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Indigenous peoples celebrate removal of evangelical missionary from top job at Brazil's Uncontacted Tribes Unit

INDIGENOUS people in Brazil and international human rights campaigners celebrated the removal of an evangelical missionary from the top job at the country’s Uncontacted Tribes Unit today.

Ricardo Lopes Dias, a former member of the notorious evangelical organisation New Tribes Mission (also known as Ethnos360), was first appointed as head of the unit at the Indigenous Affairs Agency (Funai) in February.

However, a judge ruled in May that Mr Dias’s appointment was unlawful and ordered his removal following a legal challenge by public prosecutors and the Union of Indigenous Organisations of the Javari Valley (Univaja).

The decision was overturned and Mr Dias was reinstated until Thursday when he was forced out for the second time following a whistleblower’s revelation that he made a clandestine visit to the Javari Valley, home to more uncontacted tribes than anywhere else on Earth.

Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to open up uncontacted tribes’ lands to commercial exploitation, evangelical missionaries have redoubled their efforts to convert them.

“A fundamentalist missionary at the head of Funai’s Uncontacted Tribes Unit was above all an affront to the self-determination of these peoples,” Leonardo Lenin, executive secretary Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Tribes said today.

“Mr Ricardo Lopes’s incompetence regarding public policy towards isolated Indians was evident on several occasions. One example of this was the chaotic way in which he co-ordinated the work to prevent Covid-19 reaching uncontacted and recently contacted tribes.

“It’s now more obvious than ever that someone with real knowledge of this subject, and who respects the laws and rules that protect the rights of these peoples, is needed in this post.”

Mr Dias’s removal was a massive victory for Brazil’s indigenous organisations and their allies, Survival International co-ordinator Sarah Shenker said today.

“Survival and its supporters have campaigned and lobbied the authorities from the day Ricardo Lopes Dias was appointed at the start of the year.

“We’ll be watching closely to see what’s next, and we’ll continue to fight for uncontacted tribes’ lands to be protected and their right to live as they choose to be respected, always.

“Hopefully Bolsonaro will get the message that if he carries on with his genocidal agenda, he can expect resistance at every step.”

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