Protecting the 'heart of the earth' from ecocide

A groundbreaking documentary sheds light on the urgent need to make ecocide a crime and protect indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon.

Protection of indigenous lands represent the most viable path to halt the ecocidal deforestation plaguing the Amazon.

Through the powerful firsthand accounts of five indigenous leaders spanning four generations, Amazônia: The Heart of Mother Earth paints a picture of the ongoing struggle to safeguard these vital lands.

Dates and details for the autumn film tour are yet to be confirmed. It will be screened in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Brussels, Monaco. Dates will be available here, when finalised.

Directed by Gert-Peeter Bruch and Princess Esmerelda of Belgium, the film features notable figures. Among them are chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapo people, president of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Sydney Possuelo, the former president of the National Indian Foundation. 

Their stories, along with others, serve as a rallying cry for global support in demarcating and preserving indigenous territories in Brazil and urging the establishment of an international law to criminalise ecocide.


Brazil is currently considering a law against ecocide, which the Brazilian political party Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL) submitted to congress on 5 June. 

The proposed law seeks to criminalise “performing illegal or wanton acts with the knowledge that they generate a substantial probability of serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment", reflecting the international definition of ecocide.

The proposal is supported by a collaboration of PSOL, Ecoe Brasil, Observatório do Clima, Stop Ecocide International, International Rivers, Climate Counsel and many others. 

At present, ecocide is officially a crime in 10 countries, including France (Article 231-3), Ecuador (Article 98) and, both Russia (Article 358) and Ukraine (Article 441), and is being actively discussed in another 27 countries, according to Ecocide International. 


When Jair Bolsonaro took office as president of Brazil in 2019, he sent a clear message was that the region was 'open for business,' leading to a 92 percent surge in deforestation in the first eight months of his leadership, according to data from the country's INPE satellite service. 

Founder of French NGO Planete Amazone, Gert-Peter Bruch said: “In four years, Jair Bolsonaro destroyed or weakened several decades of international efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest and indigenous territories. Returning to power, president Lula has made the protection of both a policy priority." 

Protection of indigenous lands represent the most viable path to halt the ecocidal deforestation plaguing the Amazon.

New data has shown that Amazon deforestation rates dropped 34 percent in the first six months of Lula's presidency. 

“However, the Brazilian congress remains outside of Lula’s control and has recently approved a proposal that strips the environment ministry’s oversight of the rural land registry and removes the power of the ministry of indigenous peoples' to demarcate Indigenous lands. Both of these measures pave the way for a return to unimaginably harmful levels of deforestation,” Bruch said. 


The Amazon rainforest now stands on the precipice of an irreversible tipping point. Scientists have issued dire warnings, urging immediate action to halt the ongoing destruction.

In response, campaigners are pushing for the Brazilian Ecocide Bill to be enacted, which they argue will provide much needed protection for the Amazon and its ecosystems, and would support the rights of indigenous communities to continue their guardianship of the forest. 

Jojo Mehta, executive director of Stop Ecocide International, highlighted the timeliness and significance of the bill, which she said served as a rallying point for civil society and social movements, empowering them to advocate for change in an increasingly challenging political environment.


Alongside the development of ecocide laws, activists have been advocating for the recognition of Rights of Nature. 

This legal concept grants nature with rights similar to personhood, aiming to protect and preserve ecosystems. In Brazil, Rights of Nature laws have started to gain traction. 

For instance, the municipality of Bonito, located in the state of Pernambuco, enacted a Rights of Nature law in 2017. Two other cities in Brazil, Paudalho and Florianópolis, have also incorporated provisions related to Rights of Nature in their legislation. 

These efforts reflect a growing recognition of the intrinsic value of nature and the need to safeguard its wellbeing through legal means.

In June 2023, the city council of Guajará-Mirimof acknowledging the rights of Brazil's Laje river to 'maintain its natural flow,' 'nourish,' and 'be nourished' - the first ruling of its kind in Brazil, which marked a crucial milestone in safeguarding rivers and forests from ecocide.


Both ecocide and Rights of Nature are different in their approaches but have the same aim: to bring about legal protection of nature under constitutional law. 

While ecocide laws refer to the destruction or severe damage of ecosystems and criminalises those responsible, the of Rights of Nature laws grants legal standing to natural entities. This allows landscapes such as forests and rivers to be represented in court with the granting of certain rights and protections. 

In Ecuador, the rights of nature law has already achieved historical milestones. The court ruling in favor of Alambi River and the 'Quito without mining' campaign have translated the rights of landscapes into legal language, further strengthening environmental protection measures.

Amazônia: The Heart of Mother Earth spurs international debate on why ecocide needs to be adopted not just in Brazil, but globally. The film's message is clear: the permanent demarcation and protection of indigenous lands represents the most viable path to halt the deforestation of the Amazon.

This Author 

Yasmin Dahnoun is assistant editor at The Ecologist. This article is based on a Stop Ecocide International press release. 

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