Are Bolsonaro’s attacks on the Amazon and indigenous tribes international crimes? A third plea says they are


For the third time in two years, indigenous groups in Brazil are accusing President Jair Bolsonaro of committing international crimes, for his actions against indigenous peoples and his environmental policies.

On Monday, an indigenous organization filed what is known as an article 15 communication with the International Criminal Court, asking court prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate whether the leader’s actions far right constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, known as APIB, alleges that Bolsonaro’s policies and public statements caused the killing of indigenous leaders, violent conflict between indigenous peoples and wild miners, the intentional spread of Covid-19 among indigenous populations and the ruin of indigenous occupied Earth.

“The anti-indigenous policy currently underway in Brazil is deliberately malicious,” the indigenous rights group said in its 151-page communication. “These are carefully planned acts that have been carried out steadily over the past two years, guided by the clear intention of producing a Brazilian nation without indigenous peoples.”

Bolsonaro’s goal, according to the communication, is to eliminate or assimilate indigenous peoples so that their lands can be used for agriculture, mining and other development activities. But the tribes have mobilized to resist the attacks on their rights and are now calling on the international community for help.

“We have been fighting every day for hundreds of years to ensure our existence and today our fight for rights is global,” Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of APIB, said in a statement.

The Brazilian embassy in Washington and its foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. But in response to a previous story by Inside Climate News, he said Bolsonaro had “systematically defended” the well-being of indigenous peoples and the preservation of the Amazon.

The policies in question include the repeal of environmental and aboriginal protection laws; reduce the budgets of key agencies; promote development in protected territories; refuse to apply laws protecting indigenous peoples; and foundry Indigenous peoples as obstacles to the economic development of Brazil, according to the article 15 communication.

For example, Brazil’s 1988 constitution includes a mandate for the government to demarcate – or identify and set aside – all indigenous territories. Bolsonaro is the first president since 1988 to stop the demarcation process, and he has not protected any additional indigenous lands since taking office in January 2019. He also supported legislation that would open up tribal lands to industrial development.

The communication also alleges that Bolsonaro used the Covid-19 pandemic to pursue his goal of “destroying” Brazil’s indigenous peoples and their way of life.

“The president has in fact encouraged the infection of indigenous people with Covid-19, especially for isolated peoples, by forcing them into contact,” the APIB said in the communication, adding that the Bolsonaro administration did not failed to eliminate intruders on indigenous lands, leading to an increase in Covid. -19 infections in tribal populations.

These intrusions are largely carried out by wild miners, whose activities have been linked to mercury poisoning and the increase in malaria infections in indigenous communities. To begin operations, the miners felled trees and excavated large tracts of land. For gold mining, they spray mercury into the sediment, a process that contaminates water sources and decimates the surrounding ecosystems. The process leaves behind open pits, where water collects and mosquitoes proliferate.

Illegal trespassing has also led to violent conflict, which the APIB says Bolsonaro’s government has failed to prevent or resolve, creating a culture of impunity. Multifaceted attacks on tribes and the environment on which they depend for their livelihood, culture and spirituality threaten their continued existence as a distinct group, according to the communication.

“With disease, death and violence in its wake, savage mining destroys the feasibility of indigenous ways of life. The destruction of the environment means that water can no longer be drunk in creeks, fish can no longer be drunk and rivers are no longer an option for construction, ”the communication said.

The group’s communication “complements the facts” of an earlier article 15 communication, filed in November 2019 by the Brazilian Collective for the Defense of Human Rights and the Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns Commission for Human Rights. ‘man. This communication also accused Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity and genocide for the destruction of the Amazon and the harm caused to indigenous peoples. Another communication was filed in January by Almir Narayamoga Suruí and Raoni Metuktire, two Brazilian indigenous leaders, accusing Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity for similar acts.

The three communications allege that acts of environmental destruction, such as deforestation and the widespread use of pesticides, have been instrumentalized to perpetrate crimes against humanity. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil lost more than 7,700 square miles of Amazon rainforest, an area almost as large as New Jersey. Scientists warn forest loss is approaching irreversible tipping point where it will not be able to regenerate, posing an existential threat to its native residents.

“For indigenous Brazilians, the land is a place of symbolic exchanges that supports indigenous collective life. Without this, the collective life of indigenous peoples collapses, ”said APIB in the new communication.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor’s office, which is considering the three article 15 communications, did not respond to a request for comment. If Khan decides to open a preliminary investigation into Bolsonaro, it would be the first time the court has investigated a Brazilian, and the first time the court has considered actions so closely linked to environmental destruction.

In 2016, under Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor’s office issued a policy statement stating that the office would prioritize crimes related to environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources or illegal dispossession of land.

In recent years, the confluence of environmental destruction and human rights violations has become increasingly prominent as ecological crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution have emerged. intensify, affecting mainly those least able to adapt to change and the least responsible.

These crises catalyzed a global movement to create a new international crime of ecocide, which would generally prohibit acts causing serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment. For now, the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is limited to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression.

In its submission to the International Criminal Court, the APIB declared that the alleged crimes against humanity were “perpetrated by mass destruction of the environment” and suggested that Bolsonaro’s actions would constitute ecocide if he it was an international crime. Suruí and Metuktire’s communication also accused Bolsonaro of committing ecocide. For now, the ecocide accusations are symbolic, but according to legal experts, they illustrate the need for a new international crime to face current realities, namely the capacity of individuals to commit acts of mass destruction. of the environment that have consequences for humanity as a whole.

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On the same day that APIB tabled its communication, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 3,000-page report making it clear that climate change is man-made and will get worse. in the years to come. The report, published by more than 200 scientists, says global warming has already caused extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and droughts around the world.

Another one peer-reviewed study, published July 29 in the journal Nature Communications, estimated that climate change could cause 83 million deaths by the turn of the century if current rates of warming continued. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has contributed to warming, with the forest now releasing more carbon dioxide than it accumulates or stores.

The sobering scenarios presented in these reports have given new urgency to calls to make ecocide a crime to address the underlying causes of global environmental crises.

On the day of the publication of the IPCC report, British lawyer Phillipe Sands, who participates in the Stop Ecocide campaign, tweeted: “Beyond a wake-up call on global warming, the world needs a range of tools to prevent these horrors, including ecocide and crimes against humanity.

To give the International Criminal Court the power to prosecute ecocide, at least two-thirds of the court’s member countries, or about 82, would have to agree to do so. The United States is not a member of the tribunal and disputes that the prosecutor can exercise jurisdiction over American nationals who have allegedly committed crimes in the territory of the member states.

For now, Brazil’s indigenous peoples are hopeful that Khan decides to keep his office’s promise of 2016 to prioritize environmentally related crimes.

“We believe that there are acts underway in Brazil which constitute crimes against humanity, genocide and ecocide,” Luiz Eloy Terena, APIB legal coordinator, said in a statement. “Given the inability of the current judicial system in Brazil to investigate, prosecute and judge these behaviors, we have denounced these acts to the international community.”

He added: “The APIB will continue to fight for the right of indigenous peoples to exist in their diversity. We are the first nations of Brazil and we will not give in to extermination.


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