Paulo Busse and Richard J Rogers, Ecocide: A new legal tool to defend the Amazon.

From its establishment as a Portuguese colony in the 16th Century to the country’s present political incarnation, Brazil has long been associated with the illegal dispossession of land, the rabid exploitation of natural resources, and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. On the one hand this is surprising: Brazil has perhaps the most detailed set of forest protection laws in the world, and indigenous peoples have considerable rights under the 1988 Constitution. But there is a vast gulf between the recognition of rights and their enforcement. While Brazil’s legal system recognizes environmental crimes, insidious forces ensure that laws that are inconvenient for exploitation are undermined or unenforced.

The excessive exploitation has been facilitated through the ‘capture’ and manipulation of certain government institutions by powerful corporate actors and large-scale landowners. Rather than protecting the natural environment, key policy makers (including Ruralistas at the highest levels of government) weaken environmental law enforcement, thereby encouraging the (so-called) ‘Rainforest Mafias’ who drive land invasions and deforestation. The resulting environmental harm is stark – land-grabbing is prolific, deforestation is rampant, and environmental defenders are attacked and murdered at a sickening rate. Now the Amazon itself is under threat. Competing claims for Brazil’s rural land have defined and dominated the Brazilian political, legal, economic, and cultural landscape for centuries. This paper will examine the forces at play in Brazil and how their behaviour might be influenced by a new international law of ecocide.