HRW says criminals are targeting Brazil’s forest defenders

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 rain forest itself, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released today.

The 165-page report, “Rainforest Mafias: How Violence and Impunity Fuel Deforstation in Brzil’s Amazon”, documents how illegal logging by criminal networks and resulting forest fires are connected to acts of violence and intimidation against forest defenders and the state’s failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

“Brazilians who defend the Amazon are facing threats and attacks from criminal networks engaged in illegal logging,” said Daniel Wilkinson, acting environment and human rights director at HRW. “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.”

The criminal networks have the logistical capacity to coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, kill those who seek to defend the forest, HRW found. On September 23, 2019 the United Nations will hold a summit meeting to discuss global efforts to mitigate climate change. As its contribution to those efforts, Brazil committed in 2016 to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.

HRW interviewed more than 170 people, including 60 members of Indigenous communities, and other local residents in the states of Maranhão, Pará, and Rondônia. Researchers also interviewed dozens of government officials in Brasília and throughout the Amazon region, including many who provided inside accounts of how President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies are undermining enforcement efforts.

During his first year in office, Bolsonaro has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws, weakened federal environmental agencies, and harshly criticized organizations and individuals working to preserve the rainforest.

More than 300 people have been killed during the last decade in the context of conflicts over the use of land and resources in the Amazon – many of them by people involved in illegal logging – according to figures compiled by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, in Portuguese), a nonprofit organization, and cited by the Attorney General’s Office.

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