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Indigenous communities are being devastated by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic beyond the immediate threat to their lives, according to UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples José Francisco Cali Tzay. 

COVID-19 is exacerbating the inequalities indigenous communities face daily, Tzay said in a statement on Monday. He expressed concerns for the rights, culture, and way of life of indigenous peoples around the world amid the pandemic. 

“I am receiving more reports every day from all corners of the globe about how indigenous communities are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in the statement, “and it deeply worries me to see it is not always about health issues.” 

Amid nationwide lockdowns and social distancing orders, indigenous peoples are being denied their basic human rights, including freedom of expression and association, Tzay continued.

Businesses are also reportedly taking advantage of stay-home orders to seize and destroy their lands and resources.

“Indigenous peoples who lose their lands and livelihoods are pushed further into poverty, higher rates of malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, as well as exclusion from medical services, which in turn renders them particularly vulnerable to the disease,” he said.

Pedro dos Santos, the leader of a community named Park of Indigenous Nations, poses for a photo, in Manaus, Brazil, May 10, 2020.
Pedro dos Santos, the leader of a community named Park of Indigenous Nations, poses for a photo, in Manaus, Brazil, May 10, 2020.
Image: Felipe Dana/AP

Calling on countries to protect indigenous communities, Tzay encouraged governments around the world to create initiatives that ensure indigenous peoples are treated fairly and equally under the law. 

He also urged countries to distribute information about COVID-19 to indigenous communities in their languages, noting that governments need to also provide medical services that are more culturally appropriate to the needs of indigenous peoples.

Many indigenous communities do not have equal access to public health facilities and are often neglected by public services and government assistance.

“The pandemic is teaching us that we need to change: we need to value the collective over the individual and build inclusive societies that respect and protect everyone. It is not only about protecting our health,” Tzay said.


Defeat Poverty

COVID-19 Is Devastating World’s Indigenous Communities Beyond the Immediate Health Threat

By Catherine Caruso