Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Opening of Trial over Murder of Human Rights Defender in Brazil

November 15, 2013

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes information sent by the government of Brazil indicating that on November 18 a trial was to begin in the case of five individuals charged with perpetrating and masterminding the murder of Manoel Bezerra de Mattos. The victim, who was killed on January 24, 2009, was a lawyer, human rights defender, and councilman from the city of Itambé, Paraíba, who had publicly denounced the actions of death squads in the states of Paraíba and Pernambuco, in the northeastern part of Brazil. He had also been a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in 2002.

The government of Brazil reported that the Council for the Defense of the Human Person, associated with the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic, in 2009 created a commission to ask that the case be handled at the federal level. This step was reportedly taken at the request of Manoel Bezerra de Mattos’ mother, who argued that the investigation being conducted among local justice agencies was moving too slowly. After various pleadings, in 2010 the Supreme Court of Justice made the decision—unprecedented, according to the government—to federalize the case, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. On October 3, 2013, the Federal Court of Paraíba announced that on November 18, 2013, it will begin trying five individuals, including those accused of being the masterminds, being the perpetrators, and providing the weapon used to commit the crime.

The IACHR would especially like to draw attention to the State of Brazil’s expressed willingness to “bring about effective resolution of the killing of Manoel Mattos, putting an end to the family’s wait and sending a clear signal against the impunity of anyone who might someday break the law in an attempt to restrict the actions of human rights defenders.”

As the IACHR stated in its report on the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas, the work of human rights defenders is essential for the construction of a solid, lasting democratic society, and rights defenders play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy. Acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees of every human being, but undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenseless. Moreover, the high levels of impunity for crimes against human rights defenders perpetuate such violence.

The IACHR will thus closely follow the development of the case, and it encourages the efforts to fulfill the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible.

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 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. 87/13