On International Human Rights Day, we stand with Environmental Defenders and Indigenous Peoples around the world because:
* In 2018, 164 environmental defenders were murdered around the world. Almost one-third of these killings occurred in the Amazon.
* Tropical forests are critical to combat the climate crisis, and forests managed by Indigenous Peoples are healthier and experience less deforestation than even national parks.
* Rainforest Foundation US provides security and other support to Indigenous leaders whose lives are threatened when they stand up to governments and corrupt businesses.
(This article is adapted from a recent email letter by Suzanne Pelletier, Rainforest Foundation US Executive Director.)
How a murder on a remote Brazilian road is linked to the climate crisis
The drive-by shooting this weekend of two Guajajara Indigenous leaders on a lonesome road in Brazil by unknown assailants has gone largely unreported.
But the murder of the two environmental defenders, Firmino and Raimundo Guajajara, (and a third one, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, who was killed a little over a month ago) is of profound importance to the long-term survival of the Amazon and, by extension, the world’s ability to manage the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Linking the murder with the climate crisis may sound like an exaggeration until you consider the fact that scientists agree that saving the Amazon is critical to humanity’s ability to survive the most damaging impacts of global warming.
The statement is even less of an exaggeration when you realize that forests that are owned and managed by Indigenous Peoples experience less deforestation and boast greater biodiversity than even national parks.
This satellite image of Panama shows the boundaries of Indigenous territories (in green). Notice the deep green (healthy) forests when compared to neighboring protected areas.
A global pattern of abuse against environmental defenders
Unfortunately, the murders of Firminio, Raimundo, and Paulo Paulino Guajajara represent probably only a small fraction of the violence perpetrated against environmental defenders across the Amazon this year.
According to Global Witness, 164 environmental defenders were murdered across the globe in 2018 and about a third of these occurred in the Amazon.
Currently, the persecution and intimidation of Indigenous Peoples is worse in Brazil where President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly supported the invasion of Indigenous lands for “more productive uses” and called for the “assimilation” of Indigenous Peoples into mainstream Brazilian culture.
Edwin Chota is one of four Indigenous Asheninka leaders murdered in 2014 for standing up to a powerful illegal logging company in the Peruvian Amazon.
A glimmer of hope in Peru
Across the Amazon — and in many other countries in the tropical belt — the murder of environmental defenders and Indigenous leaders often goes unpunished.
One exception may be Peru, where federal prosecutors recently filed murder charges against two powerful businessmen who are the alleged masterminds behind the killing of four Indigenous Asheninka leaders slain in 2014 for trying to protect their forest.
The trial could set a historical precedent for Indigenous Peoples across the Amazon who have for centuries been victims of murder, rape, harassment, and other abuses for trying to protect their lands and defend their cultures.
Diana Rios’ father was slain alongside Ashaninka leader and environmental defender, Edwin Chota.
Diana is today an outspoken leader for the community of Saweto in its quest for justice.
What can be done? Support the Indigenous communities, demand justice
Since 2014, thanks to support from donors like you, Rainforest Foundation US has provided security to members of the Saweto community and to the widows of the four murdered Asheninka leaders.
Our primary goal is to ensure the safety of the widows and community members while supporting them in their quest for justice.
Additionally, Rainforest Foundation US is working with partners to make sure that the case remains visible and cannot be easily swept under the rug. This week, members of the Saweto community are visiting Washington DC to urge US government agencies, lawmakers, and human rights organizations to keep up the pressure on the Peruvian government.
Find out more about what you can do by visiting justiceforsaweto.org
Supporting Indigenous environmental defenders in Brazil
In addition to supporting the people of Saweto in Peru, Rainforest Foundation US is also providing direct security support to Yanomami leaders in Northern Brazil who are fighting against the invasion of their territory by some 20,000 illegal gold miners.
This is another case where individual donations are making it possible for us to help protect Indigenous leaders who stand up for their rights while fighting corrupt business and abusive government policies.
On this International Human Rights Day, let’s do everything in our power to support and protect environmental defenders and Indigenous leaders across the tropics because they are the true Defenders of the Forest… and with the Amazon nearing a catastrophic tipping point, we need to protect those life-giving forests more than ever.