The UK must sanction those contributing to deforestation and human rights abuses in the Amazon rainforest, protesters outside Brazil’s UK embassy have urged.
Hundreds of demonstrators, many affiliated with activist movement Extinction Rebellion, assembled outside the Embassy of Brazil in central London on Friday, 23 August.
The grievances were directed primarily at right wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who they accuse of precipitating a surge in forest fires which have torn through the Amazon rainforest this year through his divisive rhetoric and environmental policies.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed “deep concern” over the wildfires, his spokesperson saying: “The effect of these fires will be felt around the world which is why we need international action to protect the world’s rainforests”.
But, as RightsInfo has learned, environmentalists argue that there is much more that both UK government and citizens can to do protect the “world’s lungs” – as the Amazon is commonly described.
‘Sanction Bolsonaro’s Arsonists’
Peggy Jacobs Strom, 15, and brother Bo Jacobs Strom were among the protesters outside the Embassy of Brazil in London on Friday 23 August. Image Credit: Aaron Walawalkar.
Among the crowd of protesters was Bo Jacobs Strom, 18, and his 15-year-old sister Peggy – who had with them with a homemade placard bearing the slogans “sanction Bolsonaro’s arsonists” and “support the indigenous people’s boycott”.
“We are protesting the policies of Bolsonaro’s government, which are enabling the destruction of the Amazon and the killing of indigenous forest protectors,” Bo told RightsInfo.
“The UK government and the EU have the power to put sanctions on those who have committed gross human rights abuses,” he added. “These should not be generic sanctions which harm the general Brazilian population but rather those targeting specific individuals responsible.”
In May last year, parliament passed the Magnitsky amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. This granted the government the power impose financial penalties on people deemed to have breached human rights, Bo explained.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories – which it attributes to the Bolsonaro government’s policy of opening up the rainforest to destruction.
Bo also urged the EU to back a boycott of 70 foreign companies which Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB) has identified as being implicated in the Amazon’s destruction.
Evie White, 19. Image Credit: Aaron Walawalkar.
University of Manchester philosophy student Evie White, 19, took to the protest a double-sided placard warning onlookers that “our lungs are on fire”. According to the conservationist group the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Amazon is the source of 20percent of the world’s oxygen – hence its nickname. On the other side of her placard Evie scrawled a message calling on people to “go vegan”.
“In my opinion, the reason all of this is happening is to make way for cattle ranching while the President is turning a blind eye,” she told RightsInfo.
“What people can do at an individual level is to stop eating meat. Then the demand for meat decreases which should lead to a fall in the supply and consequently less land will be destroyed for cattle to graze.”
Brazilian Space Agency data suggests that there have been a record number of fires this year. There have been around 75,000 recorded forest fires since January this year – more than double the amount over the same time period in 2013.
Fires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October. The causes include naturally occurring events, such lightning strikes, but also farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing.
Environmentalist groups such as Amazon Watch believe the latter has spurred the spike in wildfires – pointing to local media reports of farmers organising a coordinated “fire day” to burn land for agriculture, inspired by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, among other evidence.
‘The UK Must Lead By Example’
Greta Van Grow, 20, and George Martin, 20. Image Credit: Aaron Walawalkar.
Protestors George Martin and Greta Van Grow told RightsInfo that the UK must set a bold example to Brazil among other emerging economies. “I think we have to lead by example,” George said. “We started the industrial revolution, we are one of the world’s biggest economics. If we can get rid of fossil fuels, then all the emerging economies can do it too.”
Earlier this year, the UK government pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050.
The Labour Party on Friday criticised the international trade minister, Conor Burns, for “cosying up” to ministers in the government of Bolsonaro instead of raising the plight of the Amazon rainforest.
Mr Burns shared on Twitter pictures of himself drinking champagne with Brazilian officials after signing a new deal to “facilitate ease of business” between the two countries following a visit to the country on Wednesday.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also urged PM Boris Johnson to rally international pressure on the Brazilian President.
“Bolsanaro has allowed and indeed encouraged these fires to take place, to clear the forest in order that the land can then be used for actually very short-term agriculture production and after that it becomes desert,” he said. “And so we, the Labour party, the shadow cabinet, have written to the prime minister to say: put all the pressure you can on President Bolsonaro to deal with this issue.”
Want to learn more on this topic?
- Read our explainer: do we have a right to a clean environment?
- Check out our interview with an Extinction Rebellion climate activist.
- Get the background on climate change and what it means for our rights.