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10 June 2019

Imminent mass evictions increase risks to human rights defenders in Pará

  • Front Line Defenders conducts mission to the south and southeast of Para and denounces the wave of evictions and precarious security for those who defend human rights and land rights.
  • Call for authorities to pause repossession processes in areas under litigation such as Fazenda Maria Bonita and Fazenda Santa Lucia

Between 10 and 17 May 2019, Front Line Defenders conducted a mission to the south and southeast of Pará. At the invitation of Comissao Pastoral da Terra – CPT, the organisation's Protection Coordinator for the Americas joined a committee that met with leaders of social movements and human rights lawyers in Maraba, Xinguara, Redencao, Parauapebas, Eldorado dos Carajas, Canaa dos Carajas and Pau D'Arco. She also visited a number of areas where those who struggle to have their right to access to land guaranteed face serious risk and vulnerability.1

Historically, the state of Pará has registered the highest rates of violence related to agrarian issues in Brazil. The concentration of resources in the hands of a few major landowners and ranchers has resulted in a chronic tension between those who have land and those who do not. This has created a situation of predictable violence, including attacks that specifically target human rights defenders in the region. “In Pará the deaths are foretold” was a sentence stated during a number of the interviews conducted. Families living on lands that are part of the resettlement process of the Agrarian Reform program live under threats of constant attacks, ranging from death threats, torture, captivity, arson, fences being cut down, poisoning by aerial spraying of pesticides and shooting at homes and vehicles. Most of these cases are not properly investigated by the police, and those responsible are rarely brought to justice.

Since 1985, 466 conflicts have been recorded by CPT, which have resulted in 702 killings of rural workers and human rights defenders. During this period, the south and southeast of the state witnessed notorious massacres in rural areas, including the Eldorado do Carajás Massacre in 1996, in which 19 people were killed; and the Pau d'Arco Massacre in 2017, in which 10 people were killed. In both cases, the resulting criminal procedures were marked by irregularities, as well as by the characteristic impunity of this type of violence in the region.

Such killings are used as repression tool against social movements that claim land rights, especially in the context of Agrarian Reform and in regards to the social function of property, a principle recognised by the Federal Constitution of 1988. The victims of conflicts are invariably rural and peasant workers and social leaders, who also suffer from stigmatisation and criminalisation campaigns perpetrated by members of the local agrarian elite. Administrative and judicial measures against human rights defenders and rural workers are commonly employed with the objective of suppressing and fragmenting social movements in rural areas.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern and condemnation of the evictions and reintegration of possession hearings2 planned for June, July and August 2019, which will increase the vulnerability of local leaders, social movements, human rights defenders and organizations that support land redistribution processes, and can leave more than 2000 families with no place to live and without land to work on and subsist.

Front Line Defenders learned of at least 11 communities3 that face imminent eviction in the south and southeast of Pará, in areas with questionable titling of land or with administrative processes in progress. Among these locations there are areas of consolidated occupation, such as Camp Dalcidio Jurandir (Maria Bonita farm), in Eldorado dos Carajás, whose hearing is scheduled for 12 June, or places of massacres that are still in the process of investigation, such as the case of Camp Jane Julia (Fazenda Santa Lucia) in Pau D'Arco, whose hearing is planned to take place on 26 June.

Front Line Defenders has visited the area on previous occasions and has condemned the situation in southern and south Pará. The general situation for the defence of human rights has not improved since the last visit by organisation members to the region in 2018, who have observed considerable deterioration in a post-election political context that criminalises the struggle for land from the highest levels of government - including (and beginning with) the President himself - who, since the start of 2019, has issued and extended a series of measures aimed at dismantling structures and safeguards to the right of access to land.

During the recent mission, Front Line Defenders expressed its solidarity with dozens of human rights defenders and rural workers whose rights have been systematically violated by different government agencies. Front Line Defenders remains concerned about the impunity for crimes committed against human rights defenders and rural workers and the lack of an effective government structure that can respond to threats and attacks against human rights defenders.

Front Line Defenders reminds the Brazilian authorities that, as clarified in Resolution No. 108,9 of October 17, 2018, by the National Human Rights Council, "the filing of a lawsuit, seeking the forced removal of groups that demand special protection from the State, without offering an adequate solution ... violates human rights" and that "the State's action must be geared towards the peaceful and definitive solution of conflicts, by guaranteeing the permanence of vulnerable groups in the areas in which they live, occupy and claim, in conditions of safety and dignified life.”

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1 In addition to meetings with human rights defenders, pastoral workers, leaders, rural workers and lawyers from the municipalities mentioned, Front Line Defenders met with a rural workers' commission and human rights defenders from Fazenda 1200 and visited and interviewed with the leaders and residents of: Camp Helenira Resende, Camp Hugo Chavez, Camp Dalcídio Jurandir, Camp Guerreiros do Campo, Camp Planalto Serra Dourada, Camp Jane Júlia.

2 In Brazil, the judicialization of agrarian disputes is rarely translated into real law enforcement. In Brazilian courts, repossession hearings are commonly conducted in a way that blocks access to land rights by communities seeking to enforce their constitutionally recognized rights. For example, for an occupation to be considered illegal, the Brazilian Code of Civil Procedure requires proof of ownership of the land by the plaintiff. However, it is common for such groups to be expelled on the basis of property titles alone, which are insufficient to prove the use of land (possession), and are often falsified through landlord practices. In addition, it is important to emphasize the discriminatory character present in the text of the law, whose Article 562 permits the issuance of injunctions for the reintegration of possession without the occupying population being even heard.


3 Information collected after the visit shows that this number would be even larger, with at least 15 already confirmed in the south of Pará only.