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Brazilian bishops warn of rise in violence over land disputes in the Amazon

19 May 2023


Kamayura Indigenous people attend the closing of the annual Terra Livre, or Free Land Indigenous Encampment, in Brasilia, Brazil, on 28 April

Kamayura Indigenous people attend the closing of the annual Terra Livre, or Free Land Indigenous Encampment, in Brasilia, Brazil, on 28 April

VIOLENCE in the Amazon is on the rise, with 47 people killed in the region over land disputes in the past year, 18 of them from indigenous communities, a study by the Roman Catholic Brazilian Bishops’ Conference has said.

The deaths of the British journalist Dom Philips and the human-rights activist Bruno Pereira drew international attention to the growing violence after they were murdered last June, during a research trip to the region.

A local fisherman confessed to their murders, alleged to have been ordered by a Colombian fish trader after Mr Pereira, an indigenous advocate, inspected illegal fishing operations.

The Brazilian Bishops’ Conference’s Land Pastoral Commission reports on rural conflict each year, and their reports have shown a constant rise in violence under the former right-wing President, Jair Bolsonaro. He was deposed last year by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has promised to confront the environmental criminals who have attacked indigenous groups.

The church study recorded 1572 cases of violence in 2022: over 16 per cent more than in 2021, affecting more than 181,000 families. More than half of such incidents happened in the Amazon, where the most killings, 34, also took place. There were 123 attempted murders, and 206 death threats received, the report says.

It also catalogues a 170-per-cent rise in the use of pesticide attacks, designed to drive away families from their lands. There were 193 pesticide attacks last year.

Indigenous people were the targets of more than one quarter of all the violence, including the stealing of their lands. Land-grabs and pollution have caused humanitarian crises for some indigenous communities, with cases of malaria and starvation reported among the Yanomami people. Hundreds of Yanomami children have reportedly died from curable diseases brought in by mining gangs.

Violence broke out again at the end of April, with five deaths on Yanomami territory after masked illegal miners allegedly launched an attack on Uxiu, a Yanomami village.

The Brazilian bishops have pledged solidarity with indigenous communities. “The pains of every indigenous person also belongs to the Church, which, according to its doctrine, the magisterium of Pope Francis, teaches the importance of indigenous peoples in the preservation of the planet,” they said.

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