An Indigenous Amazonian population, the Waimiri-Atroari, have testified in court against the Brazilian Military for genocidal actions against its people. Temehe Tomas Waimiri gave the testimony to the judge alongside several additional leaders of the group. The hearing was held in Waimiri-Atroari territory, which occupies land in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Roraima. Prosecutors claim 3000 indigenous people lost their lives between 1964-1985 under the military dictatorship. The alleged genocide of the Waimiri-Atroari population was heightened during the construction of the BR-174 highway, which runs through the group’s territory. During the hearing, the Waimiri-Atroari claimed that white uniformed men entered their land, carrying out mass executions, shootings, and stabbings. In addition, reports of chemical bombs, air raids, and poison spills have been made against the dictatorship. The Brazilian military has denied all accusations of violence.
Bare Bornaldo Waimiri described his experience of the contended genocide to the courtroom, “I lost my father, my mother, my sister and my brother.” However, the military representative Colonel Hiram Reis e Silva, told Al Jazeera “Where are these bodies? Where is the residue material from the alleged bombs? Let’s really look for the truth. It’s not the instinct of the Brazilian Army to attack indigenous people. It never has, never will be.” Reis e Silva also dismissed the group’s testimony to the Associated Press, firmly stating “There are some exaggerations. We hope truth is re-established.”
If the allegations hold true, the Brazilian military must be held accountable for its genocidal actions in line with the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Waimiri-Atroari must receive full retribution to compensate for the military’s actions, while no further destruction to their environment nor their people should be guaranteed. Moreover, the event highlights growing tensions between increasing demands for neoliberal development and environmental conservation of the Amazon rainforest. The construction of the BR-174 highway is a serious violation of the Waimiri-Atroari’s human rights. This ‘development’ has allegedly inflicted direct violence on the indigenous group through brutal attacks or caused later deaths through diseases from the subsequent environmental destruction of their land. To avoid future conflict between indigenous populations and the Brazilian state, groups must be consulted before such ‘developments’ are imposed within their territory.
The Waimiri-Atroari do not measure time in months and years, therefore the dates of the attacks are unknown. The requested compensation for the Waimiri-Atroari includes $13 million in damages, an official apology in a ceremony held on Waimiri-Atroari land, a museum to commemorate the indigenous group, and information regarding the human rights violations committed against Waimiri-Atroari to be documented in school books. The hearing transpired as new Far-Right President Jair Bolsonaro targeted indigenous populations, stripping communities of their rights and endorsing further exploitation of the Amazon’s natural resources. During the hearing, news emerged that the Brazilian state has planned to build a $600 million energy line through the Waimiri-Atroari reserve in June 2019. The line is expected to inflict mass deforestation, replacing areas of the Amazonian rainforest for electrical towers. Bolsonaro declared the energy line a matter of “national security,” subsequently allowing him to avoid consultation with the Waimiri-Atroari.
The Brazilian State must realize its duty to protect endangered indigenous populations and the Amazon rainforest before they are both annihilated in the name of neoliberal development and far-right nationalism. If the allegations are true, the Waimiri-Atroari should be granted full compensation for the Brazilian Military’s genocidal actions. Additionally, the Brazilian Military should be investigated by an International Tribunal in order for suitable reparations to be granted to the Waimiri-Atroari, while future protection of the Waimiri-Atroari and the Amazon rainforest must be guaranteed. The Brazilian state must learn to welcome the difference of its indigenous groups, celebrating diversity within Brazil, rather than contesting it with brutal violence, mass executions, and environmental destruction.