Forests around the world are shrinking year after year – and Brazil is the epicenter. According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2030, more than a quarter of the Amazon rainforest will be without trees if the cutting continues at the same speed.
If nothing is done to stop it, it is estimated that 40 percent of this unique forest will be eradicated by 2050.
In addition to the material and environmental consequences, this deforestation also threatens human rights, including the rights of marginalized communities to life, physical integrity, a reasonable quality of life and dignity. Brazil is one of the most worrying cases in this regard.
As a PhD student in political science, my research interests include climate justice, the energy transition, the green economy and international environmental policy.
Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides that these communities have the full right to maintain and maintain their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coasts and others. strengthen. resources.”
This article is not respected by the Brazilian government in the Amazon.
Although the country has promised to significantly reduce deforestation and limit openings to 3,925 square kilometers, data from Human Rights Watch show that chainsaws have destroyed nearly 13,000 square kilometers of tropical forests, making indigenous peoples communities even more vulnerable.
The rate of deforestation in these areas increased by 34 percent between 2018 and 2019, despite Brazil’s commitment in 2009 to reduce it by 80 percent. This has led to the forced displacement of communities over hundreds of kilometers, as well as major health problems and a loss of reference points. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 13,235 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest were cut out cleanly between August 2020 and July 2021, an increase of 22 percent compared to the same period last year.
This coincides with Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration. In January 2022 alone, 430 square kilometers of tropical forest were destroyed, five times more than in January 2021.
Threats and assassinations
Multiple abuses have been documented since the beginning of colonization in Brazil, including the illegal violation of the Brazilian state in indigenous territories. Under Bolsonaro, the number of criminal networks contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon has increased. Organized crime views the large timber and agricultural industries as opportunities to relocate and launder money. The groups exploit forest land illegally and then hide drugs in timber shipments destined for Europe or Asia.
Experts qualify this illegal activity as “drug deforestation.” Numerous illegal gold and mineral extraction sites are also operating in the Amazon, and the companies that run them often pose threats to the Munduruku who live there.
People and activists who protested against the ongoing deforestation were threatened, harassed and killed. In 2019, the NGO Global Witness recorded 24 deaths of environmental activists and land protectors, almost all of which occurred in the Amazon. It places Brazil in third place among the countries with the highest number of deaths of environmental defenders, next to Colombia and the Philippines.
There are memories of this in the news. Bruno Araujo Pereira, a defender of environmental and indigenous rights, and British journalist Dom Phillips have been missing since June 5 in an area called the Javari Valley, which has a reputation for being “lawless”.
According to a local organization, the two received death threats shortly before they disappeared. Brazilian police first said search teams had discovered their belongings and later that bodies had been spotted in the area of their disappearance. Police reported on June 15 that they found human remains while searching for the two and that a fisherman who was fighting with the two admitted that they had been killed.
The number of deaths of people involved in environmental and territorial defense can be greatly underestimated, as data are not available and transparent for all countries.
Women and children, the main victims of deforestation
A recent United Nations report shows a strong link between worsening climate change and deteriorating human rights around the world.
Deforestation is affecting excessively indigenous communities, especially women and children. It increases the pressure already placed on women to feed their children and families, while limiting their access to essential goods, including medicine.
Indeed, the health of these communities depends on access to natural medicinal products found in biodiversity. The Amazon is a large reservoir of substances used in the manufacture of various pharmaceutical products available on the South American continent.
Nearly 80 percent of the population in developing countries rely on natural medicinal products for their primary health care. In the majority of communities, it is also women who are responsible for cultivating the land and providing transport and water treatment.
Children are equally at risk. For example, a study conducted in sub-Saharan Africa shows a link between the loss of forest cover and the deterioration of the health conditions of the youngest. Malnutrition, caused by reduced availability of fruits, vegetables and nuts, can affect children’s growth. The exposure to smoke from the multiple fires in the Amazon is also likely to cause breathing problems and even more serious conditions in children.
More farming, more deforestation
Deforestation in Brazil provides a foretaste of the impact that climate change will have on human rights, both in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. In addition, due to the war in Ukraine, Brazil is seeking the food gap on world markets with crops such as wheat and grain.
Brazil’s contribution is appreciated by countries such as Sudan, Pakistan and Haiti, which are among those most affected by the food crisis. But increased production could dangerously accelerate deforestation and human rights violations can be expected to increase.
One thing is for sure, one of the lungs of our planet is seriously ill and time is running out.