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On Earth Day, a Homage to a Beloved Forest Defender

Osvalinda Pereira Spent Many Years Defending the Amazon

Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira.  © Edelstam Foundation

This Earth Day is an opportunity to celebrate the work of the courageous people who put themselves at risk fighting for a world in which people and the planet can thrive.

I personally would like to honor Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira. Sadly, she passed away from a long-standing illness just over a week ago. I first met her in 2018: She was a small-scale farmer from Trairão, a village in the state of Pará, in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon.

When I met Osvalinda, she lived on a settlement set up by Brazil’s federal land reform agency. She had been forced to flee her home within her community because of death threats that began in 2011, after Pereira, who had already founded a women's association, also took on illegal loggers.

While still living with her community, Pereira had obtained support from an environmental nongovernmental organization to develop sustainable organic agricultural practices and reforest the area. A group of illegal loggers exploring the area told Pereira to stop. When she did not, they began threatening her, but she persisted and repeatedly reported the issue to the authorities and the police. The authorities did nothing to protect Pereira and her family, which lead to her move in 2018.

Two years later, she returned home but again received death threats. Even in these circumstances she never gave up. She told me many times in the last six years that she would not stop defending nature and the forest, which was, as she repeatedly said, “her home.”

In 2020, Pereira was the first Brazilian woman to receive the Edelstam Prize because she, as the  citation read, “fearlessly stood up against the criminal networks in her work to defend the rainforest.” This contributed to Brazil’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and helped mitigate global warming.

Environmental activists are increasingly harassed, intimidated, threatened, or subjected to deadly violence for defending the planet, be they small farmers, Indigenous peoples, people from other Amazon forest communities, or young activists in the streets of Europe and the United States. Individuals like Pereira, who put their lives in danger to protect our world, our rainforests, and the environment, deserve strong support from the global human rights community as they take on one of the world’s most pressing issues.

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