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Group Urges International Court to Probe Brazil’s President

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Brazilian lawyers requested that the International Criminal Court investigate President Jair Bolsonaro

A group of Brazilian lawyers and former ministers have requested that the International Criminal Court investigate President Jair Bolsonaro for allegedly inciting the genocide of indigenous people and failing to safeguard the forests and protected lands they live in.

Groups including Brazil’s Human Rights Advocacy Collective and the Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns Commission for Human Rights on Wednesday submitted a written recommendation to Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”), reporting the need for a preliminary examination into genocide and systematic attacks against indigenous people by President Jair Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil.

They described in a press conference Thursday what they said were “widespread, systematic attacks” on indigenous tribes under the Bolsonaro administration, which is seeking to promote economic development in the Amazon often at the expense of environmental regulation.

The document the group sent to the court includes 33 actions and comments from Bolsonaro, said Eloísa Machado de Almeida, a law professor at the FundacaoGetulio Vargas university in Sao Paulo, who presented the details of the request.

The allegations range from the president’s vocal support of small-scale illegal mining in protected areas to his criticism of some public servants working with environmental and indigenous affairs, and the data they produce.

Bolsonaro’s office declined to comment.

Experts say The Hague-based International Criminal Court receives thousands of similar communications each year. Most do not lead to investigations or indictments.

The report also states that these acts by the Bolsonaro Administration “constitute crimes against humanity” that may result in the extermination of indigenous people who are wholly dependent on the fragile ecosystem. These people will be disproportionately affected by environmental degradation if pollution, loggers, and land-grabbers remain unchecked.

Indigenous populations are also at risk of forcible transfer away from their inhabited lands, and they are at risk of persecution as indicated by the Government’s deliberate failings.

The complaint was co-authored by the Brazil-based Arns Commission for Human Rights Defense, which includes six former Cabinet ministers from previous administrations, as well as lawyers, philosophers, a journalist and an environmentalist.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has argued that environmental protections often become an obstacle to economic development in Brazil. His administration says it is working on new legislation that would regularize small-scale mining activities in protected areas.

Critics argue that the president’s comments are empowering land-grabbers and illegal loggers.

The fires that swept through the Amazon in July and August were mostly intentionally set to clear deforested land for soy production or pastures. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is also at its highest level in more than a decade, government data shows.

The submission closes with three requests of the ICC, specifically seeking the prevention of crimes by Bolsonaro; an initiated investigation of alleged crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC; and the proceeding of this investigation based on reported facts.

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