Press Release

IACHR refers case on Brazil to the Inter-American Court

December 17, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On December 4, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented the Gabriel Sales Pimenta case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, regarding Brazil. The case refers to the State's responsibility for the situation of impunity in which the events related to the death of Gabriel Sales Pimenta, defender of the rights of rural workers, occurred in 1982 in the State of Pará. This death occurred in a context of violence related to demands for land and agrarian reform in Brazil.

Gabriel Sales Pimenta, who was a lawyer for the Marabá Rural Workers' Union, and defender in the Pau Seco region in litigation against the landowners, received several threats, as a result of his work, in the months prior to his murder. Gabriel Sales Pimenta, who requested the protection of the State, reported the threats received to the authorities of Belém, the capital of the state of Pará, where he personally went to ask for help three times. On July 18, 1982 Gabriel Sales Pimenta was shot while walking, causing his death. The police support required in Belém arrived in Marabá only the day after his death.

In its Merits Report, the Commission concluded that the Brazilian State was or should have known of the situation of real and imminent risk in which Mr. Sales Pimenta found himself and that it did not adopt any measures to protect him from said risk and prevent its materialization.

The Commission concluded that the investigation of the facts related to the death of Gabriel Sales Pimenta, which ended in 2006 with a statute of limitations decision, was marked by omissions by the State. Among others, the Commission established that the authorities did not act with due diligence to protect threatened witnesses, prevent the escape of the accused, and that the guarantee of reasonable time was violated. The Commission also concluded that the State violated the right to humane treatment to the detriment of the victim's next of kin.

The IACHR also considered that the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of association and the defense of the rights of rural workers by Mr. Sales Pimenta provoked fatal retaliation in a context of total lack of protection by the State. Considering that this retaliation was the motivation for the murder of the victim, the IACHR concluded that the Brazilian State is internationally responsible for the violation of the right to freedom of association.

Furthermore, in 2008 Gabriel Pimenta's mother, Maria da Glória Sales Pimenta, filed a claim for compensation against the state of Pará for non-pecuniary damages due to delay in criminal proceedings and the consequent impunity for the murder of her son. She passed away in 2016 without her or her relatives receiving any compensation.

By virtue of all of the foregoing, the Commission concluded that the State of Brazil is responsible for the violation of the rights to life, justice and association established in Articles I, XVIII and XXI of the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man; and the rights to humane treatment, judicial guarantees and judicial protection established in Articles 5.1, 8.1 and 25.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights, in relation to Article 1.1.

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

1. That it grants comprehensive reparation to the next of kin of the victim in this case through pecuniary compensation and measures of satisfaction that cover the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage caused by the violations set forth in this report.

2. To carry out and conclude an investigation diligently and effectively, within a reasonable period of time, in order to fully clarify the facts, indicate all possible material and intellectual responsibilities at the different levels of decision and execution, and impose the sanctions that correspond to the human rights violations described in this report. This includes an investigation of the power structures that participated in these violations. Within the scope of this process, it is up to the State to adopt all pertinent measures to protect witnesses and other participants in the process, if necessary. In view of the fact that the application of the statute of limitations was the product of acts and omissions of the State, it cannot be invoked to justify non-compliance with this recommendation.

3. That it adopts the necessary physical and mental health care measures for the rehabilitation of Gabriel Sales Pimenta's family members, if they so wish and with their agreement.

4. That it take measures of non-repetition, among them i) the strengthening of the Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, concentrating on the prevention of acts of violence against defenders of the rights of rural workers in Brazil; ii) an independent, serious and effective diagnosis of the situation of human rights defenders in the context of land conflicts in order to adopt structural measures to detect and eradicate the sources of risk that defenders face. Said diagnosis will include, among other aspects, an analysis of the unequal distribution of land as a structural cause of violence; and iii) strengthening the capacity to investigate crimes against human rights defenders, in accordance with the guidelines presented in this report.

The State of Brazil ratified the American Convention on Human Rights on September 25, 1992 and accepted the contentious jurisdiction of the Court on December 10, 1998. The death of Gabriel Sales Pimenta occurred prior to the ratification of the American Convention by the of Brazil, so that the submission of the present case to the Inter-American Court refers exclusively to the events that began or continued to occur after the date of the record, fundamentally related to the lack of due diligence in the investigation and the factors that have caused a denial of justice in relation to the facts of the case.

Almost a year after the notification of the Merits Report to the State, and given the lack of substantive progress towards its compliance, the Commission decided to submit the case to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court specifically, due to the State's actions and omissions that occurred or that continued occurring after December 10, 1998, the date of acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction by the State of Brazil.

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. 304/20