The Hague: Complaint against Brazil's President Bolsonaro

Illegal deforestation in the Amazon region
Bolsonaro’s government is said to be responsible for the destruction of 4000 square kilometres of rainforest per year. (Quelle: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

The Austrian organisation AllRise filed charges against Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague this past Tuesday. It accuses the Brazilian president of crimes against humanity, as the progressive destruction of the Amazon rainforest under his government has an impact on the global climate and thus on all of humanity. The consequences include the devastation of entire regions, the destruction of millions of livelihoods, famine, fleeing people, displacement and thousands of deaths. The complaint is supported by the Environmental Action Germany (DUH), among others.

Bolsonaro is a proponent of the economic exploitation of the Amazon (in German), he has deliberately weakened the environmental and control authorities in recent years. The organisations accuse him of directly and indirectly favouring and accelerating the destruction of the Amazon. Since far-right (in German) Bolsonaro came to power in 2019, it has reached record levels, the organisations said. As deforestation rates had previously been stable, this increase could be attributed to the actions of the Bolsonaro government.

Most of the deforestation is illegal and driven by criminal enterprises that work hand in hand with state-sponsored corruption. In addition, a climate of impunity prevails in Brazil, which promotes the exploitation and destruction of the rainforest.

1.5 degree target at risk

The deforestation is already releasing more CO2 than the rest of the Amazon can absorb. If deforestation continues in 2021 and 2022 at the same rate as in 2020, the Bolsonaro government would be responsible for 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2. These emissions would jeopardise efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning and industrial livestock farming (in German) are now higher than the total annual emissions of Italy or Spain, he said. DUH Executive Director Sascha Müller-Kraenner criticised: “Under Bolsonaro’s government, the monthly deforestation rate has increased by up to 88 percent. The consequences in Brazil and worldwide are devastating.”

Global consequences

The almost 300-page complaint aims to prove, using scientific data, that the Bolsonaro government’s policies are not only causing great damage locally and regionally. For example, the emissions attributed to the Brazilian government could cause more than 180,000 heat-related deaths worldwide over the next 80 years.

The organisations are working with renowned climate and legal experts, including Friederike Otto, lead author of the recently published World Climate Report. She explained: “Due to climate change, heat waves are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration all over the world. In many countries, they are already by far the deadliest extreme events. 37 per cent of heat-related deaths worldwide over the past three decades are attributed to climate change, equivalent to thousands of deaths per year.”

“Bolsonaro’s government is pursuing a policy against the Amazon, its inhabitants and its environmental defenders without any consideration. There are clear and compelling reasons to believe that crimes against humanity are being committed in Brazil that require immediate investigation and ultimately prosecution,” commented Maud Sarlieve, human rights and international criminal law lawyer and co-author of the ad.

“Setting a precedent”

Johannes Wesemann, founder of AllRise, said: “Crimes against the environment are crimes against humanity. With our first criminal complaint, we want to set a precedent to hold accountable policy makers of this world who are purposefully and deliberately destroying our planet.” The organisations want to end impunity for global environmental and climate change offenders.

Now that the complaint has been filed, the International Criminal Court will first decide whether it will be admitted to the preliminary investigation procedure. The organisations assume that the case will be significant even if the ICC does not initiate proceedings. It would then be evident that international criminal law is too weak to deal with serious environmental destruction and therefore needs to be changed.

This is not the first complaint against Bolsonaro brought before the ICC: Bolsonaro was already accused of crimes against humanity in November 2019, as well as in January and August 2021. Among others, indigenous leaders accuse the head of state (in German) of persecuting their peoples and violating their rights. AllRise focuses on the damage to the global climate caused by the large-scale destruction of forests and the resulting dangers to people’s health and lives.

At the same time, the campaign “The Planet Vs. Bolsonaro” provides information about the initiative. Part of the campaign is a petition calling on the ICC and its member states to prosecute Bolsonaro. (js)