Activists are urging for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to be tried in international court for his “crimes against humanity” that led to large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest under his administration. 

A group of activists and climate lawyers have filed a landmark petition urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for his “ruthless” assault on the Amazon rainforest. 

The complaint, supported by the Climate Observatory, which made up of 70 Brazilian civil society organisations, was submitted to the international tribunal based in The Hague in the Netherlands on Tuesday, October 12. The 284-page petition argues Bolsonaro must be held criminally responsible for his right-wing policies that have led to mass deforestation of the Amazon,  exacerbating the effects and impacts of climate change, claiming that his actions are “crimes against humanity”. 

“There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating the commission of ongoing crimes against humanity within Brazil which requires immediate investigation and prosecution,” said the authors in the petition. “However, the impact … extends far beyond the widespread, ongoing loss of life and deep suffering inflicted upon local communities. State-of-the-art climate science demonstrates that consequent fatalities, devastation and insecurity will occur on a far greater scale regionally and globally, long into the future, through the attributable links between the rapid acceleration in deforestation, its contribution to climate change, and the frequency and intensification of extreme weather events.”

“Given the multilateral breadth and depth of its impact, the nature of the attack … constitutes criminality of the very highest order,”the filing adds: “The ICC now has the opportunity – indeed the ICC has the duty – to act.”

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The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon supports one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and plays a crucial role as a natural carbon sink to help absorb and store carbon dioxide as the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as it exponentially increases over the last few decades. 

Deforestation is one of the most pertinent environmental issues the world faces right now as demands for logging and livestock farming and ranching continue to rise across the globe. Cutting down trees and forest lands at staggeringly high rates has already led to warming and moisture stress in rainforests, especially during dry seasons, and reduces its ability to remove and absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And the situation has deteriorated to the point where the Amazon is now becoming a source of carbon instead of a sink, and increasing risks of wildfire.  

Under President Bolsonaro, deforestation rates in the Amazon have soared. Just earlier this year, numbers have surged by 67% between the months April and May, where much of the land was made way for cattle ranches, farms and logging. During the first five months of the year, deforestation was also up by 25% compared to last year’s figures.  2,548 sq km were reportedly destroyed, which is the equivalent size of more than three New York cities. 

The office of the ICC prosecutor will review and consider if the case worthy of an international criminal investigation, but has not provided a timeline on the conclusion of its assessment. 

While Bolsonaro has already been the subject of three previous ICC complaints since he took office in early 2019 in response to the alleged genocide of indigenous people in Brazil and his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, world leaders like Bolsonaro and powerful figures must be held accountable for their actions and abuse to the environment, in order to protect our already vulnerable future as we tackle the climate crisis. 

Featured image by: Flickr