Jair Bolsonaro Approved Amazon Destruction, Now He May Be Charged With Ecocide

The Hague is being asked to consider crimes against humanity allegations against Brazil’s president.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is being investigated by the Hague for crimes against humanity. The allegations come after the leader approved policies that allowed for destructive behaviors in the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Bolsonaro took office in 2019.

The request comes from Paris-based attorney William Bourdon, who filed the case on behalf of indigenous chiefs Almir Suruí and Raoni Metuktire. The request called the issue a “matter of great urgency.”

“We are running against the clock, considering the devastation of the Amazon,” Bourdon said.

If the Hague’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, moves forward with the investigation, Bolsonaro could face charges of ecocide.

Under Bolsonaro’s administration, Amazon rainforest destruction has soared. But despite that, fines for these crimes continued to drop. According to the Guardian, fines for environmental destruction in 2019 dropped by 42 percent. Bolsonaro used that number to relax budgets by more than 27 percent for enforcing regulations.

According to the complaint filed by Bourdon, rates of deforestation increased 50 percent in the last two years, hitting numbers not seen since 2008. Bolsonaro’s rollbacks on regulations have also led to an increase in crimes against Indigenous communities. Invasions of forest communities were up 135 percent in 2019, leading to the death of nearly 20 Indigenous people.

Raoni Metuktire
Raoni Metuktire | Wikimedia Commons

What Is Ecocide?

Bourdon’s allegations fit the description of ecocide, a term that means causing injurious and lasting harm to natural environments and the people who live there.

A report compiled by NGOs and attorneys details the crimes committed by Bolsonaro. The report alleges that Bolsonaro is to blame for the destruction of Sovereign lands and the murder and persecution of Indigenous people in Brazil.

“People are feeling endorsed to commit crimes, as the president supports them,” said Patxon Metuktire. He is the grandson of 91-year-old Kayapo chief, Raoni Metuktire. Chief Raoni has been at the forefront of the fight to protect the Amazon and its Indigenous communities.

“My grandfather believes the Brazilian population cannot make the president stop acting against the indigenous people,” Paxton said. “[Bolsonaro] keeps violating our rights, so this is our last resort. My grandfather is ready to testify and clarify anything for prosecutors if needed.”

The Indigenous communities have science on their side. According to a report published last October, the Amazon is near a “tipping point,” following its recent spate of fires. The report was published in the journal Nature Communications. Further destruction of the rainforest could decrease rainfall. The researchers warn this could turn the lush forest into a dry savannah.

Forest of the World

The Amazon makes up more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests. It covers more than two million miles of land. Like all forests, the Amazon plays a significant role in the world’s oxygen production and carbon sequestration. The forest produces its own weather systems that impact global weather patterns and climates. Continued destruction of the forest means these patterns change and impact global temperatures.

But the forest isn’t just a large swath of oxygen and weather; it’s also home to nearly 500 Indigenous communities, some of whom have had little to no contact with the outside world.

The Amazon is the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet; it’s home to 10 percent of the world’s animal and plant species. The total number of species in the Amazon is not known, but more than 2.5 million have been identified. It’s also believed to hold some of the most important medicines. Scientists estimate we’ve studied less than half of one percent of all flowering plant species in the Amazon.

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