Deforestation figures in the Brazilian Amazon have increased continuously over the past decade, but the Justice system has failed to curb this and related crimes. A study by NGO Imazon shows only eight percent of trial judges punished defendants facing deforestation-related charges between 2017 and 2020.
Meanwhile, 78 percent of lawsuits were thrown out on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
These cases dealt with an area of 231,000 hectares of deforested land, which led prosecutors to ask for BRL 3.7 billion (USD 685.9 million) in damages.
There is, however, a silver lining. In December 2020, the Superior Court of Justice — Brazil’s second-highest judicial body —deemed that the evidence presented by prosecutors (cross-referenced satellite imagery with public data on land use) was valid.
The court also allowed lawsuits with undetermined defendants to move forward. In these cases, the identity of the deforesters is not known. But even if an individual can’t be punished, it is important for the lawsuit to proceed to halt land-grabbing schemes and the like on the land in question.
Over the past decade, enforcement of environmental laws has been whittled away, particularly under the Jair Bolsonaro administration. Data from protection agencies shows that the government would need ten times more workers to properly enforce environmental controls — nearly 60,000 environmental fines are due to expire without being collected, based on the statute of limitations by 2024.