Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Brazil

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Brazil, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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

In 2008, Brazil continued to be characterised by large socioeconomic inequalities. The socioeconomic polarisation of the Brazilian population was somewhat reduced thanks to reforms carried out under the Government of Mr. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was first elected in 2003 and re-elected in 2006. These led to a reduction in poverty and a more even distribution of income.1 Despite this evolution, Brazil still has one of the largest disparities in income distribution in the world.2

Nevertheless, one of the greatest problems Brazil faced during 2008 was the conflict about land management and environmental issues in general. In May 2008, Ms. Marina Silva resigned from her post as Minister for the Environment, due, amongst others, to her strong disagreement with the Government and with powerful lobbies privileging exploitation for agriculture, livestock or biofuel at the expense of preserving the Amazon forest. Ms. Silva's successor as Minister for the Environment, Mr. Carlos Minc, declared a "zero deforestation" policy. However, in 2008 deforestation continued, due to biofuel projects involving national and international capital, and the increased share of public funds dedicated to such projects. As a consequence, funds destined for local agricultural producers shrank drastically.

In addition, the Agrarian Reform3 remained at a standstill. During 2008, a low number of landless families were relocated, representing only 20 per cent of the families relocated in 2007. Furthermore, the situation in north-eastern Brazil was critical. In some areas, factories indeed contributed to a constant degradation of the environment through, amongst others, deforestation and pollution of rivers. These practices strongly affected local workers and communities, who received no compensation. In this context, hundreds of families continued to be evicted due to the interests of powerful landowners, and groups or individuals who dare to defend the right to land were repressed.

Stigmatisation and criminalisation of the defenders of the right to land

In 2008, in the framework of land management in Amazonia, defenders of the right to land were increasingly criminalised, and significant defenders who have been active for many years were increasingly stigmatised by the Government. Following the conclusions of an investigation carried out by the Superior Council of the Rio Grande do Sul State Public Ministry and led on the grounds that the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST) could constitute a threat to national security,4 the Public Ministry lodged a complaint on March 11, 2008 against eight suspected members of the MST for "constituting a group aiming at changing the rule of law and the established order in Brazil, and which committed crimes of political nonconformity". The National Security Law that served as the basis for the complaint was promulgated under the military dictatorship and then tacitly revoked under the new constitutional and democratic order.5 As of the end of 2008, the charges against the MST members remained pending.

June 2008 saw an increase in the number of obstacles against MST activities, such as investigations and judicial proceedings, prohibition of marches and demonstrations, closing of MST schools in Rio Grande do Sul State and evictions from MST camps through the use of force by the police. For instance, on June 16, 2008, two employees of the Public Ministry ordered, on the basis of a complaint,6 the evacuation of two camps, claiming that they were "operational bases for criminal activities" that "caused great damage to landowners and society". The following day, several hundred families of landless workers were therefore evicted by force from the two camps in the Coqueiros do Sul municipality by a military squad. Houses, crops, farms, the health clinic and school built by the landless workers were destroyed, and the landowners were threatened for "supporting the MST". At the end of 2008, the families were still taking refuge on an area near the road, without minimum food or health conditions.

It is worth mentioning in this context that the military squad of the Rio Grande do Sul State operates under Notice of Operational Instructions No. 006 EMBM/2007, under which regional police commanders have orders to keep an up-to-date registry of all rural and urban areas that could be occupied, and which shall include information about the leaders or units present in each area. The instructions can be applied to "social movements in general as well as specific protest occupations", and the police thus have to register and identify the "invaders" and arrest them when necessary. In September 2008, the Council for the Defence of the Rights of the Human Person (Conselho de Defesa dos Direitos da Pessoa Humana – CDDPH) visited the Rio Grandedo Sul State to assess the situation in the area, on the ground that the Notice, which is specific to the State, is unconstitutional, and in the light of the human rights violations that took place in the area.7 Subsequently, on September 11, 2008, the CDDPH made a request to the Public Ministry that Notice No. 006 be declared unconstitutional.8 The request was rejected by the Public Ministry on October 31, but the Superior Council accepted that the representative of the Prosecutor General submits a new case calling for the annulment of the Notice. However, as of the end of 2008, the Notice remained in force.

Furthermore, on May 20, 2008, Mr. Jaime Amorim, leader and member of the MST National Coordination, in the Pernambuco State, was sentenced to four months in "open prison"9 by the Criminal Court of First Instance for the Enforcement of Sentences. Mr. Amorim had taken part in a peaceful demonstration on November 5, 2005 in front of the United States embassy, for which he was arrested on August 21, 2006 for "incitement to commit a crime". The sentence was the result of a nearly two-year process that lacked impartiality, as several witnesses were not heard. Moreover, on June 12, 2008, Mr. José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, lawyer for the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT), was sentenced to two years and five months' imprisonment by the Federal Justice of Marabá for "kidnapping". The sentence was motivated by the fact that Mr. Afonso acted as an advisor to the MST and the Federation of Agricultural Workers (Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura no Estado de Mato Grosso – FETAGRI) in April 1999 in their negotiations with the National Institute of Agrarian Colonisation and Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agraria – INCRA). At a moment of dissatisfaction with the slow and inefficient negotiations, the workers had prevented the participants in the negotiations from leaving INCRA's official building, and Mr. José Batista Gonçalves Afonso was accused of taking part in this action.

