We Need to Find Missing Journalist, Rights Defender in Brazil’s Amazon

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Employees of the National Indigenous Foundation, FUNAI, display a large poster with images of British journalist Dom Phillips, left, and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira, and with the Portuguese phrase “Where are they?” during a vigil in Brasilia, Brazil, June 9, 2022. 
© 2022 AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

I have known journalist Dom Phillips for years. I remember him telling me over dinner how he wrote about music in his native UK, but moved to Brazil after becoming enamored with the country during a visit in 2007.

He and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira went missing on June 5 during a reporting trip in the Amazon.  

In 2016, Dom wrote a remarkable piece for the Washington Post about a report on police violence I had written for Human Rights Watch. The report was based mostly on interviews with police officers. Going beyond the headline, Dom wrote about, as he put it, “the temptations, pressures, and organizational failings behind the Rio police department’s culture of violence and fear.” I was touched because the nuances of his writing conveyed the effort that went into my research.

That kind of empathy permeates Dom’s extensive reporting about Indigenous people and environmental destruction in the Amazon, a topic on which he increasingly focused.  

Bruno Pereira formerly headed the government office in charge of protecting Indigenous people who live in voluntary isolation in Brazil’s rainforest. The Bolsonaro administration removed him from this position, as it did other public servants committed to defending the Amazon and its people.

Bruno went on to work with an Indigenous organization in the Javari Valley, a dangerous area where criminal groups involved in illegal logging, mining, and drug trafficking attack whoever stands in their way. The situation has worsened under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has undermined environmental law enforcement and the protection of Indigenous territories.

Bruno had received threats for his work for years.

Authorities lost precious time after he and Dom went missing. More than 30 hours later, the army command for the Amazon region – which has significant resources in the area – said it was still waiting for the order to join the search. It took the government more than 48 hours to authorize aerial search.

The search has not found any trace of Dom and Bruno so far. It needs to be stepped up.

President Bolsonaro, who routinely disparages the media and Indigenous rights, said the men were “on an adventure that is not recommended.”

Their adventure was caring for Indigenous people and the Amazon during an administration that has shown no care for either.

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