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Fernando dos Santos Araujo

Fernando dos Santos Araújo

Atmos Magazine Article

Paid in Blood

“They are the criminals, but we are the ones who have lost our freedom”

Fernando dos Santos Araújo, 39, was a landless worker, gay and human rights defender in Amazonia region. On 2017, he was one of the survivors of the Pau D’Arco massacre, in Pará, when the military police executed ten landless workers. Since then, he became a key witness in this criminal case. On 26 January 2021, he was shot in back of the head in the settlement – where he still lived.

Fernando had been struggling for years for land and agrarian reform in the region that most kills human rights defenders in the country. On 2017, he was part of the group of families that occupied the Santa Lúcia farm, in the municipality of Pau D’Arco, where the land-ownership process has never been concluded and there is evidence that it is located in public land.

On the morning of 24 May 2017, Fernando and the other landless workers in the camp were surprised by a police troop that had literally arrived to exterminate them. Fernando reported hearing from the policeman “It’s the fucking police, whoever runs, die”. Ten landless workers were executed in that day – between the leader and the only woman, Jane Julia, name that today takes the camp where Fernando lived. And between the 9 men, Bruno, the partner of Fernando. During the police raid, it was under the killed body of his boyfriend that he hid, pretending to be dead, until all the policemen left. From there he escaped, barefoot, in search of help. He remained hidden in the woods, afraid of being killed.

Soon after the event, Fernando was included in the Victim and Witness Protection Program, and, with the help of non-governmental organisations, left the city. Still in the year 2017, he returned to the region, joining 200 families who, in the struggle for justice and agrarian reform, entered and occupied the Santa Lúcia farm again.

Fernando returned to live in the territory, now called the Jane Júlia Camp. He reported feeling fear due to constant threats and intimidation. He was killed with a shot in the back of the head on 26 January 2021, in a context of violence which also includes the detention and criminalization of his lawyer, José Vargas Junior, on January 2021.


The challenges and threats faced by human rights defenders in Brazil remain very high, particularly for those working on issues of land, environment, indigenous peoples, LGBTi rights, corruption and impunity. Many HRDs have experienced death threats, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and lawsuits. The high number of killings is of particular concern and takes place against a background of widespread impunity.