Bruno's funeral

Members of the Indigenous Xucuru tribe pay their respects in front of the coffin with the remains of Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira at his funeral on June 24, 2022 in Paulista, Brazil. (Photo by Anderson Stevens/Getty Images)

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

An Indigenous attorney said 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 Valley."

Nearly two dozen congressional Democrats on Tuesday 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. Raul 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' demands 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 hear their concerns and request for support;
  • Commit to a long-term follow-up on the security situation of Indigenous peoples of the Javari 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; and
  • 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 Eliesio 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 said Tuesday 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 Valley."

"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 Tuesday 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."

As Marubo toldThe Guardian, to which Phillips was a regular contributor, last week: "The murder of our friends was not an isolated incident. We know there are many interests in the region who had something to gain from their deaths--and the deaths of all environmental and Indigenous rights defenders, including ourselves."

The Indigenous attorney, who helped coordinate the search for Pereira and Phillips, said that Brazilian authorities "did not do due diligence, but we were committed to returning the bodies to their families as a sign of respect." Funerals were held last month after the men's remains were turned over to their relatives.

Marubo added that "the three men arrested were not acting alone. We need a thorough independent investigation without interference from the government."

Eduardo Fonte, who is leading the Brazilian federal police's probe of the murders, acknowledged in late June that the men in custody may not have acted alone.

"It's possible that there is an intellectual author behind this," said Fonte. "The investigation is ongoing. We are looking at everything and we won't leave any stone unturned. We'll find out what happened, and what didn't happen."

Marubo told The Guardian that "the federal police have the technical and logistical capabilities--and the constitutional responsibility--to find out who ordered the killings, why, and what interests were at stake. We have provided them with all the information we have about drug trafficking and other illicit trades in the region."

The UNIVAJA lawyer also urged global leaders to increase pressure on Bolsonaro, who faces a challenging path to reelection later this year, with former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva currently leading in the polls.

"Our right to life is being violated," Marubo said. "We want the international community to remind the Bolsonaro government of its obligations and responsibilities to respect the rule of law and our right to live."

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