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  • Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil, Brazil August 17, 2019.

    Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil, Brazil August 17, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 September 2019

The 169-page HRW report was released Tuesday amid an international crisis unleashed by fires in the Brazilian Amazon, which in August reached their highest level since 2010.

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that more than 300 people have been killed in the last decade in conflicts over the use of land and natural resources in the Amazon, but only 14 of those responsible have been brought to justice so far.

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The report, published in Sao Paulo, added that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was driven by violent criminal networks that have been fueld by the Jair Bolsonaro government who has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws and done away with state agencies for Indigenous groups in the region.

The Rainforest Mafias report examines how illegal deforestation carried out by these criminal groups and the resulting fires are linked to acts of violence against environmentalists.

HRW denounced that the criminal networks that operate in the largest tropical forest on the planet have the logistical capacity to coordinate logging on a massive scale.

To do this, they employ armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, execute those who defend the jungle, according to the rights organization.

“Some environmental enforcement officials call these groups ipê mafias, referring to the ipê tree whose wood is among the most valuable and sought-after by loggers,” the report said.

HRW analyzed 28 murders from 2015 onwards and recorded serious omissions, such as the lack of autopsies in the investigations of deaths in cities not far from police stations. The failure to investigate the illegal activities has led to further violence and loggers continue to intimidate activists fueling a climate of fear that reduces the likelihood of people risking their lives to protect the forest, the NGO added.

The organization considers that the situation has worsened with the coming to power of president Bolsonaro, who has in the past accused environmental activists of so-called extremism.

“He has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws, weakened federal environmental agencies, and harshly criticized organizations and individuals working to preserve the rainforest,” the statement said.

“His words and actions have effectively given a green light to the criminal networks involved in illegal logging, according to environmental officials and local residents,” it added.

Bolsonaro’s attack on environmental protection bodies puts forests and the people living there at risk, Daniel Wilkinson, Director of Human Rights and Environment at Human Rights Watch, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Some experts and organizations, such as HRW, have linked the increase in fires in the Amazon to the rise in deforestation and the burning the region in order to graze cattle and plant monoculture crops. Forest fires in the Amazon basin in Brazil have increased by over 80 percent during the first eight months of 2019, just as Bolsonaro entered office, compared to the same period last year.

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