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Death Threats Against Yanomami Leader to Be Investigated

Federal Police in Brazil will investigate a series of death threats made against the internationally respected Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa.
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Federal Police in Brazil will investigate a series of death threats made against the internationally respected Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa, according to a press statement issued on July 31, and they will provide increased police presence in the area.

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Kopenawa, along with indigenous leaders and advocates such as Survival International (SI), has been lobbying for official protection since May after he started to receive death threats from gold miners operating illegally on Yanomami territory in the Brazilian state of Roraima. (In February, Brazilian military removed some of the miners and other illegal occupants of Yanomami territory.)

In May miners had sent a message to the Yanomami Hutukura Association (YHA) saying that their president, Kopenawa, would not be alive by the end of the year. "They want to kill me," Kopenawa asserted on July 29. "...they are getting in the way of our work and our fight. I'll continue to fight for my people, because defending the Yanomami people is my work."

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While the Yanomami leader continued in his advocacy work, the YHA did take steps to increase security around their offices and they "restricted the activities and movements of its president" according to their press statement.

The announcement from law enforcement officials came a few days after the story of the threats appeared in national and international media.

"As a preventative measure, the Secretary of Public Security of the State or Roraima has been requested to reinforce policing in the region where the aforementioned crime occurred," according to a joint press statement issued by the Federal Police and the Federal Public Ministry. The officials noted that they will be investigating a related incident involving the offices of the Socio-Environmental Institute (SEI), an organization that advocates for indigenous communities throughout Brazil. In June, two armed men entered the SEI's offices, said they were looking for Kopenawa, announced a hold-up, and then stole computers, cell phones and GPS devices. One of the criminals was apprehended not long afterwards and asserted that they had been hired by a prospector from Venezuela.

It was reported that after the robbery and break-in at SEI, motorcyclists were seen circling the offices of the YHA and asking for Kopenawa's whereabouts.

The official press statement also said that the case of the death threats has been referred to the Secretary of Human Rights in the office of the President of the Republic, to see if Kopenawa will qualify for inclusion in the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Program.