Brazil’s indigenous peoples have long fought with the government over use of their historical territory, for the protection of natural resources from extractive industries and the environmental impacts of dam concessions to their sacred river. In 2004, the Brazilian government ratified Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the first binding international instrument that specifically addresses the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to prior and informed consultation on matters that affect them, including land concessions and extraction of natural resources.
As part of its participation in OGP, the government included a commitment in its second action plan to uphold and embed consultation according to Convention 169. At its mid-term assessment, the IRM report noted this commitment with limited completion but with the potential to become a major step in the policy area. An interagency working group held nine regional meetings to develop a proposal for changes to prior consultation mechanisms for indigenous and Afro-descendent communities (Quilombolas) required by Convention 169. However, dialogue with the indigenous communities proved difficult, primarily because some indigenous groups came out against the regulation. Some alleged that the process was a “smokescreen to cover up the real intention of undercutting the legitimate means of consultation,” and others argued that it was not necessary, because the principles to hold consultations already exist.
Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and the political and economic crisis leading up to it present challenges for Brazil moving forward. The uncertainty is also concerning for environmentalists and human rights defenders. Earlier this year, the Brazilian senate debated a law that would undermine the country’s environmental safeguards and directly affect indigenous communities. Activists are uncertain of how the new administration will pursue this debate, and how it will affect the requirement to hold prior and informed consultations. Looking ahead, the end of term IRM report will show whether further progress has been made on this commitment. If the new legislation is passed, it will be interesting to see whether - and how - the Brazilian government incorporates Convention 169 to guarantee participation and the voice of Brazil’s indigenous peoples in decision making.