Criminals target defenders of Brazil’s Amazon: Report


More than 300 people have been killed during the last decade in the conflicts over the use of land and resources in the Amazon, according to a recent report.

“Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them, and the government is failing to protect both the defenders and the rainforest itself,” Human Rights Watch said in the report Tuesday.

“Those responsible for the violence are rarely brought to justice,” according to the 165-page report based on 170 interviews. More than 300 killings were registered by Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a nonprofit organization. Fourteen went to trial.

Of the 28 killings Human Rights Watch documented, only two went to trial; and of the more than 40 cases or threats, none did, it added.

“During his first year in office, [Brazil’s President Jair] Bolsonaro has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws, weakened federal environmental agencies, and harshly criticized organizations and individuals working to preserve the rainforest,” the report stated.

“The situation is only getting worse under President Bolsonaro, whose assault on the country’s environmental agencies is putting the rainforest and the people who live there at much greater risk,” said Daniel Wilkinson, acting environment and human rights director at Human Right Watch.

According to preliminary official data, during Bolsonaro’s first eight months in the office beginning in January, deforestation almost doubled compared to 2018.

“Such fires do not occur naturally in the wet ecosystem of the Amazon basin,” the report said, referring to large-scale forest fires in August.

“Rather, they are started by people completing the process of deforestation where the trees of value have already been removed; they spread through the small clearings and discrete roads that have been carved by loggers, leaving veins of dryer, flammable vegetation that serve as kindling to ignite the rainforest,” it added.

As the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon plays a vital role in mitigating climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. When cut or burned down, the forest not only ceases to fulfill this function, but also releases back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide it had previously stored.

“The impact of the attacks on Brazil’s forest defenders extends far beyond the Amazon,” Wilkinson said. “Until the country addresses the violence and lawlessness that facilitate illegal logging, the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest will continue unchecked.”

On Sept. 23, the UN will hold a summit meeting to discuss global efforts to mitigate climate change.

Brazil committed in 2016 to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 as being part of these efforts.
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