Amazon River, Santarem, Brazil. Photo: courtesy of World Rainforest Movement
The Guardian 17 April 2020
A Brazilian judge has banned a group of Christian missionaries from entering a vast Amazon indigenous reserve with the world’s highest concentration of isolated tribes, citing risks from the coronavirus pandemic as one of his reasons.
Indigenous leaders and activists hailed the decision as “historic” and expressed hope that it could prevent a genocide in the Javari valley, a remote reserve the size of Austria on Brazil’s western borders.
“Facing with this new coronavirus pandemic we wanted to guarantee the rights of indigenous people to isolation,” said Eliesio Marubo, an indigenous lawyer who sought the ruling on behalf of Javari’s indigenous association Univaja.
Federal judge Fabiano Verli banned three missionaries, Andrew Tonkin, Josiah McIntyre and Pastor Wilson de Benjamin, from the reserve, along with the controversial missionary group New Tribes Mission of Brazil which recently bought a helicopter to convert isolated peoples in the region.
The judge referred to recent articles about isolated groups’ vulnerability to common diseases that decimated their populations in the past and authorised police and army to expel any of the missionaries found in the reserve. Brazil has so far seen three confirmed Covid-19 deaths among its indigenous population.
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