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Webinar Series DEFENDING THE AMAZON DURING COVID19: Indigenous peoples and collaborative strategies

The first session of this AEA webinar series approached how civil society and indigenous organizations have used data in communications, digital activism and campaigning during COVID-19. In a global pandemic scenario, the panelists presented the challenges to access and collect information and how indigenous organizations and NGOs are assuming or complementing the governmental responsibility by collecting and publishing data themselves.

Laura Salas, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of Witness, Nelly Luna, Founder of Ojo Público and Lucas Dourojeanni, Peru Coordinator for All Eyes on the Amazon, were the panelists of the Spanish session of this episode (April 22), facilitated by Carolina Zambrano, Director of All Eyes on the Amazon. 

The Portuguese session (April 23) was facilitated by Paula Bernardi, Brazil Coordinator for All Eyes on the Amazon, and counted with the participation of Erisvan Guajajara, young Indigenous representative of the Arariboia Indigenous Land and co-founder of Mídia Índia, Fernanda Campagnucci, Director of Open Knowledge Brazil (OKBR) and Victor Ribeiro, Program Manager of Witness Brazil.

[IN SPANISH]

[IN PORTUGUESE]

The following is a recollection of the main actions, challenges, recommendations and resources that were shared in a dynamic interaction among the panelists and the audience. 

Actions

  • Exposing violations remotely: The accurate collection, documentation and communication of data by Indigenous peoples (IPs) plays an even more important role during the pandemic, as self-isolation makes the data shared through virtual and radio means, the only source of information about what is happening within the Indigenous territories.
  • Ongoing capacity building for collecting data for legal, campaigning and advocacy actions: The promotion of ongoing capacity building and technical support is essential for collecting data in the most complete and informative way, so it may be qualified as an irrefutable evidence for legal, campaign and advocacy ends. Witness has developed a methodology and applies training workshops with Indigenous monitors and leaders on how to collect data as evidence.

Digital activism: Indigenous organizations are using communication as their fighting tool to denounce, worldwide, the violations occurring in their territories. This year, the 16th edition of the Free Land Camp (Acampamento Terra Livre), the largest indigenous mobilization in Brazil, took place online, through several webinars and online activations, under the premise:

  • "It's time to demarcate the screens!" as an effort to put visibility over the threats and challenges faced by IPs, particularly in the context of coronavirus.
  • Fighting against fake news with facts: Media portals such as Ojo Público, are developing short fact sheets about Covid-19 in local indigenous languages, to be shared through Whatsapp, Facebook, and other means, to rural communities.
  • Promoting open data for public expenses: Access to information is also a fundamental tool for civil society monitoring of public procurement and accountability. An analysis promoted by Rubrica Agency shows that, although the Brazilian Indigenous Foundation (Funai) had available an approximate USD 2 million budget for promoting response actions to protect and assist Indigenous peoples against COVID-19, that budget had not been allocated as of April 13.

Challenges

  • Limited production and access to data: Governments from the nine countries that compose the Amazon region have published limited information on the impacts of COVID-19 in Indigenous peoples (IPs), counting with no disaggregated data for this - difficulting the work of indigenous organizations, journalists and civil society in the monitoring of the situation, as well as unabling the promotion of tailored and evidence-based strategies to address the specific vulnerabilities of IPs. In cases where the data is open and disaggregated, it is often not accurate, for instance, the Brazilian Secretariat for Healthcare for Indigenous Peoples (SESAI) does not include urban Indigenous in the data of IPs affected by COVID-19.
  • Weak conditions for land monitoring and communications: In terms of monitoring of illegal activities promoted in Indigenous lands, Indigenous monitors play the key role of collecting data for law enforcement ends. However, there are several obstacles that need to be addressed for the fulfillment of this task, such as the provision and maintenance of technological equipment for data collection; the systematization, analysis and prioritization of data; the promotion of capacity building and the sharing of the information (through remote means during COVID-19 pandemic); and the connection between the collected data and its use for law enforcement, which requires promoting synergies between indigenous organization, civil society and government authorities. 

Recommendations

  • Invest resources to collect and produce open and qualified data related to IPs: Governments should include categories in the forms for registering contaminations / deaths by COVID-19 for ethnic groups / self-declaration, as well as guide healthcare workers on how to fill out that information. Also, governments should apply resources to ensure an open and updated database. 
  • Collect and communicate data on coronavirus impacts on IPs respecting anonymity: Data must be communicated respecting the anonymity of the people. 
  • Use data in a timely manner: The timely collection and production of data and evidence from grassroots organizations and communities is essential, as using the information at the right time will have a more profound impact on supportive actions for lobbying and advocacy initiatives.

Resources

  • Use of videos to protect human rights: In the context of COVID-19, Witness has gathered and published best practices, guidelines and toolkits to ensure the appliance of data for legal evidence, storytelling and also for the adoption of security measures when collecting data in conflictive scenarios. Available in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic.
  • COVID-19 and (Brazilian) IPs platform: Promoted by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) and the Socioambiental Institute (ISA), the platform monitors infection and death cases among IPs in Brazil, including urban Indigenous people - unlike data from the Brazilian Government, currently.
  • COVID-19 Transparency Index: A platform developed by Open Knowledge Brazil, promotes and monitors the transparency level of each Brazilian state based on COVID-19 information provided. Currently, the Index shows that most Amazonian states have the lowest indexes of transparency for COVID-19 data, which makes the access to information more difficult and thus the promotion of effective strategies to address the critic healthcare scenario for the assistance to COVID-19 patients in the region.

For more information, please contact: erojas@hivos.org