Gilson Temponi, president of an agricultural association, denounced the illegal logging he witnessed to Brazilian authorities in 2018. A few months later he was killed in front of his house. In 2019, activist Dilma Ferreira Silva was murdered by a rancher involved in illegal deforestation who feared she would denounce him, according to police. Osvalinda y Daniel Pereira, a farming couple, were found buried in their backyard. They had been fighting illegal logging for more than a decade.
These deaths took place in Para, one of the Brazilian states in the Amazon region. But these are not isolated cases. In Maranhão, Eusebio Ka'apor, an indigenous leader who helped organise patrols to prevent the entry to illegal loggers from entering his land, was also killed in 2015.
A new report from Human Rights Watch published on Tuesday found that more than 300 people have been killed over the past decade in conflicts over the use of land and resources in the Amazon, many by organised criminal networks profiting from illegal deforestation.
Of those cases, only 14 were tried in court, said the report, which was based on 170 interviews.
"This really shows the level of impunity," Cesar Munoz, a senior investigator at Human Rights Watch told Reuters. "There is really a failure of investigation and accountability."
Human Rights Watch travelled to several Brazilian states between 2017 and the first half of this year to research the report, which showed that almost half of the murders linked to deforestation took place in the Northern state of Para.
The town of Novo Progresso, in Para, recently made headlines for a "day of fire," in which prosecutors suspect a coordinated group set a series of blazes to burn forest and pasture land on August 10.
"In most of the killings that we examined, the victims had received threats or had been attacked before. If the authorities had taken their complaints seriously, these people might be alive today," Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, told reporters.
The president's office in Brazil did not respond to a request for comment.
Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, responding to the report, told Reuters the government has combated criminality, including in the environmental sphere. He pointed to the mobilizing of troops to combat illegal fires and other environmental crimes in recent weeks.
Deforestation increases the chance of fires
The Amazon forest has been ravaged by a high number of fires this past year, drawing worldwide criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the situation.
Fires in the Amazon went up by 82% this year compared to the same period last year, according to a report by Brazil's Space Agency (INPE). The area burned in August alone was 29,944 km², the equivalent of 4.2 million football fields.
Researchers say that deforestation could be the cause of the rise in forest fires.
Pierre Markuse, an expert in satellite images, published images from August 2019 where the extent of deforestation in the state of Rondonia is visible.