Authorities in Brazil must thoroughly investigate the brutal murders of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips in the Javari Valley (Amazonas state) and act to protect Indigenous territories and defenders, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS said today.
Pereira and Phillips went missing on 5th June as they returned from a reporting trip on the Itaquaí River, in the northern Amazonas state. The response of the Brazilian authorities to their disappearance was slow, and initial search efforts were largely led by Indigenous defenders of the União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (UNIJAVA). Late last week, authorities confirmed that Pereira and Phillips’ bodies were found after a suspect confessed his involvement in the crime. The pair were ambushed by members of an illegal fishing operation in protected areas of the Javari Valley, which Phillips had reportedly photographed a day earlier.
These devastating killings are not an isolated event as Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries for land and environmental defenders. At least 20 environmental defenders were killed in 2020, according to Global Witness. These attacks reflect the Bolsonaro government neglect toward Indigenous territories and his administration’s active effort to dismantle Brazil’s environmental governance institutions. Shortly before his killing, Pereira had spoken to a journalist about Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI), of which he had taken unpaid leave after being sidelined for leading a successful operation against illegal mining inside Yanomami territory. Maxciel dos Santos, another Indigenous protection agent, was shot and killed in the Amazonas state in September 2019. The murder remains unsolved three years on.
Bruno Pereira was a civil servant who formerly headed the effort to protect Indigenous peoples who live in voluntary isolation. He had recently been working directly with Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley on the protection of their territories through UNIVAJA. Dom Phillips was a British journalist who lived in Brazil for over a decade, and whose reporting increasingly focused on the Amazon rainforest and environmental issues. He was conducting interviews and research for a book about the rainforest’s protection.
We stand in solidarity with Indigenous rights defenders and the families of Pereira and Phillips as they demand justice. Today, environmental groups, Indigenous organisations and civil servants have scheduled protests in front of FUNAI buildings. CIVICUS joins their calls for a thorough investigation to hold all perpetrators accountable. Inquiries must also be made into the role of the Brazilian State in allowing criminal networks to operate with impunity, enabling attacks on Indigenous territories and human rights defenders. We call on the international community to express their support for environmental and Indigenous rights defenders in Brazil, and the journalists’ whose important work shines a light on the risks they face.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Brazil as obstructed.
In his electoral campaign, President Jair Bolsonaro vowed to “end all activism in Brazil.” Since he took office in 2019, Indigenous communities and environmental and land rights defenders have become increasingly vulnerable to attacks, as the government emboldens criminal groups that engage in illegal logging, mining, land grabbing and other activities. Other widely documented attacks include public vilification of CSOs, criminalisation of activists and attempts to monitor critics and discredit the media.