Two bodies have been found by police investigating the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and the Brazilian indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira in a remote part of the Amazon.
The pair, who had been highlighting the threat of deforestation and environmental crime in the region, vanished 10 days ago in the Javari region of Amazonas state along a stretch of river notorious for illegal activity including illegal fishing, logging and drug trafficking.
Local detective Eduardo Fontes said on Wednesday that Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, one of two brothers arrested on suspicion of murder, had confessed to killing and burying the two men, who were doing field research for a book on conservation being written by Phillips, a freelance journalist and long time contributor to the Guardian newspaper, among other outlets.
Fontes said Amarildo da Costahad “recounted in detail the crime that was committed and indicated the place where he buried the bodies.” The other brother has denied the charge. Fontes said Amarildo took them to a site in dense forest where police dug up human remains.
Tom Phillips, Latin America correspondent for the Guardian, who was embedded with search teams looking for his colleague and friend, said on Twitter: “I’ve just returned from the Itaquaí River where we saw bodies believed to be those of our dear friend Dom & his friend Bruno recovered from the rainforest. Devastating. An outrage. There must be justice for them, for their families and for the noble causes in which they believed.”
In a statement, Dom Phillip’s wife Alessandra Sampaio said she would fight for justice for her husband.
“Although we are still awaiting definitive confirmations, this tragic outcome puts an end to the anguish of not knowing Dom and Bruno’s whereabouts,” she said. “Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love.
“Today, we also begin our quest for justice. I hope that the investigations exhaust all possibilities and bring definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible.”
BBC News reported that Univaja, the region's indigenous association, described the murder of the two men as “a political crime”. “They were both human rights defenders and died doing work to look after us indigenous people from Vale do Javari."
On Sunday it was revealed that an indigenous search team had found personal belongings of the two men. A police statement later said these had included Pereira’s health identification card and trousers, a backpack containing Phillips’s clothes and two pairs of boots, in waters near the River Itaquaí.
On Tuesday the Brazilian ambassador to the UK apologised to the Phillips family after wrongly informing the journalist’s brother in law and sister that search teams had found the two men’s bodies tied to a tree.
Phillips, originally from Merseyside in England’s north west, had been reporting from Brazil for 15 years. He had also written for the Washington Post, the New York Times and Financial Times and had previously been an editor of clubbing magazine Mixmag.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has been described as a “catastrophe” for the environment by Greenpeace since coming into power three years ago.
In March thousands of demonstrators gathered in Brasília against what they said has been a relentless assault on the environment and indigenous lands in the Amazon under Bolsonaro, who has already threatened, Donald Trump-style, to ignore the result of national elections in October after polls suggest he is likely to lose.
Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, said last week: “These two brave men were passionate advocates for Brazil’s indigenous tribes, something that’s never been more needed as Bolsonaro’s reckless policies erode more of the Brazilian rainforest every day.
“Dedicated journalists and human rights defenders like Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira are vital in the ongoing fight against illegal poaching and dangerous drug cartels in the Amazon. Brazil has a poor record when it comes to properly investigating cases like this one, and we need to see a thorough investigation from the Brazilian authorities.”