This article was written in collaboration with. released Inside climate news, a non-profit, independent news agency dealing with climate, energy and the environment. It’s part of The Fifth Crime, a series about ecocide.
On a Tuesday afternoon in late March 2020, Zezico Rodrigues Guajajara was killed by armed men while riding a motorcycle near his home village in Maranhao, Brazil.
As a member of the Guajajara Tribe, he had worked for years to protect the land in the Amazon that belonged to his ancestors and other uncontacted or isolated tribes. For Zezico, repelling illegal break-ins became increasingly dangerous as encouraged logging and mining groups targeted him and other indigenous environmental activists. He was the fifth Guajajara to be killed within five months and one of over two dozen forest conservationists killed in Brazil since 2019.
Indigenous chiefs and human rights organizations have accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of making such killings possible through government policies that they believe promote the destruction of the Amazon without protecting the rights of indigenous people. You have asked the International Criminal Court to investigate whether the far-right leader’s actions – including weakening dozens of environmental protection measures and promoting private development in the Amazon, which contribute to the displacement of indigenous peoples and climate change – constitute crimes against humanity.
“Bolsonaro has been campaigning against indigenous peoples and their rights since he took office,” said Marcio Astrini, head of the environmental organization Climate Observatory. “In actions and speeches, he encourages land grabbers, illegal loggers and illegal miners to invade indigenous areas, which leads to violence and deforestation. It endangers indigenous communities and lives. “
Astrini supported the inquiry, saying that the international court’s measures are needed to deter the Brazilian government from facilitating illegal activities in the Amazon.
The Brazilian Embassy in Washington and its State Department did not respond to requests for comment. In response to questions from Inside Climate News and NBC News about a previous article, the Brazilian embassy said Bolsonaro had “consistently worked for the welfare of the indigenous people and the preservation of the Amazon.”
in the public comments, Bolsonaro defends Brazil Right to develop the rainforest, citing the country’s sovereignty, and accusing foreign leaders of trying to impede Brazil’s lucrative agricultural and commodity export industries. Its supporters also point out that Brazil has historically contributed very little to climate change when compared to developed countries like the US.
The Public Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is weighing the inquiry, did not respond to a request for comment. The call on the court to investigate Bolsonaro is the latest twist in a growing debate over whether mass environmental damage should be prosecuted as an international crime.
Bolsonaro’s rampant deforestation in the Amazon and the threat of climate change have led world leaders like Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron to campaign for a new international crime called “ecocide”, which would prohibit widespread environmental degradation. Supporters cite Bolsonaro’s actions in the Amazon as a prime example of real-time ecocides.