In 2021, eight out of every 10 women human and environmental rights defenders in the Brazilian Amazon were victims of violence. This is what the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that specializes in public, climate, and digital security, indicated in a recent report. Illegal activities from transnational criminal organizations, as well as disputes over land ownership, illegal logging, and illegal mining fuel much of this violence.
“Violence against activists in the Brazilian Amazon has worsened in recent years,” Renata Giannini, senior researcher at the Igarapé Institute and coordinator of the research, told Diálogo. “This is violence against women and, as such, many times it isn’t even noticed […]. Many of them have to leave their territories to protect themselves.”
Most lethal country for environmentalists
In the last decade, Brazil has been the country with the most murders of environmentalists. Of the 1,733 deaths of environmental defenders recorded between 2012 and 2021 worldwide, 342 (nearly 20 percent) occurred in Brazil.
Global Witness, a United Kingdom-based nongovernmental organization that monitors natural resource-related conflict, released the data on September 29. “According to the [Global Witness] survey, more than 85 percent of the murders in the period happened in the [Brazilian] Amazon. Most of the victims were indigenous or black,” Brazilian news site G1 reported.
Latin America, meanwhile, is the world’s most lethal region for environmentalists. Of the 227 people murdered in 2020 for defending their territories, livelihoods, and the environment, 165 (72.7 percent) were killed in Latin American countries, the Global Witness study indicated.
Violence against women defenders
According to the Igarapé Institute, women defenders speak out and act against situations or actions that can harm the lives of the people around them or the place where they live. They act for the protection of human rights and the environment and are not necessarily linked to an organization or social movement.
“The objective of violence against women defenders is precisely to dissuade them from continuing to act, with serious consequences,” the Igarapé Institute says.
Illegal mining and narcotrafficking
For the Igarapé Institute study, researchers interviewed 132 women defenders from five Brazilian states: Acre, Amazonas, Maranhão, Pará, and Roraima. Of the 125 women who identified themselves as women defenders, 100 had already been victims of violence.
One of the women interviewed, who identified herself as Maria, is indigenous and said that “the flow of alcoholic beverages and other drugs, in addition to prostitution, has increased with the invasions of miners looking for gold.” According to Maria, fish and game have become scarce because of illegal activities.
Another interviewee, Flávia, is a quilombola, an Afro-Brazilian resident of the settlements established by escaped slaves in Brazil. She says that criminal groups linked to narcotrafficking hide in the territory. “Flávia says that it is difficult to work on the land and defend it, because she receives threats from these groups,” the research indicated.
Of all the interviewees, 27 had been victims of more than one type of violence and 12 said they suffered violence from more than one aggressor.
To combat environmental crimes in the Amazon, the Brazilian government has intensified its activities in the region. Since the beginning of July, the Brazilian Army (EB) has been carrying out Operation Amazon 2022 with troops from the Amazon Military Command (CMA) and the Parachute Infantry Brigade.
“The actions of Operation Amazon 2022 aim to contribute to the preservation of national sovereignty by increasing the presence and deterrence from the Land Force in the border, reducing cross-border and environmental crimes,” the EB said in a statement.
EB is also refurbishing its infrastructure. In recent months, the 21st Construction Engineering Company renovated the runway of the 7th Special Border Platoon, based in Tunuí Cachoeira, in the Amazon region known as Cabeça do Cachorro, on the border with Colombia.
For its part, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and Public Safety (MJSP) is continuously running Operation Guardians of the Biome to dismantle criminal organizations operating in the Amazon. “There are three lines of action: combat illegal deforestation, forest fires and burning, and protect indigenous lands,” the MJSP said in a statement.
Brazil also has the support of partner nations. For instance, the U.S. government, through the Department of Justice and the U.S. Forest Service, provides training to its counterparts in Brazil to support the fight against wildlife trafficking, gold, timber, and other conservation crimes.
The U.S. also uses a variety of programs from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) to train Brazilian partners to combat transnational criminal organizations.
In June 2022, for example, 312 members of Brazilian security forces and the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) participated in the Detection of Transborder Trafficking in Wild Species training conducted in partnership with the INL, Ibama said.