potentially protected status is currently still under review. Without this protection, these territories can be opened up for logging and mining. Such activities are extremely damaging to the environment and particularly problematic since many of these areas are located in the Amazon rainforest. This is the world’s largest rainforest, home to more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem. The rainforest is also crucial for keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. But right now, the Amazon is very close to the tipping point of irreversible mass tree die-off, which will turn it into a net source of carbon emissions for the planet.

Other components of the legislation curtail the power of the Ministries of Environment and Indigenous Peoples and open up the possibility of stripping already existing Indigenous reserves of their protected status. Additionally, it would lift an existing ban on seeking contact with isolated Indigenous groups. Minister of Indigenous Peoples and renowned activist Sônia Guajajara calls the bill “genocidal” and an “attack on the environment.”

Powerful forces in congress behind the bill

Strikingly, these developments are taking place during the tenure of president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His victory over former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro during last year’s elections were internationally seen as also being a big win for the environment and Indigenous rights. However, the Bolsonaristas (supporters of the former president) and the Ruralistas (farmer’s caucus) still hold significant power within congress. Spurred on by the country’s powerful agribusiness lobby, they have succeeded in pushing through this new law.

Our work in Brazil

Hivos works in Brazil through our Voices for Just Climate Action program, and until 2022 through our All Eyes on the Amazon program. We do so based on our firm belief that Indigenous people and local communities play a crucial role in stopping the destruction of the rainforest and protecting it. Bill 490 endangers both Indigenous rights and the environment and we therefore oppose it.