23 United States Lawmakers Demand Impartial Probe Into Murders of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips

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Dom Phillips, Bruno Pereira, right

Nearly two dozen congressional Democrats in mid July pressured the Biden administration to push for an independent investigation into the June murders of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips in Brazil’s Javari Valley, and to improve U.S. policy related to the region.

“This human-level tragedy is a symptom of a broader assault on the Amazon rainforest.”

U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.), joined by 21 House colleagues, detailed their demands in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“These two are just the highest profile current cases of innumerable people who have been threatened and killed for their defense of the Amazon rainforest,” the letter says of Pereira and Phillips.

Of the 1,540 activist murders worldwide documented by Global Witness between 2012 and 2020, over a fifth occurred in Brazil, the letter notes, “and the killings are only the tip of the iceberg of violence that is committed daily against land and environment defenders.”

“This human-level tragedy is a symptom of a broader assault on the Amazon rainforest, which is pushing the vast ecosystem to an ecological tipping point,” the letter continues, highlighting how deforestation in Brazil—home to a majority of the rainforest—and threats against local Indigenous peoples have soared under far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“Impunity is the watchword for killings in the Brazilian Amazon, and for the future of the Amazon this case cannot just fade into memory,” the letter adds, before outlining lawmakers’  for the Biden administration:

  • Publicly call for prosecutions of all those involved in this crime and an impartial, exhaustive investigation into the circumstances of the killing—focusing not just on the assailants, but also on any other relevant individuals and organizations
  • Meet with representatives of local indigenous peoples, to their concerns and request for support
  • Commit to a long-term follow-up on the security situation of Indigenous peoples of the Javarí region, and support efforts for collective protection of their territories such as the Indigenous patrols
  • Send a high-level delegation to Brazil to meet with representatives of local indigenous peoples and formulate a U.S. policy agenda for addressing their concerns
  • Coordinate closely with other governments, international experts, and international organizations (including relevant United Nations human rights bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) to monitor and respond to the ongoing situation.

The letter comes after Eliésio Marubo, an attorney for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley, UNIVAJA, met with members of Congress, the State Department, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the head of the Organization of American States, and journalists in Washington, D.C. “to expose the serious situation in the Javari Valley region.”

Marubo stated that “support of U.S. congresspeople through this letter is vital so that we can continue to pressure the Brazilian government to protect the Javari V Z Zalley.”

“They must prevent more of our fellow fighters from being assassinated and the perpetrators from going unpunished,” he continued. “President Joe Biden said that protecting the Amazon would guide his administration’s environmental policy, so we hope that this letter will lead to concrete measures in defense of the forest and its people.”

Leaders at other groups also called for action from the Biden administration.

Amazon Watch advocacy director Andrew Miller said at the same time that “following up on the killing of Bruno and Dom will be crucial, in addition to diplomatic and political support for the crucial work that UNIVAJA continues under serious threat.”

Diana Ruiz, head of forests at Greenpeace USA, pointed out that “climate justice depends on swift action to stop human rights abuses and attacks on environmental human rights defenders and the rampant environmental destruction that is taking hold in Brazil.”

“The murders of Bruno and Dom expose the grave danger that Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders face when they stand up against illegal mining, logging, and powerful interests of criminal networks,” she added. “The U.S. has a responsibility to act as time is of the essence for Indigenous peoples of Javari Valley and those who work and advocate for their protection.”

JESSICA CORBETT/Common Dreams