Justice for Isac Tembé

Isac was only 24 years old when he was murdered last Friday by the Brazilian military police

  • February 19, 2021


Last Friday, February 12th, Isac Tembé left his home on the Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Territory, in the northeast of the Amazonian state of Pará, to go hunting nearby with a group of friends. He never returned. The young Indigenous leader was murdered; shot point-blank in the chest by a member of Brazil’s military police, on his own land.

According to the Tembé-Theneteraha people, the country’s military police serve as private militias defending the interests of farmers and ranchers that are illegally occupying areas of the Tembé Indigenous Territory. This case illustrates the blurring of Brazilian agribusiness and state-sponsored terror on Indigenous lands, which has sharply exacerbated under the Bolsonaro regime.

Isac Tembé

Isac Tembé’s murder reveals a tragic reality faced by Indigenous land defenders in the Brazilian Amazon, whose lands and lives are increasingly targeted by a range of criminal actors with implicit support from the federal government. The first year of Bolsonaro’s presidency saw a sharp intensification of Indigenous land invasions across Brazil. Spurred by Bolsonaro’s violent and racist discourse and policies, land invaders have acted with impunity, brazenly expropriating Indigenous lands, razing protected forests, and parcelling lots for land speculation. These practices are being aggressively consolidated across the Amazon, causing immeasurable destruction.

The Tembé-Theneteraha people have repeatedly faced threats and attacks, even before Bolsonaro’s tenure. They report that the police justified Isac’s murder by citing his alleged “association with criminal activities.” “The military police murdered Isac Tembé twice: they killed him and then tried to kill his memory when they attacked the character of our young warrior who was an exemplary leader,” the Tembé-Theneteraha said in a public statement.

Isac Tembé was an important voice among the Tembé people. He was a history teacher and his memory and legacy are carried on by his wife and three children. His wife is expecting a child, and the family was in the process of building a new home.

In their statement, the Tembé also reinforced that “our territory is invaded and attacked daily by illegal loggers or farmers who insist on maintaining their occupation in parts of the Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Territory, through cattle ranching and other economic activities.”

The Tembé demand an investigation by Brazil’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), federal prosecutors, federal police, and other relevant government agencies in their territories, in addition to the urgent review of federal courts concerning the murder of Isac.

The Pará Public Security Secretariat said that “a task force has been created to investigate the case more rigorously” and reported that policing in the area has been strengthened.

Amazon Watch stands in solidarity with our Indigenous partners who are facing rising and unacceptable levels of violence and intimidation as they fight to defend their territories. The Tembé-Theneteraha people should not be mourning the loss of yet another Indigenous leader, particularly at the hands of Brazil’s security forces. Fitting of the Bolsonaro era, his murder harkens back to the dark days of the country’s military dictatorship, when Indigenous communities bore the brunt of state-sponsored bloodletting.

As Indigenous people across Brazil confront the pandemic in the aftermath of another record-breaking year of Amazon deforestation, they continue to remind the world that all threats to their lives must be prevented. The very least Brazilian authorities must do is launch a fully transparent investigation into Isac’s murder. We, and everyone around the world, must not let this loss of life vanish in silence.

Complete Public Statement from the Tembé-Theneteraha People
Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Territory – February 14, 2021

The hearts of the Tembé-Tenetehara people bleed with the brutal murder of our young warrior Isac Tembé. The bullet that took his life, at only 24 years old, hit everyone who has lived in this land since time immemorial. We are permanently defending the forest and our traditional knowledge.

The young Isac was shot by military police on the night of last Friday, the 12th. He went out hunting after a day of work in the construction of his little house to live with his family. We ask: “Why do these public security agents serve as private militias for farmers who invade indigenous lands? Why did they come shooting at our youngsters, children, grandchildren, and nephews, who hunted, a practice that is part of the culture of our people?”

The Military Police twice murdered Isac Tembé: they killed his body and try to kill his memory when they attacked the nature of our young warrior and exemplary leadership.

Isac was an honorable citizen, professor of History, active in the community and in the organization of youth. His wife is pregnant and will soon give birth to another Tembé child, guaranteeing the continuity of this original people. He was never involved in any illegal acts and never in his life carried or fired a firearm.

For this reason, we reject the version of the military police officers as a liar, who claim to have reacted to a gun attack. We are a people of joy and celebration; a peaceful, orderly, and law-abiding people. We demand from the authorities a fast, transparent, and rigorous investigation in order to identify and punish those responsible for this crime.

Our territory is daily invaded and attacked by illegal loggers or farmers who insist on maintaining the occupation of parts of the Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Land, through cattle and other economic activities.

We have been fighting this violence for decades and we will not stop until no meter of our land is illegally occupied. We are not afraid. The Federal Constitution protects our rights and the Brazilian State must enforce what is required by the law.

We call on the authorities of Brazil and the world not to leave us alone!

We demand that Funai, MPF, Federal Police, and all the competent bodies come to our territory and see what we have been through.

We require expertise at the scene. We demand an urgent response as we will not be silent and let this crime go unpunished.

May the living memory of Isac Tembé strengthen our journey. May the spirit of our ancestors guide the Tembé-Tenetehara people in our struggle for life.

We demand justice!

Isac Tembé’s murderers must be punished!

by CAMILA ROSSI Amazon Watch

Further Reading-Increasing loss of Indigenous lives and exponential loss of protection of the Brazilian Amazon

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