Study highlights need for judiciary and executive to defend environment in Amazon region
A study recently completed by researchers at the Human Rights and Companies Center (FGV CeDHE) at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Sao Paulo Law School, commissioned by the National Justice Council, emphasizes the importance of joint action by public institutions and the need to improve coordination between the judicial and executive branches of government. The goal is to ensure compliance with court decisions regarding the environment in the Amazon region.
The study points to a direct link between deforestation and litigation. In other words, when native habitat is cleared, people see the judiciary as a possible way of solving resulting conflicts. The researchers show that this a major step forward as part of efforts to improve the results of lawsuits and to guide the adoption of strategic and preventive measures to avoid harm to the region’s flora and fauna, which may take a lot of time and effort to reverse.
“Empirical Studies on the Effectiveness of Environmental Jurisdiction in the Amazon” is a publication that is part of the fifth edition of “Judicial Research,” in turn part of the National Justice Council’s Judicial Environmental Program, which is aimed at taking measures to improve the judiciary’s performance in relation to environmental issues. The study is part of efforts to better understand the causes of violations and abuses of social and environmental rights in the Amazon and to identify alternative ways of tackling these problems and protecting communities and the environment. The objective is to analyze the effectiveness of judicial solutions concerning social and environmental conflicts in the region.
The study commissioned by the National Justice Council and carried out by the FGV Sao Paulo Law School combined techniques to automatically collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data, taking into account case law, georeferenced information and the perceptions of judges working in the Amazon.
Lívia Peres, an assistant judge at the National Justice Council, explains that legal procedures and conflicts in the Amazon are complicated by local factors, such as remote locations, poor infrastructure, a weak presence of public institutions and high staff turnover among government employees.
“The study highlights the judiciary’s important role in social and environmental lawsuits, requiring inter-institutional cooperation strategies and the use of technological tools to assess compliance with court orders in remote areas. On the other hand, we require cooperation between different sectors of the Brazilian state to guarantee the environmental preservation promised in the Federal Constitution and it is important to take measures to prevent social and environmental conflicts in the Amazon,” says Peres.
The Amazon region encompasses all seven states in Brazil’s North region, plus Mato Grosso and part of Maranhão. It covers more than 5 million square kilometers or 59% of Brazil’s area and it is home to 38 million people or 13% of the country’s inhabitants. This part of the country is still largely covered by the world’s biggest rainforest, which has unique and still largely unknown biodiversity. Conserving the Amazon Rainforest is crucial to global climate stability and international stakeholders are keenly interested in this issue.
Despite Brazil’s importance for environmental protection, “it is the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, especially in the Amazon,” the report notes. The authors cite a study carried out by British organization Global Witness, which showed that in 2019, almost 90% of global deaths resulting from defense of the environment occurred in the Amazon. In 2021, the figure was 85%. “Given the above, the judiciary has played an important role in social and environmental lawsuits, which makes it even more necessary to consider the challenges for access to justice in these cases,” says the report by the FGV team.
Deforestation and litigation
The study indicates a direct relationship between deforestation and litigation. In other words, when native habitat is cleared, people see the judiciary as a possible way of solving resulting conflicts. Satellite maps show a correlation between deforestation hotspots and lawsuits related to social and environmental issues. “If there is a lot of deforestation, there are a lot of lawsuits,” says Thiago dos Santos Acca, the study’s coordinator and a lawyer, professor and researcher at FGV CeDHE.
The FGV study also found no direct relationship between the average number of court sentences and the average number of judges working in courts in the Amazon. This conclusion can be reached by looking at a graph showing these two variables. “This points to a mismatch between the demand for legal assistance and the judiciary’s existing infrastructure and indicates the need to redistribute judicial structures in the Amazon,” Acca says.
Judges working in the nine states of Brazil’s Amazon region took a questionnaire to support the research, in which they indicated difficult everyday conditions in their courts. The 37 judges who responded to the survey complained of poor infrastructure, little institutional geographical coverage, little legal knowledge among people involved in conflicts and a lack of legal advice for people involved in social and environmental conflicts.
In turn, parties to such conflicts reported high financial costs, fear of reprisals, physical and technological barriers to access to the judiciary, slow procedures, lack of confidence in justice institutions and a lack of procedural mechanisms to ensure that cases progress.