Police in Brazil indicted the former head and deputy head of the country’s Indigenous affairs agency for failing to take “necessary measures” to prevent the killings of a British journalist and a Brazilian Indigenous expert in the Javari Valley of the Amazon rainforest last year.
The disappearance of former agency official Bruno Pereira, 41, and journalist Dom Phillips, 57, in June 2022 sparked outrage in Brazil and beyond. Pereira, a longtime official with Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, had been threatened for his work mapping criminal activity in the valley, while Phillips was a Brazil-based correspondent who wrote for the Guardian and The Washington Post.
Ten days after they disappeared their bodies were found, after a fisherman confessed to their killing. He and two others have been charged over the murders, while five more inhabitants of the river community were accused by police of helping to hide the bodies.
The police statement released Friday did not name the two former officials of Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency Funai, but identified them as the agency’s former president and former vice president. It said they were suspected of “possible malice” after they became aware of a risk to the lives of agency employees during a meeting in October 2019 and through other documents, but failed to act to protect them.
“In this way, they would have assumed the risk of the result of their omissions, which culminated in the double homicide,” it added.
The indictment will be looked at by federal prosecutors who will decide whether to file charges in court.
Brazil’s state-owned news agency, Agência Brasil, identified the two ex-officials as Marcelo Xavier, who was president of the Indigenous agency from July 2019 until December 2022, and former deputy president Alcir Amaral Teixeira.
According to Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo, the meeting at which the two officials became aware of the risk to the Funai staff came after the death of agent Maxciel Pereira, who was killed while investigating illegal fishing in the Amazon in September 2019. Weeks later, Bruno Pereira took a leave of absence from the agency after being removed from his senior position, saying he needed a break after the death of his colleague and given “the climate of tension” at the agency. He did not return.
Xavier was appointed by former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose term in office oversaw an acceleration in deforestation in the Amazon and policies that “seriously” threatened the rights of Indigenous peoples, according to Human Rights Watch.