Paraguay: Government ordered to protect uncontacted tribe

February 11, 2016

Contact with the outside world has been a very traumatic experience for many Ayoreo, exposing them to life-threatening diseases © Survival

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ordered Paraguay’s government to protect an uncontacted tribe from being wiped out.

In a highly unusual decision, the Commission, part of the OAS, has demanded that the authorities intervene to stop cattle ranchers illegally destroying the Paraguayan Chaco, a uniquely biodiverse area that is home to the last uncontacted Indians outside the Amazon.

The area suffers the highest rate of deforestation in the world.* It is estimated that over 14 million trees are being cut down there every month.

The tribe, known as the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode are under severe threat from ranchers, who have rapidly destroyed their land and forced many of them out of their forest, where they are dying from a mysterious TB-like illness.

One Ayoreo told Survival: “Our relatives came out of the forest in 2004 because they were under pressure from the ranchers, because they had no peace. If the bulldozers start to make a lot of noise, our uncontacted relatives will be forced to hide where there isn’t any food and they will suffer. We want to continue using the forest, and for the ranchers to stop harassing our relatives who remain there.”

Satellite photos show that the uncontacted Indians now live in a rapidly-shrinking island of forest surrounded by cattle ranches.

Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, will continue to pressure the Paraguayan government to protect the land which is rightfully theirs. Only then will they have the chance to determine their own futures.

Survival Director Stephen Corry said: “It is heartening that the Inter-American Commission has taken this step, but until the government takes concrete action to protect the Ayoreo and their land, we will not be able to rest easy. The tribe has suffered terribly over the last few decades as their homeland has been destroyed and they have been forced into a traumatic change of life that has led, as it so often does, to appalling tragedy and loss of life. It is a humanitarian imperative that this order is properly enforced, and that the Ayoreo are given the chance to determine their own futures rather than having their lives destroyed by outsiders.”

*This is based on a study conducted by M.C Hansen et al (2013), titled, ‘High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change’. The study analysed satellite data from 2000 to 2012, and demonstrates that Paraguay had the highest net loss/area for that time period.