By now you have probably heard that the British journalist Dom Phillips, 57, and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, 41, were killed in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest that is rife with illegal poaching, mining and logging. Two men confessed to the murders and took investigators to a site where human remains were dug up.
The pair, who were travelling through one of the most inaccessible parts of the rainforest to expose wrongdoing and to speak truth to power, for years fought many battles against a status quo that has increasingly allowed organised crime to thrive with impunity.
All these battles, however, were part of a much bigger war taking place in the Amazon as you read this. It's a war against extinction – a war that is mine, as a Brazilian, and yours too.
As inhabitants of a planet on the verge of a climate catastrophe, it's our job to protect what's left of the forests and biodiversity in the world for the sake of our own survival. This has never been more urgent.
Dom and Bruno got the importance of telling this story. Alongside Indigenous peoples, the best forest guardians in the world, the pair dedicated their lives to this mission, in the end all too literally.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro blamed them for being there: “That Englishman was disliked in the region, because he wrote a lot of articles against illegal gold miners (and) environmental issues,” he said.
As our colleague Lucy Jordan put in a Guardian piece last Friday: “It’s a public service. It’s a moral imperative. One that this government has made all the more necessary, and all the more dangerous. And that’s why advocates and reporters – brave, kind people such as Phillips and Pereira – will keep on taking these risks. And why we must keep holding the government to account.”
We have been reporting how the Amazon is approaching a tipping point, where the rainforest could be lost forever. But for some people trying to protect it, such as Dom, Bruno and countless other journalists, environmental defenders and Indigenous people, the point of no return has already come.
At least 358 human rights defenders were killed worldwide in 2021, according to an analysis by Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the international consortium Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Of the total, nearly 60% were land, environment, or Indigenous rights defenders, and more than a quarter were themselves Indigenous. Twenty-seven were killed in Brazil.
It makes me angry that too little attention was paid to them. It makes me angry how “forests” and “people” are somehow disconnected in most media coverage.
For Indigenous people, forests and humans are one. We should learn from them. Just like the brave Bruno Pereira did. Just like the kind Dom Phillips did.
For 15 years he told stories about Brazil’s remotest areas and the often vulnerable people who live there. I met Dom while I worked in Rio and he was nothing but generous and supportive about my work. An amazing human being and a fierce journalist I really admire.
They will be both missed.
We should continue their work: hold complicit corporations accountable, expose corrupt governments and respond to this brutal violence with good journalism.
A Brazilian Kamuu Dan Wapichana indigenous man takes part in a protest of employees of the National Indigenous Foundation outside the Ministry of Justice in Brasília earlier this week. Credit: Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images