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demonstrators for Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips

Demonstrators wearing animal costumes hold signs during a protest organized by Guarani indigenous people and environmental activists to demand justice for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous activist Bruno Pereira on June 18, 2022 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo: Rodrigo Paiva/Getty Images)

As Investigation Continues, Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips Remembered From Brazil to Britain

"The relentless violence against environmental defenders and investigative journalists," one expert wrote of Brazil, "offers a window into the scale of environmental crime and its monumental toll on natural and human ecosystems."

Jessica Corbett

As police in Brazil revealed Sunday that more suspects have been identified in the murder investigation of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips, they were remembered around the world for their commitment to Indigenous people and the Amazon rainforest.

"Their work mattered because our planet, the threats to it, and the activities of those who threaten it matter. That work must be continued."

Pereira, a 41-year-old Brazilian expert on isolated Indigenous communities, and Phillips, a 57-year-old British journalist, were shot to death in Brazil's Javari Valley. After confirming Friday that Phillips' body had been found, police announced Saturday that Pereira's remains were also located.

While authorities had already arrested two brothers and a third man turned himself in on Saturday, Brazilian police said Sunday that "five more people have been identified for having participated in the hiding of the bodies," according to The Guardian.

The pair disappeared earlier this month while Pereira, a former top official at the Brazilian Indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, was accompanying Phillips on a reporting trip for his forthcoming book, How to Save the Amazon.

"It was to have been a book for everyone: accessible and useful, looking at solutions as well as problems. That was typical of Dom, whose journalism was always aimed at making the world a fairer, more accountable, and enlightened place," Jonathan Watts, The Guardian's global environment editor, wrote Thursday.

"Dom's book project was on the cutting edge of environmental reporting in Brazil. It was extremely ambitious, but he had the experience to pull it off," The Intercept's Andrew Fishman, a close friend of Phillips, told The Associated Press. "We cannot let his assassins also kill his vision."

The news agency reported Sunday that Phillips' wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said that "she doesn't know what will become of her husband's book, but she and his siblings want it published—whether only the four chapters already written or including others completed with outside help. Phillips' optimistic message—that the Amazon can be preserved, with the right actions—could still reach the world."

In an email to the AP, Margaret Stead, the journalist's publisher at Manilla Press, said that "we would very much like to find a way to honor the important and essential work Dom was doing."

Watts similarly wrote earlier this week that "Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira have been killed in an undeclared global war against nature and the people who defend it. Their work mattered because our planet, the threats to it, and the activities of those who threaten it matter. That work must be continued."

Another friend of Phillips, Robert Muggah—principal of SecDev and co-founder of the Igarapé Institute—noted Friday in a piece for NPR that "Brazil is among the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders and journalists."

Muggah continued:

The relentless violence against environmental defenders and investigative journalists offers a window into the scale of environmental crime and its monumental toll on natural and human ecosystems. The Javari Valley is Brazil's second-largest Indigenous territory and, like many other parts of the Amazon, ravaged by a combination of illegal logging, gold mining, wildlife trafficking, and poaching.

Investigators suspect that the killing of Dom and Bruno could have been connected to illegal fishing and poaching in indigenous territories, according to news reports. Bruno, who had received threats a few weeks before the fateful trip, was regarded as a danger to criminals in the area.

While Brazilian police said earlier this week that "the investigations indicate that the killers acted alone, with no bosses or criminal organization behind the crime," some groups in Brazil pushed back.

"The cruelty of the crime makes clear that Pereira and Phillips crossed paths with a powerful criminal organization that tried at all costs to cover its tracks during the investigation," declared the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), which was involved with the search and said it had repeatedly informed police about an organized crime group in the area.

INA, a union representing workers at FUNAI, separately said that "we all know that violence in the Javari Valley is linked to a wide chain of organized crime."

During a June 11 assembly of six regional tribes, Manoel Chorimpa, a Marubo tribesman and organizer for UNIVAJA, said that "Bruno died as our shield, protecting us and our territory."

As Reuters reported Sunday:

Shock at their fate has echoed across Brazil and around the world, highlighting the overhaul of Indigenous agency FUNAI under President Jair Bolsonaro, along with a rising tide of violence and criminal incursions on native lands.

"Why didn't the government take action before what happened to our brother Bruno and the journalist?" Chief Arabonah Kanamari demanded angrily at the UNIVAJA assembly.

"Now it falls to us to police our own territory. FUNAI has practically abandoned us," he said.

Pereira requested a leave of absence from FUNAI in 2020 after he was demoted the previous year within a few weeks of working with Brazilian police on an operation to destroy boats used by illegal miners in the Javari Valley.

"Until his death, he was working as an adviser" for UNIVAJA, "training Indigenous people who didn't speak Portuguese to use satellite technology to map invasions in their territory," The Washington Post noted Saturday.

Pereira and Phillips "had been traveling the Itaquai River to interview Indigenous surveillance teams who were mapping criminal activity and defending their land from invaders," the newspaper explained, calling it the kind of work to which the expert "had devoted his career, collaborating closely with Indigenous communities and studying the whereabouts of uncontacted peoples threatened by the encroachment of modernity."

"A passionate defender of the Amazon, Mr. Pereira gained the trust of Indigenous partners by embedding and investing in their communities," the Post reported. "He could understand several languages of the Javari Valley. He could often be heard singing Indigenous songs. He loved to tell stories, friends and colleagues say, and had a witty, universal sense of humor that allowed him to connect with groups that are often skeptical of outsiders."

As Beto Marubo, a coordinator with UNIVAJA and member of the Marubo community, put it: "The Indigenous came to respect him as a connoisseur of the jungle... of the dangers and of the knowledge that the jungle offers."

Environmental, Indigenous rights, and press freedom groups continue to demand justice for Pereira and Phillips—and to call out Bolsonaro, who "has given the green light for this violence," as Greenpeace U.K. tweeted earlier this week.

"A brave and respected journalist, along with his courageous expert colleague, were killed for trying to expose the truth," said the Freedom of the Press Foundation. "All those responsible for this awful crime must face accountability."

Natalie Southwick, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, urged Brazilian authorities "to thoroughly investigate their deaths and bring all those responsible to justice," adding that "their loved ones, colleagues, and the public deserve to know what happened to Dom and Bruno, and why they are not home with their families right now."


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