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Dom Phillips, journalist who chronicled Amazon deforestation, is dead at 57

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Dom Phillips, journalist who chronicled Amazon deforestation, is dead at 57

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Dom Phillips, a British journalist based in Brazil who had written for The Washington Post, the Guardian and other news organizations and was a leading chronicler of the devastating environmental effects of deforestation in the Amazon, has died in the remote Javari Valley of western Brazil, where he was researching a book. He was 57.

According to media reports, he and Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on the country’s Indigenous people, were traveling by boat on the Itaquai River in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, known in recent years for growing violence by illegal fishermen, loggers and drug dealers. The two men were last seen alive on June 5.

Police announced Friday that human remains retrieved from an isolated forest location belonged to Mr. Phillips. A fisherman this week had confessed to killing the journalist and his traveling companion, police said, and led investigators to an isolated location where the remains were buried.

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Authorities said Saturday that another set of human remains belonged to Pereira. Both were shot to death, they said. At least three men are in custody.

Mr. Phillips, a onetime music journalist in England, had lived in Brazil since 2007. He learned Portuguese and married a Brazilian woman and had lived in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and, most recently, Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia.

He was a versatile reporter who wrote about politics, poverty and cultural developments in Brazil. As a contributor to The Post from 2014 to 2016, he covered the country’s preparations for the World Cup soccer tournament and the Summer Olympics of 2016. He later examined whether the Games had conferred a lasting benefit on Rio de Janeiro.

“Three months after its successful staging of the Summer Olympics, Brazil’s cultural hub should be riding high,” he wrote in The Post. “Instead it is a financial, political, crime-ridden mess.”

Mr. Phillips was particularly drawn to the plight of Brazil’s natural world and the Indigenous people living deep in the Amazon rainforest. He traveled throughout the country to report on deforestation, as farmers and other commercial interests destroyed vast swaths of Brazil’s once-dense rainforests. He led the Guardian’s investigation of large-scale cattle ranches established on cleared forest land.

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“Dom is one of the most ethical and courageous journalists I know,” Andrew Fishman, an American reporter working in Brazil, told the Latin American news service CE Noticias Financieras. “He has always been extremely rigorous in his work and incisive in his analysis.”

In 2019, Mr. Phillips asked President Jair Bolsonaro about the deforestation in the countryside. Bolsonaro, who favors mining and other commercial development, responded, “First, you have to understand that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, not to you.”

A video of the exchange became a sensation among Bolsonaro’s supporters, who used it to promote their view that the president was being attacked by the media.

“Dom was very shaken by that video,” Fishman said. “He felt that it put a target on his back and made his work more difficult.”

In 2018, Mr. Phillips joined Pereira and photographer Gary Calton on a 17-day journey into the Amazon — almost 600 miles by boat and a 45-mile trek on foot — as Pereira, then a government official, attempted to make contact with isolated Indigenous groups.

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“As he squats in the mud by a fire,” Mr. Phillips wrote in an evocative story for the Guardian, “Bruno Pereira, an official at Brazil’s government indigenous agency, cracks open the boiled skull of a monkey with a spoon and eats its brains for breakfast as he discusses policy.”

Mr. Phillips dubbed some of the people he met “the ninjas of this forest, [who] are as protective of it as they are at home in it. They fish piranhas and hunt, butcher and cook birds, monkeys, sloth and wild boar to eat.”

When a local man was asked if agricultural development and mining should be permitted in the Indigenous territories, he said, “No. We take care of our land.”

Mr. Phillips returned several times to the Javari Valley to conduct research for a book tentatively titled “How to Save the Amazon.” He received a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to help underwrite his reporting.

In recent years, the region had become increasingly dangerous, with more than 150 environmental activists killed in Brazil between 2009 and 2020, according to the Latin American journalism project Tierra de Resistentes.

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After Mr. Phillips and Pereira failed to appear for a scheduled meeting on June 5, Indigenous people reported that a boat was seen following them.

Mr. Phillips’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, called for the Brazilian government to take prompt action to find her husband and Pereira. Brazilian celebrities, including soccer star Pelé, joined the public plea. News organizations — such as The Post, the Guardian and the New York Times, all of which Mr. Phillips had written for — released an open letter demanding that the Brazilian government “urgently step up and fully resource the effort” to find the men.

When Bolsonaro was informed of their disappearance, he seemed to suggest that they were at fault.

“Anything might happen,” he said. “It could have been an accident. They could have been executed.”

After their remains were found, Bolsonaro said, “That Englishman was disliked in the region. … He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead.”

