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2008 Australian-Style Intervention of Indigenous Communities Moves to Brazil

2008 Australian-Style Intervention of Indigenous Communities Moves to Brazil

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Published by John Schertow

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: John Schertow on Jun 14, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Australian-Style Intervention of IndigenousCommunities Moves to Brazil
By John Schertow - January 23, 2008There's a new law being debated in Brazil that threatens to underminethe rights and livelihoods of all Indigenous people in this SouthAmerican nation.Through twisting the letter and intent of International LabourOrganisation convention 169, among other International agreementsand National legislation, this law proposes that Brazil perform a state-wide intervention campaign to "save" indigenous children from badtreatment, neglect, abuse, exploitation, and infanticide.While not as comprehensive as the 700 pages of legislation thatembodies the "Australian Intervention"this Brazilian equivalent poses an even greater danger. If legislated, it would allow state forces toenter all indigenous communities on a regular basis; and it would forceIndigenous people to police themselves by making them legallyobligated to denounce any community member who is or who may beharming children.If they do not denounce such a person, or if someone is suspected toknow something but declined to report it, they would then be punishedsimilarly to those who harmed or may have harmed a child. Punishmentwould range from fines and incarceration to the state taking away thechildren or just adopting them out
most likely, to non-indigenouspeople.
Under the Cloak of Benevolence
As is the case with the Australian Intervention
this law, and the intentof those behind it must be called into question. At first glance, thereare five main reasons for this:1 It quite clearly subverts indigenous rights;2 It blatantly mischaracterizes the facts to justify the alleged need foran 'intervention;'3 It's entirely discriminatory;4 It grossly criminalizes all indigenous people;5 It would have an immeasurable impact on their everyday lives.It's also important to note how this law would give the state of Brazil aprime, legal opportunity to incarcerate an entire indigenouscommunity
leaving the land completely open for the state to do withit as they please. If this law becomes legislation, all it would take is forone indigenous person to say "everyone knew." There wouldn't evenhave to be any actual abuse - just the accusation would suffice.As far as the intent goes, some months ago, Rita Laura Segato, from theDept. of Anthropology, University of Brasilia, gave a presentationarguing against this the law - where she made it abundantly clear:[A major concern is] with the gradual growth of punitive andcriminalizing dimensions of State action in detriment of other kinds of action. Analysts criticize the fact that, whileState agencies seem to concentrate more and more of theirresponsibilities upon punitive measures, they relegate sine-die other and more vital obligations. This law we came hereto argue fits in precisely within this trend, endorsing themuch lamented and condemned profile of the punitiveState, a State that reduces its performance to the acts of force on and against the peoples whom it should protectand promote.
In his last book, The Enemy in Criminal Law2, the influentialArgentine jurist Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, today Minister of the Supreme Court, examines the contradiction between theprinciples of Democracy and the punitive State. Zaffaroniunveils the hidden transcript of the punishing Statethroughout history and, especially, in the contemporarycontext. What emerges is that penal juridical discourseunavoidably introduces the idea of an enemy, which unfoldsfrom the category of the hostis in ancient Roman law. WhileDemocracy is supposedly for all, criminal legislation speaksalways, in either more hidden or more explicit ways, of thefigure of an inimical other, for then to enshrine itself inopposition to it. Though the State belongs to all, it projects(and, as a matter of fact, e-jects), by means of Criminal lawdiscourse, the figure of an other people, to then, as part of the same maneuver, claim it as enemy.In the case of the law we debate, the enemy in Criminal lawis each indigenous people, the radical difference theyrepresent and their right to make their own history. This lawcriminalizes the village and attempts at punishing the other just for being other. The authors do not stand the possibilityof existence of a collectivity that is not a part of them.As for mischaracterizing the facts, this is expressly done in the author'sprimary focus, which is on the abolition of the traditional practice of infanticide. While it's true that some indigenous cultures still practicethis, it's nowhere near as prevalent as the authors suggest. The simplefact is it's a dying tradition that only a handful of Indigenous Culturescontinue to exercise.However, even if the practice of infanticide was as wide-spread as theyclaim, this type of legislation would simply not deter it from happening.

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