Press Release

IACHR Condemns Killings of Human Rights Defenders in Brazil

April 27, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the killing of at least six human rights defenders in Brazil thus far in 2016 and the increasing, generalized situation of harassment, intimidation, and threats against defenders, particularly land, labor, and indigenous rights defenders.

According to information received by the IACHR, between January and February 2016, at least six human rights defenders have been killed in three Brazilian states. Three of these killings took place in the state of Rondônia, two in the state of Maranhão, and one in the state of Alagoas. The killed defenders were Enilson Ribeiro dos Santos and Valdiro Chagas de Moura of the League of Poor Peasants (LCP, by its initials in Portuguese), and Edmilson Alves da Silva, President of the Sister Daniela Settlement and leader of the Liberation Movement of the Landless (MLST, by its initials in Portuguese). The information available indicates that they were involved in the defense and promotion of land rights on behalf of farmworkers or landless peasants in the context of agrarian reform and strong tensions with landowners in these areas. Two of the killed defenders, Ronni dos Santos Miranda and Francisca das Chagas Silva, were leaders of the Rural Workers Union (STTR, by its initials in Portuguese). Another killed defender, Nilce de Souza Magalhães, leader of the Movement of those Affected by the Dams (MAB, by its initials in Portuguese) denounced the socio-economic impacts on local communities caused by the Jirau hydroelectric plant.

Over the past year, the Commission has observed the intensification of social movements demanding that the rule of law be maintained in Brazil and that constitutional rights and effective public policies, based on human rights, be upheld, as these policies seek to address structural situations, such as agrarian reform and access to health and education. At the same time, the Commission has observed an increase in acts of violence, repression, and criminalization of these social movements. For example, according to data received by the Commission from human rights organizations, in 2015 there were 50 killings of persons in Brazil due to the agrarian conflict, and of those, 20 took place in the state of Rondônia. Further, the Commission is aware of the deaths of at least two political leaders thus far in 2016, that of Luiz Antonio Bonfim, leader of the Communist Party of Brazil, who was involved in the landless farm workers movement in the state of Pará; and Ivanildo Francisco da Silva, President of the Worker’s Party, as well as the deaths of two members of the Workers without Land Movement (MST, by its initials in Portuguese) on April 7, 2016, following a police ambush on a MST settlement in the state of Paraná. 

The Inter-American Commission reminds the State that it is obligated to investigate on its own initiative events of this nature and to punish material perpetrators and intellectual authors. With regard to the killed defenders, these investigations should include the development of lines of investigation under the hypothesis that these killings may have been committed in connection with their work in the defense of human rights. Additionally, said investigations should be exhaustive, serious, impartial, and undertaken with due diligence. Likewise, the IACHR urges the State to immediately take all the necessary steps to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders in its territory. It also urges the State of Brazil to adopt measures to protect the life and integrity of indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in a way which respects their cultural identity, perspective, and conception of human rights.

The Commission also reiterates that the acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees of every human being but undermine the fundamental role they play in society. These acts also affect the people they work for, contributing to the vulnerability and defenselessness of all those whose rights they champion. The work of human rights defenders is critical to build a democratic society and for the consolidation of the rule of law.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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. 054/16