Brazil: “A momentous, historic victory” for Indigenous people as Supreme Court rejects Time Limit Trick

September 21, 2023

There have been dozens of protests in Brazil and around the world against the Time Limit Trick. Above, a protest outside the Brazilian Embassy in London on the day the Supreme Court began its ruling. © Sue Cunningham/Survival

Opponents of Indigenous rights in Brazil have suffered a major setback after the Supreme Court rejected a proposal that threatened hundreds of Indigenous territories.

The proposal was heavily pushed by the country’s powerful agribusiness industry, and aimed to legalize the theft of huge areas of Indigenous land.

Known as the “Time Limit Trick,” it argued that Indigenous peoples in Brazil who could not prove they were living on their land on October 5, 1988 (the date of the signing of the current Constitution) had no right to have those lands demarcated (officially mapped out and protected).

If the Court had approved the proposal, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people faced the prospect of being dispossessed of their lands, and dozens of uncontacted tribes could have been wiped out.

One of the judges who ruled against the Time Limit Trick, Justice Edson Fachin, said in his ruling: "As can be seen from the text of the Constitution, the original territorial rights of the [Indigenous people] are recognized, but in any case they pre-date the promulgation of the Constitution."

The Guarani organization Aty Guasu said in response to the ruling: “For us this is an important moment of battle and celebration. We’re crying with joy. Today we’re going to sing the song of life and dance the dance of joy. The Supreme Court has shown that it cares about our lives and that it’s against genocide. It has listened to the cry of the Indigenous peoples of Brazil. Now we’ll continue our fight for the demarcation of our lands, as resolute and strong as ever.”

National Indigenous organization APIB announced the news with: “Victory! Indigenous peoples have defeated the Time Limit Trick! We stand firm! Rights can’t be negotiated away.”

Indigenous protest in Brazil. © Tukumã Pataxó/Midia Indígena

The Indigenous movement and their allies, including Survival, have been campaigning for years for the Time Limit Trick to be scrapped. During the six years that the Supreme Court has taken to decide the case, there have been massive protests in Brazil and worldwide against the proposal, and against draft law PL490 (now PL2903), which contains a series of anti-Indigenous policies including the Time Limit Trick.

Woie Kriri Patte, of the Xokleng people, whose struggle to regain their land has been the test case at the Supreme Court, said while fighting against the Time Limit Trick: “It is a gun held to our head… The Time Limit Trick is genocidal and unjust and we won’t accept it.”

Survival International’s Research and Advocacy Director Fiona Watson said today: “This is a momentous, historic victory for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, and a massive defeat for the agribusiness lobby. 

“The Time Limit Trick was an attempt to legalize the theft of millions of hectares of Indigenous land. Indigenous peoples nationwide would have been catastrophically impacted, among them the uncontacted Kawahiva, and tens of thousands of Guarani people in southern Brazil.

“It was all part of a devastating assault on Brazil's Indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforest, so this rejection of it is hugely important, not only for Indigenous peoples, but for the global fight against climate change too.”

Fiona Watson and Survival Brasil’s Sarah Shenker and Priscilla Schwarzenholz are available for interview.

Note to Editors:

Two judges have not yet voted, but a majority of the judges have now voted against the Time Limit Trick, so the proposal has been rejected. The final ruling will not be delivered until all the judges have voted, and it’s possible that conditions may be imposed.