Brazil: Environmental Defenders Disappeared

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In the morning of 5 June 2022, Bruno Pereira, Brazilian Indigenous peoples’ expert and licensed civil servant at the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), and Dom Phillips, British journalist and contributor to The Guardian, were last seen en route between the riverside community of São Rafael and the city of Atalaia do Norte, in the state of Amazonas, in northern Brazil. The two were traveling through the Javari Valley in order to visit and interview an Indigenous Vigilance team, organized to ensure the protection and environmental preservation of the reserve lands.

The Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja), the local organization leading their search, reported receiving an anonymous letter threatening Bruno and his collaborator, a week before Bruno and Dom disappeared.

According to media, Univaja also reported that the day previous to their disappearance, three men known as ilegal fishermen approached a boat where Bruno, Dom and members of an Indigenous patrol were, and threatened them with fire weapons. Media also reported that a local fisherman is currently being held by the Military Police as a suspect of their disappearance.

The Javari Valley is located on the border of the Amazon with Peru and Colombia and has 8.5 million hectares of demarcated land, making it the second largest official Indigenous territory in Brazil. The region is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous peoples in voluntar isolation in the world, and its access is only possible by land and river routes. Like other regions of the Brazilian Amazon, the Javari Valley is the scene of intense conflicts led by land invaders associated with mining and illegal logging. In addition, the area is also crossed by drug trafficking disputes, which take advantage of the poorly monitored borders to dominate the drug trade flows between Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The region has a history of violence and threats against FUNAI public servants, human rights defenders, and non-governmental organizations. In 2019, Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, a FUNAI servant in Tabatinga, was murdered by gunfire. To this day the crime has not been solved.

The Brazilian government, headed by President Jair Bolsonaro, is notorious for its policies of dismantling environmental legislation and its attacks on the rights of Indigenous peoples and other traditional communities. In August 2021, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court against President Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity and genocide, associated with his encouragement of invasions of Indigenous lands by miners.

The Brazilian state has an obligation to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists, and public servants can carry out their work in freedom and safety. Don Phillips and Bruno Pereira are recognized for their reporting on the Amazon and their commitment to Indigenous peoples’ rights. 

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