A coalition of NGOs urge the Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests to call on Paraguayan authorities to stop illegal invasions and deforestation of Ayoreo Totobiegosode territory and return ancestral lands to the indigenous people
Illegal deforestation at a ranch inside PNCAT, 2019.
To: Environment Ministers of members of the Alliance for the
Conservation of Rainforests
Cc: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Ministry of
Environment and Sustainable Development of Paraguay (MADES), National Forest
Institute of Paraguay (Infona), UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of
Indigenous peoples Francisco Calí Tzay, European Commissioner Virginijus
Sinkevičius, European Commission Vice-President/High Representative Josep
Borrell Fontelles, MEP Delara Burkhardt, MEP Anna Cavazzini, and MEP/Vice-President
of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala
Open Letter: Call for members of the Alliance for the
Conservation of Rainforests to urge the Paraguayan government to ensure the
immediate cessation of illegal invasions and deforestation of Ayoreo
Totobiegosode lands, and to title all requested lands to the indigenous people
1 November 2021
We, the undersigned, express our deep concern at the lack of
action by the Paraguayan authorities to comply with precautionary measures issued
by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to prevent the continued
deforestation and third-party invasions of a large area of land belonging to an
indigenous people, the Ayoreo Totobiegosode, in the Paraguayan Chaco.
As members of the Alliance
for the Conservation of Rainforests (Alliance), you have committed to reinforcing
the synergies and systems in place to combat deforestation, including promoting
the crucial role played by indigenous peoples in forest conservation and
promoting their traditional knowledge, land use and forest management practices.
Many of you are also making a renewed pledge at COP26 to halt
and reverse global deforestation by 2030, and are working alongside
Paraguay on a voluntary roadmap to be revealed at COP26 on 6 November to reduce
commodity-driven deforestation through the Forest,
Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue.
As such, we call on you to urgently raise this issue with
the government of Paraguay--a fellow member of the Alliance-- and urge it to ensure
the immediate cessation of illegal deforestation and invasions on the Patrimonio
Natural y Cultural Ayoreo Totobiegosode (PNCAT), a protected indigenous
Through the past decade, the Paraguayan Chaco has been
losing forest at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world, mainly through
industrial-scale cattle ranching. In June 2021,
researchers found that the Chaco stores up to 19
times more carbon than previously thought, and emissions from the Chaco’s
destruction are comparable to those from the Amazon or Indonesia. The
deforestation at PNCAT is a test case of whether the world’s governments are
serious about tackling this major driver of the climate emergency.
Since the early 1990s, Ayoreo Totobiegosode activists have
fought to protect PNCAT from the incursions of cattle ranchers. In 2016, the
IACHR granted protective measures to the area, stating that “the communities in
voluntary isolation of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode People are in a serious and
urgent situation, given that their rights to life and personal integrity are
allegedly at risk.”
In February 2018, Paraguay’s National Forestry Institute (Infona) issued a series of resolutions suspending land use change plans for cattle ranching properties in the area. The suspension of these permits rendered any clearance within the territory unequivocally illegal.
However, as Earthsight reported in its Grand Theft Chaco
publication in 2020, extensive deforestation continued on two properties where
Infona had suspended permits.
According to Earthsight’s 2020 report, between 22 April 2018
and 30 November 2019, the ranching firm Caucasian SA illegally cleared 2763
hectares of forest, violating Infona resolution 245/17, and between 30 July and
17 September 2019, an associate of Cooperativa Chortitzer illegally cleared 520
hectares, violating Infona resolution 160/2018.
These substantial criminal acts resulted in the destruction
of some of the most sensitive forests in Paraguay that are essential to the
livelihoods of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, as recognised
by the UN and the IACHR, as well as for the preservation of Totobiegosode
history and culture.
Earthsight was able to link hides from PNCAT to an Italian
automotive leather giant called Pasubio and on to BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.
Entrance to a cattle ranch in an area of the Paraguayan Chaco exposed to intensive deforestation.
One year after the report launched, little has changed as
revealed by Earthsight’s follow-up investigation Grand
Theft Chaco II. PNCAT continues to be the target of illegal invasions and
deforestation, Paraguayan authorities have failed to investigate the
illegalities highlighted by Earthsight, and the global leather and car
industries are still unable to fully trace their leather back to origin and
thus disassociate their supply chains from these problems.
Totobiegosode representatives have submitted complaints to
public prosecutors denouncing fresh illegal invasions and forest clearances by
Fresh proof of the continued presence of uncontacted groups
in the protected territory concerned surfaced earlier this year. For the first
time in many years, the voices of uncontacted Ayoreo were heard by their
settled cousins, singing to them at night of their struggles with the continued
invasion of their land. Uncontacted Ayoreo are among the most vulnerable people
in the world.
Inaction by Paraguayan authorities
has led the Ayoreo Totobiegosode to withdraw in frustration from a dialogue process with
the government mediated by the IACHR and meant to result in the titling of the
remaining lands requested by the indigenous people in order to form a
continuous territory where they can live free of external incursions. This
process is still pending and represents a major obstacle to the full
realisation of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode’s customary land rights.
Deforestation is fuelling both the climate crisis and the
collapse of biodiversity across the planet. The preservation of both is a key
objective of your Alliance. Having committed to preventing and combating fires
and illegal activity as well as facilitating regional and international
cooperation, members of the Alliance should urgently address the cases of
illegal deforestation and human rights abuses on Ayoreo Totobiegosode lands highlighted
in this letter.
As members of the Alliance, we urge you to call on the
government of Paraguay to comply with the IACHR’s precautionary measures, which
- ensuring the immediate cessation of illegal deforestation on Ayoreo Totobiegosode land;
- creating mechanisms to protect and prevent the entry of third parties into Ayoreo Totobiegosode land;
- respecting the rights to life, culture and self-determination of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode.
In addition, the government of Paraguay should:
- speedily finalise the process of formally transferring all requested lands to the Ayoreo Totobiegosode in order to create a continuous territory in which the indigenous people can live according to their customs and traditions in their ancestral territory;
- investigate all cases of past illegalities – including deforestation and land invasions – exposed by Earthsight and denounced by the Totobiegosode, bring perpetrators to justice, and remedy the negative impacts of such illegal acts.
The undersigned take the opportunity to emphasise that consumer
markets must urgently introduce robust regulations to stamp out their ties to
illegal practices, human rights violations, and forest loss overseas. Governments
of consumer countries ought to ensure that current legislative initiatives--especially
in the EU and UK--are built to have this effect, and that they include leather
and other cattle products in these regulations and provide victims of harm
linked to products consumed in your jurisdictions with access to justice and
rights of redress against responsible operators.
We the undersigned stand ready to assist you and the Paraguayan
government in any way we can to support the investigations.
EAMI Paraguay, Paraguay
Earthsight, United Kingdom
Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas
Forest Peoples Programme, United Kingdom and the Netherlands
Mighty Earth, United States
Organización Regional de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía
Norte del Perú (ORPIAN – P), Amazonas-Peru
Survival International, United Kingdom