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The statement prompted an outcry in Brazil and abroad.

“The victims are not the ones to blame,” one of Bolsonaro’s political opponents, Orlando Silva, said in a tweet.

Dominic Mark Phillips was born in July 23, 1964, in Bebington, a town near Liverpool in the Merseyside region of northwestern England. He left college to travel in the 1980s and lived in Israel, Greece, Denmark and Australia, taking odd jobs that included picking fruit, working as a chef and cleaning a meat factory.

He became a devotee of a form of electronic dance music called house and, in the late 1980s, helped found an arts magazine in Bristol, England. He moved to London in 1990 and worked as a top editor at Mixmag, a magazine chronicling house music. He coined the term “progressive house” to describe “a new breed of hard but tuneful, banging but thoughtful, uplifting and trancey British house.”

He left the publication in 1999 to produce documentaries and videos about music. In 2009, he published “DJ Superstars Here We Go!,” a book described in a Guardian review as, “in part, a memoir of his days reporting on clubs and after-parties awash with champagne, vodka, cocaine and ecstasy.”

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Mr. Phillips first visited Brazil in 1998. After settling there nine years later, he largely gave up his late-night ways and often rose before dawn to do stand-up paddling on waterways.

“On one level, it’s like being in Europe or America,” he said in a 2008 interview with DMCWorld magazine, a music publication. “On another, it’s utterly different — like stepping into a looking glass world where everything seems the same but is actually upside down, backwards, back to front, whatever. … The best thing about the country is the people — they are really open, friendly and positive. They love music. Rich or poor, they do their best to get the most out of life.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include a sister and a brother.

Mr. Phillips turned down several prestigious job offers, preferring to stay in Brazil as a freelance writer, contributing to the Financial Times, Bloomberg News and soccer magazines. He was well known among international journalists and taught English and volunteered in poor neighborhoods.

“He likes to see the impact of his work on people’s lives,” Cecília Olliveira, a founder of Fogo Cruzado, a website documenting violence in Brazil, told CE Noticias Financieras. “He likes to do journalism that changes something, that denounces abuses, that helps protect those who need protection.”

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Terrence McCoy in Brazil contributed to this report.

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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UNITED NATIONS — Donors pledged about $160 million for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.

“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”

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UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.

Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.

In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

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Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”

Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.

Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3% of the agency’s income.

Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.

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“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.

Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s U.N. Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of U.N. values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with U.N. policies.”

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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MEXICO CITY — A woman mountain climber in Mexico died and a climbing companion was injured when they scaled the highly active, off-limits peak of the Popocatepetl volcano.

Mexico’s volunteer Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade confirmed Friday that the climbers fell into a gully about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the volcano’s crater, suggesting they had reached the crater or near it.

The crater of the 17,797-foot (5,426-meter) tall volcano has been belching toxic fumes, ash, and lumps of incandescent rock persistently for almost 30 years.

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Civil defense authorities have strictly prohibited climbers from going within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of the peak since it began erupting again in 1994.

Valentín Martínez Castillo, the mayor of the nearby town of Ozumba, identified the dead woman as a 22-year-old resident of the town.

Martínez Castillo wrote in his social media accounts that the climbers fell about 150 feet (50 meters) down a gully, and that the woman’s body and the surviving climbers had been successfully removed from the peak.

The Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade posted a notice on their social media Friday reading: “She shouldn’t have died. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. The Popocatepetl volcano is closed.”

The country’s National Disaster Prevention Center said it “calls on people not to go near the volcano, especially the crater, due to the risk of falling ballistic fragments.”

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Popocatepetl is located 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, and occasionally showers ash on surrounding towns and some parts of the capital.

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

Former President Clinton is slamming the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying it contributes to putting “democracy at risk” and calling the high court “radical” and “activist.”

“This decision puts partisanship ahead of precedent, ideology ahead of evidence, and the power of a small minority ahead of the clear will of the people,” Clinton said in a statement on Friday.

“This jarring removal of rights that had long been guaranteed, along with decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act and abolishing any judicial remedy for admittedly unconstitutional gerrymandering by state legislatures and abuses of power by federal authorities, has put our democracy at risk in the hands of a radical, activist Court,” he added.

He said said voters should be electing people “who will defend, not deny, our cherished rights and liberties” in addition to confirming judges who put the importance of the Constitution over partisanship.

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His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a step backward for women’s rights and human rights.”

The development comes as the high court ruled on Friday to eliminate federal-level abortion protections, which many anticipated after a leaked draft ruling last month. 

Several states, including Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky, have now effectively banned abortion. More are expected to follow.

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