IACHR and UN Human Rights Condemn Murders of Environmental Activists and Quilombolas in Brazil

January 24, 2022

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Washington D.C. / Santiago - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office for South America of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemn recent murders of environmental activists and land defenders in Brazil and call on the State to protect people who defend the environment and the land, as well as to conduct timely, thorough, and impartial investigations into these crimes.

According to publicly available reports, the bodies of José Gomes, his wife Marcia, and their underage daughter Joene were found on January 9, 2022, in the São Félix do Xingu area in the state of Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon. José Gomes and his family were well-known for releasing juvenile turtles and more generally defending the land and demanding environmental protection.

On January 8, news broke out of the attack that led to the death of peasant and land defender José Francisco Lopes Rodrigues, who was in hospital after being shot on January 3—with his 10-year-old granddaughter—inside his home in the Cedro community in Arari, in the Brazilian State of Maranhão.

The IACHR and UN Human Rights' Regional Office are concerned that these events have happened in a context of violence against environmental and land defenders in Brazil, as noted in the Commission's 2021 Country Report. Civil society organizations have also repeatedly said that Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas to defend the environment.

The Commission and the UN Regional Office call on the State of Brazil to investigate these events on its own initiative (ex officio) and to punish both their perpetrators and their masterminds. In particular, these institutions urge the State to ensure the required investigations are timely, thorough, and impartial and address the defense of land and the environment that victims exercised within their communities as a first potential motive for their murders. Likewise, they exhort the State of Brazil to take all action necessary to end agrarian disputes in the Cedro community in Arari. This conflict has already claimed four lives over the past two years, beyond that of José Francisco Lopes Rodrigues.

Finally, these institutions stress how important the defense of human rights is to consolidate the democracy and the rule of law. Specifically, the work done by environmental defenders is crucial for the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. Therefore, they call on the State to ensure effective and thorough implementation of protection measures involving defenders of human rights and the environment—particularly those living in rural areas far removed from urban centers—and to take positive measures that foster a human rights culture and an atmosphere that is free from violence and threats, as recommended in the IACHR's 2021 country report on Brazil.

In this context, the Commission, and the UN Regional Office urge Brazil to ratify the Escazú Agreement, in order to provide more safeguards for environmental defenders, including individuals who demand protection of the right to a healthy environment at a procedural level.

The Regional Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the UN's main body in South America in the field of human rights. The General Assembly entrusted the High Commissioner and her Office with the mission of promoting and protecting the human rights of all people. The OHCHR aids, in terms of technical competence and capacity-building, to support the on-site implementation of international human rights standards. The OHCHR helps governments—who have the primary responsibility to protect human rights—to comply with their obligations and supports individuals so they may stand up for their own rights. It also objectively flags human rights violations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 017/22

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