Death Threats Are Part of Daily Life for Brazil’s Human Rights Activists

The UN rapporteur for human rights, Hina Jilani, recently visited  Brazil to become more acquainted with the situation of people who are threatened because of their defense of human rights.

Earlier this month, Jilani was in Brasí­lia, the Brazilian capital, where she met with representatives of social movements to hear what they had to say on this subject.

She also visited the state of Pará, in Northern Brazil, where American missionary Sister Dorothy Stang was killed and the Campos Novos power plant in the state of Santa Catarina, in the South, where she collect information on the criminalization of the population affected by the dam.

The rapporteur visited also the land of the Truká people in Cabrobó, in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco, where two indigenous people were murdered by police officers on June 30.

In Brasí­lia, Jilani heard reports from people linked to the movement of community radio stations, the Homeless Movement and peasant movements and from Cimi (Indianist Missionary Council), which reported to her six cases of threats against indigenous people and missionaries.

"There are many cases of violence against indigenous communities, the people living in those communities and non-indigenous people working in the communities, such as Cimi missionaries," said Saulo Feitosa, vice president of the organization.

According to him, the threats are consequences of land conflicts and disputes for the riches contained in indigenous territories, such as mineral resources, timber or water.

The threats and acts of aggression come from private individuals or public authorities, who act through public security agents, as observed in the case of murders occurred in Pernambuco, or who fail to demarcate and inspect indigenous lands, thereby generating violence.

The characteristics of these threats are similar to those reported by the peasant movement. In the case of the homeless movement, the acts of violence committed by police officers. which were reported by its members also resulted from a violent action to remove its militants from a lot that they had occupied in the West Industrial Park in the city of Goiânia.

After being expelled from that area, the homeless were subjected to humiliating situations and were kept in a shelter without any hygienic conditions where 14 of them died, including children.  

Cimi reported that about 48 uncontacted indigenous peoples are being forced to run away from woodcutters and land grabbers who repeatedly invade their lands. This situation was reported in the Rio Pardo land in the state of Mato Grosso, where invaders got very near close to these indigenous people, who can be exterminated.

In this region of Mato Grosso, the municipal and state administrations usually support the activities of woodcutters. A week ago, 20 people who have been exploiting the indigenous land for five years were arrested by the Federal Police.

Cimi also reported to the rapporteur the threats received by 10 leaders of the Guajajara people in the Bacurizinho land in the state of Maranhão. The chief of these people was killed and two other people were shot after their land was invaded by farmers on May 21, 2005. After these deaths, the threats continued.

Mention was also made of threats from rice farmers against indigenous people in the Raposa Serra do Sol land, where a school, a church and a hospital, which were part of the training center of the Surumu mission, were burned down in September. During the fire, young people who were sleeping in the school were beaten.

The Terena people from the Cachoeirinha land in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul were also threatened after they reoccupied their lands on October 28. This week, those people sent a letter to the ministry of Justice and to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office reporting that the threats are "made by phone or through direct messages."

"The reoccupied area is a traditional land that is indispensable to our survival, because it has the natural resources that we need, such as the Ka’iKoe stream, from where we get fish to feed our families and water for our community."

They also reported the long time it is taking for the competent authorities to demarcate their land, forcing them to do things such as carrying out reoccupation actions.

"We know that the demarcation process(…) is being postponed by the Ministry of Justice and Funai by completely unnecessary procedures, which are used to justify the delay to publish the administrative ruling defining the bounds of the land," they said in the letter.

"The Brazilian Government is directly responsible for the threats against people who defend human rights, because it has not been assuming the responsibility to demarcate the lands," said Saulo Feitosa.

He reported that the Forum in Defense of Indigenous Rights has data which indicate that there are 445 lands to be demarcated. "If the current pace of the demarcations continues, we will see another 45 years of violence against indigenous people before their lands are demarcated."

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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