The UN and advocacy groups on Thursday expressed outrage at the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, which they linked to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s willingness to allow commercial exploitation of the Amazon.
Veteran correspondent Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, on June 5 went missing in a remote part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.
Ten days later, a suspect named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira took police to a place where he said he had buried bodies near the city of Atalaia do Norte, where the pair had been headed.
Human remains unearthed from the site on Thursday evening arrived in Brasilia for identification by experts, with police officers seen carrying two brown coffins through a hangar.
Official results are expected next week, local media reported.
Police said that traces of blood found in Oliveira’s boat belonged to a man, but not Phillips.
Further analysis would be necessary to determine if it was that of Pereira, they said.
There is still much to clarify in the case, including a motive and the circumstances surrounding the killings, apparently carried out by firearm.
Late on Wednesday, the head of the Brazilian Federal Police Department’s Amazonas State branch said there was “a 99 percent probability” the unearthed remains corresponded to the missing men.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday said it was “deeply saddened by the information about the murder” of the two men.
“This brutal act of violence is appalling, and we call on state authorities to ensure that investigations are impartial, transparent and thorough, and that redress is provided to the families of the victims,” UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva, Switzerland.
Phillips, a long-time contributor to the Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon with Pereira as his guide when they went missing.
Pereira, an expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners with their eye on isolated indigenous land.
The Javari Valley, where the men went missing, is near the borders with Peru and Colombia. It is home to about 20 isolated indigenous groups. Drug traffickers, loggers, miners and illegal fishers operate in the area.
Greenpeace Brazil said the deaths were “a direct result of the agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro for the Amazon, which opens the way for predatory activities and crimes ... in broad daylight.”
Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019, has pushed to develop the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
He on Wednesday drew fresh criticism for saying Phillips was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.
On Thursday, Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter “our condolences to the families” of the men.
In Brussels, seven Brazilian indigenous leaders deplored the climate of violence and “impunity” in the Amazon in front of the EU headquarters.
One of them, Dinamam Tuxa, told reporters that “Bruno and Dom Phillips were victims of government policies.”
Shamdasani said that attacks and threats against rights advocates and indigenous people in the country were “persistent,” and urged the Brazilian government to step up protections.
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