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4 June 2015

Ka'apor Indigenous leaders facing increasing death threats and intimidations

Over a month after the assassination of indigenous leader Eusébio Ka'apor, other Ka'apor indigenous leaders have reported an upsurge in the number of death threats and intimidations they are receiving from loggers.

The threats are reportedly a result of complaints that rights defenders make against the illegal loggers' timber exploitation within the indigenous land in Alto Turiaçu in the state of Maranhão. Illegal logging activities have reportedly begun again on the indigenous land over the last number of weeks, whilst to date there has been no effective investigation carried out by the police into the assassination of Eusébio Ka'apor.

Most recently, on 29 May 2015, one of the main leaders (whose name we will not be making public for security reasons) of the Ka'apor Indigenous Council, which is the administrative body monitoring education and health of the community and protection of their territory, was followed by a truck and a car on the road leading to the village of Ximborendá, where Eusébio Ka'apor also lived, in the municipality of Santa Luzia do Paruá. The car in which the indigenous leader was travelling, together with two other persons, was reportedly followed by the vehicles until the village, where the unknown persons began firing. The indigenous leader managed to get away in the car. That same week, two members of the indigenous community had also reported being approached by three armed men close to the place where Eusébio Ka'apor was killed. The gunmen had told them that they were working with loggers who were cutting down trees in an area within the indigenous territory, and that if they reported this to the indigenous leaders who are denouncing the illegal exploitation of timber, they would invade their village and “kill all the Indians”.

Over the last two years, the Ka'apor indigenous leaders have been actively involved in self-policing of their land and monitoring the presence of illegal loggers. They created a number of villages in strategic locations to protect the territory from the invasion of loggers. In March 2015, the indigenous leaders had succeeded in closing all illegal logging operations in the region. However, in recent weeks, following the assassination of Eusébio Ka'apor, on 26 April, two operations have been re-opened by loggers, and three of the protection villages have been abandoned by the indigenous families due to the increasing number of death threats and intimidations against them.

These threats have been reported to the Federal Public Ministry and to the local police, however, to date, the Ka'apor community claim that they have not received any state protection. The federal police has still not opened an investigation into the death of Eusébio Ka'apor, nor the increasing threats against the other indigenous leaders. Representatives of the federal police apparently continue to claim that the death of Eusébio Ka'apor had no link with the exploitation of timber and that it occurred during a common law act of robbery, despite the fact that no personal belongings nor the motorcycle the leader was travelling on were stolen. In his testimony to the Federal Public Ministry, one of Eusébio Ka'apor's sons stated that he had been directly approached by a logger soon after the death of his father, as he was arriving in the municipality of Santa Luzia do Paruá. The man reportedly ordered him to stop the car, in which he was transporting his father's body back to the village, and told him that two other indigenous leaders (citing their names) were the ones who had been meant to be killed. At the time of this incident, Eusébio's son reported that very few persons knew about the death of his father. Several Ka'apor indigenous leaders have further expressed concerns that none of the loggers, who they have identified in their testimonies to the police, have been questioned about the threats.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its grave concern at the lack of effective investigation by the police into the killing of Eusébio Ka'apor and the serious threats and intimidations against other indigenous leaders of the community. Front Line Defenders strongly believes that continued impunity in the case of Eusébio Ka'apor further increases the risks to the lives of the other Ka'apor indigenous leaders.