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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Brazil

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Brazil, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 18 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Since the beginning of the 1990s, Brazilian legislation has undergone progressive changes in favour of various fundamental freedoms. Criterias for the protection of human rights have been embodied in the 1998 Federal Constitution (Article 5): inter alia the freedom of expression (Chapter IX), the right to respect for private property (Chapter XI), freedom of peaceful assembly (Chapter XVI), freedom of association (Chapter XVII). More recently, under President Lula's Government, social advances have also been made, such as a scholarship system to enable children to go to school or the adoption of a law against domestic violence, in 2006.

However Brazil is still strongly marked by violence, accompanied by corruption and omnipresent impunity. Human rights violations by the police are frequent, especially against the most deprived populations, particularly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The members of these security units, placed under the supervision of the Federated States, are untrained, and commit exactions that include acts of torture and extrajudicial killings, in a context in which paramilitary militias control the "favelas". In addition, there is a tendency to suppress social protest movements, and the existence of death squads (armed militia linked to organised crime, and composed in particular of acting and former police officers) that impose their "rule", with total impunity.

Another crucial problem in Brazil is linked to land. There are still many landless peasants, and around 8,000 people continue to work in conditions of servitude, as Congress had still not, at the end of 2007, taken a decision on a draft constitutional reform providing for the confiscation of land when servile working conditions are shown to exist. It should however be stressed that a major step forward was taken in 2007, with the release of 5,974 persons subjected to servile working conditions, notably following action by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.1 On the other hand, expulsions continue, and entities linked to the main economic actors, such as transnational corporations, promoters of agricultural trade, large landowners or consortia for the construction of large infrastructure projects multiply abuses and illegal practices in the name of regional development. According to the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário – CIMI), 76 indigenous persons were killed in 2007 – as against 40 in 2006 – in conflicts mostly related to land ownership or the exploitation of natural resources.

In this context, and despite the introduction by the Government in October 2004 of a National Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which was an important step in the right direction but which has not led to a concrete improvement in their protection, defenders continue to be subjected to attacks and acts of harassment, even if there is no formal obstruction to their work. Furthermore, although protective measures for defenders were to have been introduced initially in the three States of Pará, Espírito Santo and Pernambuco, at the end of 2007 no real progress in terms of procedures or methods for granting protection, or strategies for increasing public awareness of the defenders' problem had been observed.2 In a more general way, the protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) were rarely implemented, because on the one hand they are not a priority for the Government, and secondly because no specific institution is clearly singled out for having authority to act in the matter. The national police, for instance, which should be the best placed for protecting human rights and their defenders, and for investigating cases of violations, do not meet the requirement. Therefore the persons who should benefit from precautionary measures, as defined by the IACHR, remain unprotected.

Defenders of the right to land: the main target of attacks and criminalisation

Defenders acting in favour of a more equitable distribution of land, and who are thereby up against the large agricultural producers who have no hesitation in recruiting private security organisations for defending their interests, and also groups who engage in illegal logging, are regularly subjected to threats and acts of intimidation on the part of these armed groups, which enjoy total impunity. In addition, it is not unusual for security firms, which operate like armed militia, to offer a reward for the elimination of persons who play an active role in the defence of human rights and land rights. On October 21, 2007, Mr. Valmir Mota de Oliveira, a member of the Landless Land Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST) and of "Via Campesina", two movements active in the promotion of agrarian reform and the right to land, was killed during the peaceful occupation by Via Campesina of an estate owned by a multinational corporation, Syngenta, in Santa Terasa do Oeste, in the State of Paraná, which used it for transgenic cultivation tests.3 Since the beginning of the year, the MST leaders had been subjected to death threats and acts of intimidation. Likewise, in October 2007, three men were reportedly recruited by the landowners of the State of Pará to kill Brother Henri de Rosiers, lawyer of the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Tierra – CPT) in Xinguara, in exchange for a sum estimated at 50,000 Brazilian reals (around 20,000 Euros).4

Acts of reprisal against defenders fighting impunity and corruption

Defenders fighting against the impunity enjoyed by the authors of exactions or who denounce corruption and other illegal activities on the part of the authorities are not spared either. In December 2006, Mr. Erwin Krautler, Bishop of the Xingu region, human rights activist in the State of Pará and President of the CIMI, received telephone death threats. This was after Mr. Krautler had made several denunciations concerning authors of sexual abuses, child prostitution in the region, and the impunity of the authors of the murder of Sister Dorothy Stang, a missionary representing CPT and an activist in the National Human Rights Movement (Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos – MNDH). Indeed, at the end of 2007, no date had been fixed for the trial of Mr. Regivaldo Gavao, presumed author of the assassination of Sister Stang, who had been released in June 2006, despite the fact that the other presumed author has been sentenced on May 15, 2007 to 30 years' imprisonment.

The authors of these attacks are usually linked to organised crime, and often benefit from the complicity of police officers or corrupt politicians. On May 5, 2007, Mr. Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho, a columnist with the weekly Jornal do Porto and the daily JC Regional, was assassinated after having, in one of his articles, accused four company directors and five civil servants from Porto Ferreira (State of São Paulo) of sexual abuse of teenagers, in 2003. Members of the Porto Ferreira military police were reportedly involved in the assassination. On May 25, 2007, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), condemned the assassination.5 Lastly, on November 22, 2007 an unknown man fired on Mr. João Alckmin, host of the "Show Time" programme on Rádio Piratininga, in São José dos Campos (State of São Paulo), wounding him in the neck, the arm and the back. Mr. Alckmin regularly denounces trafficking in slot-machines in the region, and the complicity between the Mafia and certain police officers.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See "Justiça Global" and 2007 Report of the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Tierra – CPT).

2 There is still no specific training for police officers called upon to escort defenders under threat (and the defenders are reluctant to accept protection offered by the local police, because they do not feel safe), nor a budgetary policy for funding the three States mentioned above, nor even a consensus on which body should be responsible for the implementation of the National Protection Programme.

3 Such a practice is challenged because the land concerned has been identified as possible land for establishing landless land workers in the framework of the agrarian reform. The estate had already been occupied for over a year by the same group, as a means to accelerate the process initiated by the State Government designed to ensure that the land be used in the framework of the agrarian reform, and be the object of measures for the protection of the environment. From the ecological point of view, the land is important, because it is close to the Iguaçu National Park.

4 See Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).

5 See ID=22688&Cr=unesco&Cr 1=journalist, May 25, 2007.

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