ATALAIA DO NORTE (Brazil), June 17 — The UN yesterday denounced the murder in the Amazon of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira as environmental activists blamed Brazil’s government.

Guardian contributor Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, went missing on June 5 in a remote part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.

Ten days later, on Wednesday, a suspect named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira took police to a place where he said he had buried bodies near the city of Atalaia do Norte, where the pair had been headed.

Human remains unearthed from the site were to arrive in Brasilia yesterday evening to be identified by experts.

Late Wednesday, the federal police chief of Brazil’s northern Amazonas state said there was “a 99-per cent probability” the remains “corresponded” to the missing men.

They had apparently been shot.

The UN human rights office said yesterday it was “deeply saddened by the information about the murder” of the two men.

“This brutal act of violence is appalling and we call on state authorities to ensure that investigations are impartial, transparent and thorough, and that redress is provided to the families of the victims,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.

Phillips, a longtime contributor to The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon with Pereira as his guide, when they went missing.

Pereira, an expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners with their eye on isolated Indigenous land.


Phillips’ family said in a statement they were “heartbroken” by the discovery of two bodies Wednesday, which they took as confirmation that the pair had been killed.

Greenpeace Brazil said the deaths were “a direct result of the agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro for the Amazon, which opens the way for predatory activities and crimes... in broad daylight.”

The Javari Valley where the men went missing — an area near the borders with Peru and Colombia — is home to about 20 isolated Indigenous groups where drug traffickers, loggers, miners and illegal fishermen operate.

“In the last three years, our country has increasingly become a land where the only valid law is that of ‘anything goes,’” said Greenpeace.

Bolsonaro took office in 2019.

“It has become a land of invasion and land grabbing; of mining and illegal logging; of territorial conflicts, and where it’s worth killing to ensure that none of these criminal activities are prevented from happening. All this is fuelled by the actions and omissions of the Brazilian government,” said a Greenpeace statement.

Bolsonaro has pushed to develop the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

He drew fresh criticism Wednesday for saying Phillips was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.

Yesterday, the far-right president tweeted “our condolences to the families” of the men.

“The level of violence applied to Bruno and Dom makes clear how the Amazon is at the mercy of the law of the most powerful, under which brutality is the rule,” said WWF Brazil.

“The state abandoned the Amazon due to a meaningless project of destruction of the forest and extermination of its peoples.”

‘Political crime’

Shamdasani said attacks and threats against activists and Indigenous people in Brazil were “persistent” and urged the government to step up protections.

The Univaja association of Indigenous peoples, which had taken part in the search for the missing men, denounced the suspected killings as a “political crime,” while the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism said “the president and his allies have become protagonists of attacks on the press” uncovering environmental crimes.

“People dead for defending Indigenous lands and the environment. Brazil cannot be that,” added ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will face Bolsonaro in October elections.

Investigations continue into the motive for the crime as well as the role played by Oliveira and fellow suspect Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.

Brazilian media report there may be three more people involved. Police have not ruled out more arrests. — AFP