Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira Spilt
Pelé, Mark Ruffalo and more advocate for finding missing men in Brazil
03:06 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Fears are mounting over the fates of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira – who have been missing in the Brazilian Amazon for over a week – after the discovery of what appeared to be human remains and revelations that the pair had received death threats.

No clear explanation has yet been made for their disappearance, but Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro on Monday said he believed they had been victims of “malice.” The case has drawn global attention to the perils often faced by journalists and environmental activists in Brazil.

Phillips, a veteran journalist who reported extensively on Brazil’s most marginalized groups and on the destruction that criminal actors are wreaking on the Amazon, had traveled with indigenous affairs expert Pereira to research conservation efforts in the remote Javari Valley.

Though formally protected by the government, the wild Javari Valley, like other designated indigenous lands in Brazil, is plagued by illegal mining, logging, hunting and international drug trafficking – which often bring violence in their wake, as perpetrators clash with environmental defenders and indigenous rights activists.

File photograph of Javari Valley, Amazon, Brazil from February 15, 2016

Between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 people were killed in Brazil amid land and resource conflicts in the Amazon, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), citing figures from the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit affiliated with the Catholic Church.

And in 2020, Global Witness ranked Brazil the fourth most-dangerous country for environmental activism, based on documented killings of environmental defenders. Nearly three quarters of such attacks in Brazil took place in the Amazon region, it said.

Indigenous people in Brazil have been the frequent targets of such attacks, as well as suffering campaigns of harassment. In early January, three environmental defenders from the same family who had developed a project to repopulate local water with baby turtles were found dead in Brazil’s northern Pará state. A police investigation is ongoing.

After attending the COP26 climate talks in Scotland last November, the home of environmental and indigenous leader Alessandra Korap was reportedly raided by unknown attackers; another indigenous activist, Txai Suruí, said she was threatened online and in person after her speech in Glasgow.

A long-standing problem

The lure of valuable resources in the forest mean incursions into indigenous lands and violence against those who resist is nothing new in Brazil. But some experts say Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and actions have created a culture of impunity.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro signed an environmental decree that establishes higher fines for deforestation, illegal logging, burning, fishing and hunting, with the government saying it is “an important step in the environmental law.”