IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Brazil

May 25, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on August 29, 2022, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with regard to Brazil, in a case concerning the disappearance of Almir Muniz da Silva (a rural laborer and a defender of the rights of rural laborers in the state of Paraíba) and impunity regarding these events.

Almir Muniz da Silva was an active member of the rural laborers' association of Itabaiana, in the state of Paraíba. He testified before the congressional investigative committee on rural violence and on the creation of rural militias in the state of Paraíba and told the committee of the involvement of certain police officers in acts of violence against rural laborers in the area, naming Civilian Police officer Sergio de Souza Azevedo as the leader of the militias. There are reports of this police officer's hostility to rural laborers and, in particular, to Muniz da Silva, who had received death threats before he went missing.

In 2002, Muniz da Silva's family reported his disappearance at the Itabaiana police station, where Officer De Souza Acevedo worked. However, the complaint was not formally admitted at that moment and no immediate, diligent action was taken to search for the victim or investigate the allegations.

The IACHR found that no official version of what happened had been provided to date, since the internal investigation into these events was closed without establishing what had happened and without punishing the people responsible for it. The Commission therefore concluded that Muniz da Silva had been subjected to a forced disappearance, since he had allegedly been murdered by a police officer, his remains had gone missing, and the authorities had shown their consent by failing to conduct an immediate, diligent investigation into what had happened. The Commission noted that the State had known that Muniz da Silva was at risk and had failed to take the measures necessary to protect him.

The IACHR noted that more than six years had passed between the disappearance and the decision to close the case for lack of evidence of who might have perpetrated the crime, a logical conclusion of the flaws of the investigation. The Commission found this delay excessive and unreasonable.

The IACHR further noted that the murder of a human rights defender and the subsequent impunity served to scare other human rights defenders and the rural laborers' movement. The Brazilian State is therefore responsible for the violation of the right to freedom of association it involved. The Commission further concluded that the State had violated the right to humane treatment of Muniz da Silva's family.

Based on these considerations, the IACHR concluded that the State of Brazil was responsible for violations of the rights held in Articles 3 (right to juridical personality), 4 (right to life), 5.1 (right to humane treatment), 7 (right to personal liberty), 8.1 (right to a fair trial), 16 (right to freedom of association), and 25.1 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention, in keeping with the obligations held in Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights) and 2 (domestic legal effects) of the Convention, regarding Almir Muniz da Silva and his family. The IACHR further found that the State had failed to comply with its obligations according to Articles I and III of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons from the moment Brazil had become a State Party.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Provide comprehensive reparations to the victim's family, both material and immaterial.
  2. Launch and pursue a diligent, effective investigation, in a reasonable period of time, to establish what happened and to identify and punish the perpetrators and masterminds of any crimes that may have been committed.
  3. Provide physical and mental healthcare for the members of the victim's family named in the report, in agreement with them.
  4. Ensure non-recurrence measures, including the following: (i) establishing forced disappearance as a crime within the domestic legal framework, in line with the applicable international instruments; (ii) strengthening the National Program to Protect Human Rights Defenders; and (iii) conducting a diagnosis of the situation of human rights defenders in the context of rural disputes, to identify and address the risks they face.

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. 097/23

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