Swiss Syngenta Hands Over Field Test in Brazil Where Two Were Killed

Syngenta Murderer, say the sign Marking an end to a violent conflict, agrochemical multinational Syngenta has handed over its experimental farm in Paraná state, in the South of Brazil, to the state government. This brings to a conclusion a long standing land dispute between landless workers movements and the Swiss company, which led to the deaths of two men.

Syngenta gave the land to the Paraná state government on October 14,  2008. The government has promised to use the land for the production of native seeds for distribution to small holder farmers and impoverished countries who have suffered devastation from hurricanes.

The 127-hectare farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste was used by Syngenta to field test its genetically modified (GM) crops. This was contested because it potentially contravened an environmental zoning law and because it was identified as a possible site for the settlement of landless agricultural workers.

Two men were killed after the landless workers movements, MST and Via Campesina, occupied the farm in protest on October 21, 2007. An illegal and violent eviction by 40 armed employees of NF Segurança, the private security company hired by Syngenta to protect the farm, led to the deaths of MST leader Valmir Motta de Oliveira (known as Keno) and security guard Fábio Ferreira.

Human rights groups and land activists in the state of Paraná have previously suffered threats and intimidation from a number of groups formed by landowners. In a public hearing on 18 October 2007, local rights groups presented a dossier of evidence to the state human rights commission that highlighted the activities of armed men hired by landowners and agricultural companies. According to the report, they act with no legal controls, often using violent and illegal methods to forcibly evict, threaten and attack land activists.

Several investigations into irregular and illicit behavior by NF Segurança, including the investigation into Keno's murder, have led to its licence being revoked. The company continues to operate pending its appeal.

Amnesty International has said it is vital that steps are taken by federal and state authorities across Brazil to control the flood of irregular and/or illicit security companies, many of whom are effectively acting as illegal militias in the service of landowners or agro-industry.

"It is essential that the state and federal authorities investigate individuals, organizations or companies which use security companies that commit human rights violations or criminal acts," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's America's director. "Those found to have failed in their duty to adequately vet or oversee their security company must be held to account."   With the trial of the suspects of the killings of Keno and Fabio Ferreira about to begin in November Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ensure that it meets international standards for fair trials.

"It is vital that those individuals truly responsible for these deaths are brought to justice, ending the long history of impunity for rural killings and the protection of vested economic and political interests." Susan Lee stated. 

Amnesty International called Syngenta's decision to give back its 127 hectare experimental farm to the Paraná state government a welcome end to a violent conflict over the site.

Syngenta's decision to relinquish the land, Amnesty says, stands as an important step in the defense of the human rights of those struggling for their rights to land and survival across the state.

The trial of those accused of the murders of MST leader Keno and Fabio Ferreira will begin in November. Amnesty International is calling on the Paraná state authorities to ensure that it meets international standards for fair trials in order that only those responsible are brought to justice. It is time to end impunity for rural killings and the protection of vested political and economic powers.

What Happened

Early in the morning of October 21, 2007, members of the Via Campesina and the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), both landless workers' movements, occupied the 127-hectare farm near the town of Santa Teresa do Oeste. The land was used for field trials of genetically modified crops.

The use of the land was contested both because it potentially contravened an environmental zoning law and because it was identified as a possible site for land reform for the settlement of landless agricultural workers.

Hours after the occupation, 40 armed men entered the farm and shot MST leader Keno dead in the chest at point blank range. One of the security guards, Fabio Ferreira, was also killed. At the time the police suggested he was accidentally shot by his colleagues, though prosecutors later charged a member of the MST with the killing, informing Amnesty International that these possibilities had to be tested in court. Eight others were injured in the attack, including MST member Izabel Nascimento, who was beaten unconscious and remains in a coma in hospital, in a critical condition.

Human rights groups and land activists in the state of Paraná have previously suffered threats and intimidation from members of landowners' associations or those acting in their name. In a public hearing on October 18 2007, local rights groups presented a dossier of evidence to the state human rights commission which highlighted the activities of armed men hired by landowners and agricultural companies. According to the report, they act with no legal controls or oversight, often using violent and illegal methods to forcibly evict, threaten and attack land activists.

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