Christian missionary who entered Amazon tribe's land could face genocide charges

The Hi Merimã are one of the last largely uncontacted tribes in South America. Photo credit: Getty

A Christian missionary could be facing charges of genocide after entering land belonging to an isolated tribe in the Amazon.

Steve Campbell, a member of the Greene Baptist Church in the United States, has been questioned by Brazilian government officials after encroaching on territory belonging to the Hi Merimã tribe, local media reported.

"It's a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population," Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), the agency tasked with protecting native cultures, said in a statement.

"Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high."

The Hi Merimã are one of the last largely uncontacted tribes in South America. They have hostile relations with neighbouring tribes, and mostly reject contact with the modern world.

"If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact, using his relationship with other Indians to approach the isolated, he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Merimãs," FUNAI coordinator Bruno Pereira told newspaper Folha.

"Their immune memory is not prepared for a simple flu or conjunctivitis.

"Another point is contacts conducted by people who do not respect the self-determination of these peoples and their ways of life. Historically, this has led to violent interference in their vital relationships with the environment, with family relationships, with what they believe. "

The church says Mr Campbell made a mistake while showing members of a neighbouring tribe how to use a GPS device.

One of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro's ministers has said tribes should integrate into modern society, but the process needs to be gradual.

Police are investigating Mr Campbell's actions.


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