Brazil’s top court suspends vote on indigenous land rights

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Wednesday requested additional time to review a controversial ruling that could loosen protections of Indigenous lands, which may in effect leave the decision to Congress.

The top court is evaluating a ruling that invalidated a claim by some Indigenous people in Santa Catarina state to what they said is their ancestral territory.

It has prompted thousands of Indigenous people to travel and stage protests in capital Brasilia, worried about the precedent upholding the lower court’s ruling would set.

So far, only two justices have ruled: one in favour of upholding the decision, and one against.

Environmental experts and indigenous activists said the request for review from Justice Alexandre de Moraes, while not unusual, is likely to pass the buck to Congress.

Indigenous people protest over land rights. PHOTO: AP

The Supreme Court’s guidelines dictate that de Moraes has a maximum 60 days to review the case.

But lawyer at the non-profit Socioenvironmental Institute Juliana Batista said justices rarely comply with this timeframe.

The Lower House is set to vote on a similar bill that would require Indigenous people seeking full protection of their territories to have been occupying the land in 1988, the year Brazil’s constitution was signed after its return to democracy.

Critics of the bill said this would ignore the fact many had been expelled from their ancestral lands, particularly during the military dictatorship, or may not have formal means to prove possession.

Others argue it would provide a legal framework for farmers and ranchers, who are key constituents of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.