Brazil urged to stop invading indigenous lands

A rights group accused Brazilian authorities Thursday of ignoring a deadline set by a federal judge to evict all invaders from the Amazon heartland of the threatened Awa tribe.

London-based Survival International said the Awa, which it describes as "Earth's most threatened tribe," are "at extreme risk of extinction as the authorities have taken no action to stop illegal loggers and settlers from destroying their forest."

It noted that federal Judge Jirair Aram Meguerian ordered all the loggers and settlers removed from Awa lands in the eastern Amazon forests by the end of March.

"But the deadline has passed and not a single person has been evicted," said Survival, a leading advocate for tribal peoples' rights worldwide.

Over 30 percent of one of the Awa's territories are said to have already been deforested.

"The Awa have reported that loggers are rapidly closing in on their communities and have already been marking trees for deforestation as little as two miles (3.2 kilometers) away," Survival said.

"Logging trucks laden with wood leave the area day and night and the Indians are scared to go into their forest to hunt."

Awa tribesman Haikaramoka'a was quoted as saying: "The loggers are ruining our forest. They have built roads. We are scared."

Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) said it could not immediately comment on the case.

In December, Survival sponsored protests in London, Madrid, Paris, Milan, Berlin, The Hague and San Francisco to pressure Brasilia to honor its pledge to remove loggers, ranchers and settlers from demarcated Awa territories.

The rights group said nearly 50,000 letters have already been sent to Brazilian Justice Minister Eduardo Cardoso since it launched a drive spearheaded by Britain's Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth a year ago to focus world attention on the plight of the Awa.

"It is entirely within the minister of justice's capabilities to evict loggers, but he must act today. If he doesn't, tomorrow the Awa will be gone," Survival International chief Stephen Corry said.

Today, around 100 of the 450 Awa remain uncontacted and are at particular risk of diseases brought in by the outsiders, Survival said.

FUNAI estimates that there are 77 isolated indigenous tribes scattered across the Amazon. Only 30 such groups have been located.

Indigenous peoples represent less than one percent of Brazil's 194 million people and occupy 12 percent of the national territory, mainly in the Amazon.