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Aerial view of a burning area of Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, on August 16, 2020. (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP) (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Photo by: FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR

FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR

Brazil’s President Could Be Charged Over Amazon Destruction

By: Lucy Sherriff

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro could face international criminal charges in the Hague over his part in the destruction of the country’s Amazon rainforest.

March 10, 2021

Indigenous leaders and human rights groups have called on the international court to prosecute Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity, after he removed environmental safeguards in the rainforest.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's President, speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil (February 2020)

Photo by: Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's President, speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil (February 2020)

Earlier this year, William Bourdon, an attorney in France, submitted a request for a preliminary investigation. “It is a matter of great urgency,” Bourdon told The Guardian at the time. “We are running against the clock, considering the devastation of the Amazon.”

The Amazon has seen an almost 50% increase in deforestation, the most in 12 years, since Bolsonaro succeeded to office in 2019. According to one report, invasions of indigenous tribal territories by miners and ranchers has increased by 135%.

Before he was elected, President Biden called for Brazil to face “economic consequences” for failing to combat deforestation in the Amazon, but it is yet to be seen whether the administration will push through with any action.

Last year, the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil recorded 2.4 million acres that had been cut down, while 2020 saw catastrophic forest fires. Bolsonaro has argued that the Amazon is a resource for the country, and Brazil should use it to develop its economy. In addition, at least 18 people were murdered in land conflicts in 2020 alone, yet the number of fines for environmental crimes in the Amazon basin dropped by 42% in 2019, and the 2021 federal budget for law enforcement in the rainforest was cut by almost 30%, a report by Climate Observatory found.

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Even with a decree banning fires throughout the Brazilian territory, fires and clouds of smoke are seen near the city of Novo Progresso.

Photo by: NurPhoto

NurPhoto

Even with a decree banning fires throughout the Brazilian territory, fires and clouds of smoke are seen near the city of Novo Progresso.

“While the scenario is getting worse and worse, the government is reducing enforcement,” Marcio Astrini, the executive director of Climate Observatory, a group of environmental NGOs, said. “It is frightening to see that there is a coordinated attack on the climate, the forest, and its people.”That Bolsonaro might be subjected to a trial at The Hague for environmental crimes is unprecedented. In 2016, The Hague, which is backed by the UN, decided it would assess offenses including environmental and cultural crimes, and not just war crimes and genocide. If Bolsonaro is prosecuted, it would pave the way for other environmental organizations–and indigenous groups–to fight for justice."

The Hague’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will now determine whether there are grounds for an investigation against Bolsonaro.

Bourdon believes the case could lead to Bolsonaro being put on trial for ecocide, a term which means to cause serious and lasting harm to the environment and people. Bourdon filed the case on behalf of indigenous chiefs Almir Suruí and Raoni Metuktire, a 91-year-old indigenous chief of the Kayapo people.

“Bolsonaro has been the worst for us,” the chief has previously said in an interview in 2019. “I have seen many presidents come and go, but none spoke so badly of indigenous people or threatened us and the forest like this.”

“We are running against the clock, considering the devastation of the Amazon,” the attorney added.

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