• It is urgent that the States of the Americas adopt culturally appropriate, timely and effective responses to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples in the face of the pandemic

The Americas, April 20, 2020. – In the face of the emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19 in the Americas, we call upon the States of the region to adopt urgent measures that respond to the specific needs of indigenous communities in the prevention of contagion and the mitigation of the consequences generated by the various public policies implemented during the pandemic.

In accordance with international obligations, these measures must be culturally appropriate and consulted with the communities. In addition, they must guarantee differentiated attention for cross-border peoples and indigenous people in urban, rural or more isolated natural environments, as well as those peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact.

The COVID-19 pandemic is negatively affecting the entire population of the hemisphere, forcing the States of the region to take extraordinary measures to address this emergency. Likewise, this health crisis has once again shown that there are groups of especially vulnerable people with conditions that are exacerbated by this pandemic. Such is the case of the 826 indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total population of 45 million people. These towns have historically had limited access to health services, face constant obstacles to the practice of traditional medicines, suffer chronic diseases at high rates, and have been devastatingly affected by diseases contracted from contact with people outside their communities, which is particularly harmful for peoples in isolation and initial contact.

The pandemic’s arrival in these communities and the serious impact it may have on their rights does not represent a future urgency. Cases of contagion have already been reported in different towns in the region, so the response must be profound and urgent, in order to prevent a possible risk of extinction.

In this context, we express our concern over the fact that the majority of the indigenous peoples of the hemisphere are excluded from the formulation and implementation of policies that affect them. This is also the reality in the context of this pandemic.

Throughout the continent persist conditions of inequality, poverty, exclusion, historical discrimination and lack of adequate consultation of indigenous peoples. The aforementioned effects and prevents their access to food, health services, water and hygiene items, that determine life or death in the framework of the pandemic. These factors, combined with specific vulnerabilities that affect some indigenous peoples, such as respiratory disorders and lack of immunological defenses against relatively common diseases, add to the risk factors already established by COVID 19 and make this pandemic a serious threat to the survival not only of some people, but entire groups of peoples.

On the other hand, in the territories of the indigenous peoples of the region, mining, agribusiness, and forestry activities, among others, are continuing, which, in addition to the historical impact on their rights, becomes a further risk factor, due to the entry of people from outside their communities. This risk is also present in those places where traffic restrictions have not been imposed, and tourism and the continuous transit of people is maintained. Of special concern is the fact that an increase in the presence and threats of illegal armed groups in and around the territories of indigenous peoples has been documented in certain areas, a situation that also increases the risk of human rights violations. This, like the quarantine measures, deepens the isolation of some communities whose members need to go out to obtain basic supplies, food, and humanitarian aid.

Additionally, indigenous peoples are excluded from adequate and timely official information regarding the pandemic. The lack of culturally mediated information available in the native languages ​​threatens their survival and violates their right to non-discrimination.

In consideration of these facts, we remind States that all the measures adopted must guarantee, without any discrimination, the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, with full respect for the realities, worldview, traditions and experiences of each people. These measures should be articulated by the different State institutions so as to guarantee the enjoyment of the highest level of health, physical, mental and spiritual, as well as access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services. Likewise, it is essential that a differential approach is immediately adopted that takes into account the intersection of different factors (age, sex, gender, diverse capacities) that increase the vulnerability of people belonging to indigenous peoples and those within them that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic.

We call on the States to immediately coordinate with the indigenous peoples of the region any measure that involves them or that is implemented within their territories. For this, the States must:

  • Include indigenous peoples in the formulation of mechanisms and measures for the implementation of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to adopt culturally appropriate measures for each people. They must in turn formulate specific measures for indigenous people in urban, rural or environmental settings, as well as more isolated natives, and those peoples in initial contact or voluntary isolation. They must also generate adequate processes for cross-border peoples;
  • Ensure that all actions and measures taken are carried out in full coordination with the authorities of indigenous communities, with respect for the rights of prior consultation.
  • Generate appropriate information on the magnitude and risks of the health crisis, the prevention methods and the measures to be implemented; etc, in line with the physical, social and cultural environments of the peoples of the region;
  • Implement measures that guarantee adequate food security, access in necessary quantities to drinking water and appropriate health services for the needs of indigenous peoples;
  • nsure that towns have sufficient means of communication to access adequate health information and services (for example, consider the availability of radio systems, satellite phones, internet connections, etc.);
  • Ensure transportation to health centers, access to adequate medicines, translation of care for indigenous people affected by the coronavirus or endemic diseases that require it; as well as safe quarantine conditions for indigenous people who return to their community.
  • Guarantee that the territories of indigenous peoples and their surroundings are free from threats by legal and illegal actors, limiting their entry into the territory and guaranteeing the integrity of the inhabitants;
  • Suspend or limit all types of economic activity in and around the territories of indigenous peoples that may jeopardize their health, with particular care given the situation of peoples in initial contact or peoples in voluntary isolation;while refraining from taking any regressive measures regarding prior consultation and easing mechanisms for environmental control and control;
  • Ensure quarantine and post-quarantine measures that guarantee the right to education and health of children and communities;
  • Allocate as a priority resources to guarantee all the rights of indigenous peoples and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within their territories with full respect for the realities, worldview, traditions and experiences of each people;