Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira documented illegal activities in the Brazilian rainforest. That put the men in the crosshairs of criminals: they were murdered on a journey to a remote valley.
After days of fear, it is now sad certainty: British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were killed in the Brazilian Amazon region.
The remains of the two men were identified based on their teeth and fingerprints, the federal police said. The two disappeared two weeks ago while traveling to the Javari Valley in western Brazil. According to the federal police, both were shot dead. Phillips was hit in the chest and abdomen with hunting ammunition, and Pereira was shot in the torso and head.
Three suspects have now been arrested. One admitted involvement in the murder of the two men and led police to human remains. According to the first investigation results, the alleged murderers probably acted on their own account. “The investigations indicate that the perpetrators acted alone and that no client or criminal organization was behind the crime,” the federal police said.
The motive for the alleged murder was initially unclear
“We are heartbroken to have confirmation that Dom and Bruno were murdered,” Phillips’ family said in a joint statement in the UK. “We are grateful to everyone who took part in the search, especially the indigenous groups who have been searching non-stop for evidence of the attack.”
Phillips has lived in Brazil for a long time and was married to a Brazilian woman. As a freelance journalist, he wrote for the British newspapers “The Guardian” and “The Financial Times” as well as for the US newspapers “Washington Post” and “The New York Times”.
Most recently, he researched a book about the protection of the Amazon region, the strong economic interests in its exploitation and various development models. The motive for the alleged murder was initially unclear. Among other things, the investigators check whether the crime is related to illegal fishing or drug trafficking.
The Javari Valley Indigenous Association lamented the “priceless loss” of “two partners”. It was above all the indigenous people of the region who had driven the search for the missing people from the start. Brazil’s right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro, on the other hand, initially blamed the men. He said Phillips was “badly viewed in the region” and should have “taken more care of himself”.
Report: Brazil dangerous for activists
Phillips and Pereira did not arrive by boat in the town of Atalaia do Norte on June 5 as planned, according to a regional Aboriginal organization. Pereira had previously reported to the police that he had been threatened several times. He had documented illegal activities in the Javari Valley for the authorities.
The indigenous association Apib said they had repeatedly alerted the authorities to the activities of criminal groups in the region. “The cruelty of the crime shows that Pereira and Phillips crossed paths with a powerful criminal organization that was desperate to cover their tracks,” Apib said in a statement.
With an area slightly larger than Austria, the region is one of the largest indigenous areas in Brazil. Many indigenous people live in isolation there. The border area with Peru and Colombia is particularly conflict-ridden due to illegal prospecting for gold, deforestation, hunting and illegal fishing as well as drug smuggling. According to the non-governmental organization Global Witness, Brazil was the fourth most dangerous country for environmentalists in 2020 – 20 conservationists and environmental activists were killed there.
“The deaths of Dom and Bruno are a tragic reminder of how deadly the struggle for land rights and indigenous communities can be, particularly in Brazil, which is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental defenders,” the statement said Global Witness. “You have been heroic in protecting the Amazon and its people and protecting the lungs of our planet. The Brazilian authorities must investigate the deaths of the two and bring justice to their families.”