A group of Brazilian lawyers, along with a powerful human rights group and some former ministers, denounced President Jair Bolsonaro before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bolsonaro is now being subjected to investigate for inciting the genocide of indigenous people and failing to safeguard the forests and protected lands they live in, and committing crimes against humanity.
During a press conference on November 28, the group of lawyers described the president's actions as "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 documented evidence the lawyers' group sent to the court includes 33 actions and comments from Bolsonaro,", Eloisa Machado de Almeida, a law professor at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas university in Sao Paulo, said.
Allegations against Bolsonaro range from the president's vocal support of small-scale illegal mining in the 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.
There have been environmental challenges for [Brazil], but what is happening under President Bolsonaro is different. - Eloisa Machado de Almeida, law professor
"The purpose of the complaint is to launch an international monitoring body for the actions and omissions of the President and respond to his crimes against activists, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples," says a note sent to democraciaAbierta.
Experts have reported that the ICC receives thousands of similar communications each year. Most do not lead to investigations or indictments.
The complaint was co-authored by the Brazil-based Arns Commission for Human Rights Defence, which includes six former cabinet ministers from previous administrations, as well as lawyers, philosophers, a journalist and an environmentalist.
"If the private groups are serious about pursuing an investigation, not simply drawing attention to the situation in Brazil, it should convince other states in the region to formally refer Brazil to the Court," said Kevin Jon Heller, an associate professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam. This strategy was adopted for instance by some Venezuelan states, and is more likely to be successful, he said.
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.
"It's true that there have been environmental challenges for centuries in this country, but what is happening under President Bolsonaro is different," said de Almeida, the law professor. "The dismantling of public [environmental protection] policies, and the direct attack on Indigenous peoples did not exist under previous administrations. And this is what motivated us to speak about the incitation to genocide."