(São Paulo, May 22, 2020) – Human Rights Watch reaffirmed today its finding that fines for illegal logging in the Amazon have been effectively suspended since October 2019 under a Bolsonaro administration decree. That finding is based on information the Environment Ministry provided to Human Rights Watch, and was published by Human Rights Watch on May 20, 2020.
The Environment Ministry disputed the finding, but did not dispute that the ministry itself provided the information on which the finding is based nor explain how Human Rights Watch could have presented the information inaccurately.
“Instead of disputing the facts that the Environment Ministry itself provided, the government should address the problem and ensure that the criminal networks destroying the rainforest for profit pay for the harm they are causing,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “They won’t be deterred by fines they don’t have to pay.”
The Environment Ministry information showed that since October, due to new procedures the ministry put in place, people or companies linked to illegal logging, mining, and other environmental crimes have been required to pay fines in no more than five cases. Human Rights Watch corroborated the failures of the administrative proceedings in interviews with federal agents.
An April 2019 decree by president Jair Bolsonaro established that after October 8, environmental fines would be reviewed at “conciliation hearings.” A commission can offer discounts or eliminate the fine altogether. The decree suspended all deadlines to pay those fines until a conciliation hearing could be held.
On December 16, Human Rights Watch filed a request before the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), Brazil’s main environmental law enforcement agency and part of the Environment Ministry, under the Access to Information Law asking how many conciliation hearings had been held.
On January 6, 2020, the coordinator of investigations of environmental infractions at IBAMA responded that there had not been any hearings.
On April 28, IBAMA’s media office responded in writing to a Human Rights Watch request for updated information. It said that only five conciliation hearings had been held by that date, and that due to the coronavirus health emergency, all additional hearings had been suspended.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed two IBAMA field agents, an IBAMA official involved in processing fines, and two former IBAMA officials. They corroborated the official information provided by IBAMA and the Human Rights Watch conclusion about the failures in the conciliation hearings system.
IBAMA agents continue to issue fines for illegal deforestation and other environmental infringements in the Amazon and elsewhere in Brazil. Yet, because conciliation hearings are not occurring, people and companies that receive those fines do not have an obligation to pay them.
Meanwhile, real time alerts from Brazil’s Space Agency, INPE, show that deforestation in the Amazon region may have increased 53 percent between October and April, compared with the same period a year before.