The Brazilian Farm Worker Union (Contag) and an international union (Uita) are launching a protest campaign called "Enough Violence in the Countryside," which targets the Judicial system as largely responsible for much of the land conflict violence and impunity in the country.
According to Contag and the Land Pastoral Commission (a Catholic organization), over the last 20 years there have been 1,500 rural activists, workers and leaders assassinated in Brazil but only 76 cases of land conflict violence ever went to trial.
"We want the international community to be aware of this problem and pressure the Brazilian judicial system to find a solution," says Paulo Caralo of Contag.
Last year there were 37 deaths related to land conflicts. The best known case was that of the American missionary, Dorothy Stang. Her assassination led to such an uproar that the government sent in the Army and captured suspects in a few days. So far, two of the accused have been sentenced and three more are awaiting trial.
Dorothy Stang was killed in the state of Pará. Pará is considered the main center of violence against rural activists and a place where most of these crimes go unpunished. Impunity is the rule.
According to Contag, in Pará in 2005, 16 people were killed because of land conflicts and there are another 40 who have received death threats.
The organizers of the campaign intend to hold public discussions with judges about the problem of impunity. Many see the social relationships that judges have with landowners as one of the main problems in dealing with impunity. Other problems are the traditional concentration of land in the hands of a few and weak legislation.