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Assassinations in the Amazon – Setbacks in the Struggle to End Deforestation

The struggle to save the Amazon rainforest received some major setbacks in recent months. A series of murders of rainforest activists have shaken Brazil. Moreover, lawmakers are contemplating relaxing laws protecting the rainforest.

Things were looking up in the Amazon region. Between 2004 and 2010 the deforestation rate declined by 70 percent. Quality seals, such as that of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), certified wood from legal, sustainable forestry. But now, land speculation and deforestation are on the rise again, partly due to higher food prices. Those who oppose illegal logging activities put their lives at risk. Many activists have been murdered in recent months. The death of the activist Da Silva in the state of Pará in the eastern Amazon Basin attracted widespread attention because he predicted his murder in an interview a few months earlier.

Brazilian politicians are debating relaxing forest protection laws. Under certain conditions, an amnesty would be granted for illegal logging. This would favour companies engaged in illegal activities as well as small farm holders involved in land speculation. The deforestation rate shot up after the draft bill for the new legislation was passed by the lower house of parliament. Approval by the Senate, however, is still required. President Dilma Rousseff has already threatened her veto if the law passes, one reason why the bill is still in negotiation. For instance, a clause that 80 percent of the forest cover must be maintained on small land holdings now likely will not be revoked.

At the international level, too, problems are emerging. Illegal logging was systematically taking place under the WWF certification scheme due to its lack of transparency and accountability. Some companies were also guilty of human rights abuses. The international community must act quickly to establish clarity in the matter and also accelerate negotiations for international compensation payments so the indigenous population is provided a viable alternative to illegal logging.

The Brazilian government must act to curb crimes associated with deforestation instead of seeking to relax protective legal provisions. In doing so, it would both protect the rainforest and strengthen the rule of law.  (Stephan Wolters)

More information on the series of murders and the planned amendment to the law is available here and at http://www.wwf.org.uk/news_feed.cfm?5222/Brazils_Forest_Law_debate_heats_up

More information on the assassinations is available here.

For more information on the WWF scandal see http://www.globalwitness.org/Panderingtotheloggerspress

Published in: ECC-Newsletter, 4/2011