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TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As recession bites and land disputes hit Brazil's agricultural heartland, indigenous people face land grabs and assaults by violent gangs, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people.
Once a world leader in restoring indigenous land rights, Brazil, with a government mired in a corruption scandal, is not doing enough to protect indigenous people who are attacked for protecting their ancestral land, she said.
"There have been extremely worrying regressions in the protection of indigenous peoples' rights," Tauli-Corpuz said in a statement after a 10-day fact-finding mission to the country.
"Through its paralysis, the Brazilian state appears to be establishing the conditions for conflict which will ultimately have a devastating impact on indigenous peoples and society as a whole."
Brazil's National Indian Foundation, a government body responsible for ensuring the rights of indigenous people, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the U.N. report, nor did the Ministry of Agriculture.
Brazil was one of the first countries to grant indigenous rights on a large-scale following 1973 legislation allowing indigenous people control over territory they historically inhabited, even if they didn't have formal legal title to those lands.
The country's National Indian Foundation has granted 545 titles for indigenous lands covering nearly 13 percent of Brazil's territory.
But these rulings are not always enforced in South America's largest country, as powerful interests covet territories for resource projects, Tauli-Corpuz said.
She singled out the Belo Monte hydro-electric dam, currently under construction along the Xingu River which could displace more than 20,000 people, as one of the big resource projects hurting indigenous peoples.
"Threats and intimidation" against indigenous land activists have been "perpetrated with impunity" in recent years, she said.
Tauli-Corpuz called for immediate measures to be taken to protect indigenous leaders, 138 of whom were killed in 2014, according to the United Nations.
Indigenous people account for less than one percent of Brazil's population of more than 200 million, Tauli-Corpuz said.
Nearly 40 percent of indigenous people in Brazil live in poverty, compared to less than 10 percent of the general population, according to a 2010 census.
Reporting By Chris Arsenault, Editing by Ros Russell please add:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org