Threats against defenders fighting against impunity

In 2008, defenders who dared to denounce the perpetrators of human rights violations and the resulting impunity continued to receive threats. On May 6, 2008 for instance, Mr. Erwin Krautler, Bishop of Xingu, Mr. José Luiz Azcona Hermoso de Marajó and Mr. Flávio Giovenale, Bishop of Abaetetuba, filed a complaint before the CDDPH about repeated death threats they had received because of their human rights activities.10 At the end of 2008, the threats against Mr. Krautler continued. The common cause of the three men is the fight against child exploitation. In addition, Bishop Giovenale had denounced the yearbefore the imprisonment of a teenage girl in the same cell as several men in Abaetetuba. As a result, she was ultimately released and the police officers who were responsible were suspended. Messrs. Krautler and Azcona also defend community rights against powerful landowners in the land conflict. In addition, Mr. Krautler has been under 24-hour police protection since 2007, due to the numerous threats he received in connection with the complaint he filed about the impunity in the murder of Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, a missionary representing the CPT and an activist in the National Movement for Human Rights (Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos – MNDH), who was shot dead in 2005.11

In the Dorothy Stang case, 2008 represented a step backwards in terms of impunity. Indeed, on May 6, 2008, Mr. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, one of the suspected masterminds behind the murder, was acquitted in appeal. In addition, Mr. Regivaldo Pereira Galvão, the fifth suspect, who admitted, at an INCRA meeting, to be the owner of the property where the murder took place (which he had previously denied), remained free and had not been prosecuted as of late 2008 for lack of evidence. He was initially arrested for fraud and unlawful appropriation of land, but it was then known that he was also involved in the murder. The other four suspects were sentenced, except for Mr. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, whose sentence the Public Ministry appealed, claiming that the decision had been contrary to the facts the evidence showed and requesting a new trial. As of the end of 2008, the appeal still had to be heard by the Pará State Court of Justice.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200812

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Eli DallemoleAssassinationUrgent Appeal BRA 001/0408/OBS 046April 3, 2008
Ms. Dorothy Mae StangImpunityPress ReleaseMay 7, 2008
Mr. Jaime AmorimSentencingUrgent Appeal BRA 003/0806/OBS 101.5June 11, 2008
Landless Workers' Movement (MST)StigmatisationPress ReleaseJuly 8, 2008

1 See "Justiça Global".

2 According to the State Institute of Applied Economic Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada – IPEA), the poverty rate, which was of 35% in 2003 and showed a downwards tendency in the following years, should be about 24.1% in 2008. Nevertheless, in 2008, a mere 10% of the population controlled 75.4% of the country's wealth. See IPEA,, 2008.

3 The Government must adopt a number of measures in order to increase the number of family farms and improving the distribution of land in Brazil.

4 In December 2007, the Superior Council decided, inter alia, to promote the registration of complaints aimed at dissolving the MST and declaring the movement illegal, to launch judicial proceedings to prohibit MST marches and other activities and to carry out investigations about its members living in camps as well as its leaders for organised crime and mismanagement of public funds.

5 The provisions of Brazil's Constitution, which was promulgated in 1988, rendered the National Security Law incompatible with the new constitutional and democratic order.

6 The complaint was based on an investigation conducted by the Public Ministry, but also on two previous reports -one that called the MST a revolutionary movement threatening public order, and another from June 2006, according to which the camps were supported by public funds, international aid and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), which would influence the MST in a strategic plan for creating a State without authorities, a "free State".

7 The reason for the CDDPH's visit was the harassment and persecution to which the MST was subjected.

8 It was suggested to the Public Ministry that it presents a case for unconstitutionality before the Supreme Federal Court, which has the power to declare laws unconstitutional.

9 This implies having to spend the night in prison but being free during the day.

10 See Resolution No. 102 of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic (Secretaria Especial dos Direitos Humanos da Presidência da Repûblica – SEDH/PR), CDDPH, April 23, 2008.

11 Sister Dorothy Mae Stang was murdered on February 12, 2005 because of her support to rural workers in settlement projects that would preserve the Amazon forest in Pará State. On April 26, 2006, Mr. Amair Feijóli da Cunha, alias "Tato", was sentenced to 18 years in prison for "complicity" in Sister Dorothy Mae Stang's murder. His two accomplices, Messrs. Rayfran das Neves Sales and Clodaldo Carlos Batista, had been sentenced by the Court of Belém in Pará State to 25 and 17 years in prison respectively, on December 9 and 10, 2005. The three men are supposed to have acted on the orders of Mr. Regivaldo Galvão and Mr. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, two landowners, who were put in pre-trial detention in 2005.

12 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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