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Brazil's top court orders probe into Facebook sale of Amazon land

Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.

2021-03-02T195646Z_1_LYNXNPEH211EK_RTROPTP_4_BRAZIL-INDIGENOUS.JPG
An indigenous child of Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, looks on in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil January 30, 2019. Picture taken January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Brazil's top court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how tracts of stolen land in the Amazon rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes came to be put up for sale on Facebook.

Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.

In his ruling, he said some of the areas advertised for sale on Marketplace, Facebook's classified ad space, belonged to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people, who had been exposed to the disease by illegal land-grabbers and left in a "critical situation".

An undercover investigation by the BBC last month found dozens of plots of land in the Amazon occupied by indigenous groups advertised on the site. Many had been deforested.

Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Last week the tech firm told the BBC it was "ready to work with local authorities" on the issue.

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"The decision is based on a documentary broadcast by BBC News last week, which denounced the use of Facebook for advertising and marketing land in the Amazon," said the Supreme Court in a statement.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data published in November.

Environmentalists say Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened conservation efforts and raised hopes that new laws would legalise the claims of land-grabbers.

"Invasions and land-grabbing only happen because of impunity," said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the Association of Ethno-Environmental Protection Kaninde, a non-profit organisation that assists the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.

"So this decision from Barroso gives us hope that something will change, that the law will work."

Barroso said the investigation should not be restricted to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, but should also cover "all other indigenous lands".

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