Defending our common home

18 October 2019

A man standing with his trees on his smallholding

Seu Raimundo showing the castanheira (Brazil nut tree) he planted 10 years earlier from his smallholding in Marabá, Pará, Brazil.  

In the UK, you have been speaking up to restore creation – the gift of our loving God. However, in some countries, this is a dangerous act.

Criminalisation, death threats, and the killing of human rights defenders is increasing, especially in Latin America. These courageous people face huge daily risks to protect land and natural resources for poor landless communities to thrive. These people are also on the frontline of protecting our common home, a home we all share.

It is these defenders who are responding most acutely to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” and at the greatest personal cost. Without our support, these cries will go unheard and, worse still, unacted upon. 

Join CAFOD's Our Common Home campaign

Defending the Amazon

Environmental defenders protect the world’s land surfaces, defend natural resources and rainforests, and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These activists are increasingly being threatened and killed for their actions.

In 2017, 201 people were killed for protecting their land from industries like mining and logging, of which 60% were from Latin America. In particular, Brazil has been the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders for the last 10 years.

Human rights and land defenders work tirelessly for social and environmental justice to prevent the destruction of the Amazon. While here in the UK we can campaign to protect our common home without fear of losing our lives, the reality in Brazil is starkly different. 

Amazon Synod

A Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is taking place from 6-27 October 2019 on the theme of “Amazonia, new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology”.

What is the Amazon Synod? Your questions answered

José Batista Gonçalves Afonso (Batista) is a land rights lawyer and human rights defender working for the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) in the Brazilian Amazon. For more than 20 years, he has shown relentless courage to defend the rights of landless communities in the face of criminalisation, impunity and death threats. He primarily works in Pará, the Amazonian state with the highest deforestation rate in Brazil.

Batista explains the value of his work defending the Amazon:

"The Amazon is about diversity – which is as important for those who live in the region as it is for the whole planet. It’s a diversity we will not find in any other part of the planet.

"Apart from the diversity of plants and animals we have diversity in people – fishing communities, indigenous people, landless farmers, traditional communities – all of whom have lived with the forest for centuries."

José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, land rights lawyer in Brazil.

José Batista Gonçalves Afonso is a land rights lawyer at CPT (Pastoral Land Commission) Marabá in Brazil. 

Pará is also the most dangerous state in Brazil. Between 1985 and 2017, CPT recorded 45 massacres in which 214 people in nine states were killed. Pará state saw the largest number of massacres over this period — 26 in all, in which 125 people were killed, over half of the victims of all the massacres in Brazil.  

"Apart from the diversity of plants and animals we have diversity in people – fishing communities, indigenous people, landless farmers, traditional communities – all of whom have lived with the forest for centuries."

José Batista Gonçalves Afonso

This is linked to large agricultural businesses and mining companies who dominate huge areas of land in the Amazonian rainforest. They breed cattle and exploit natural resources on land that has been deforested and often acquired illegally. This both destroys the environment, and leaves thousands of families without land to grow crops or have a safe place to call home.

This needs to stop. Defending our common home shouldn’t be a deadly act. This is why we have been supporting CPT for more than 25 years, in long-term solidarity with those on the frontline of the struggle for social and environmental justice.

Batista has worked on many high-profile cases of human rights abuses and killings linked to land rights conflicts. These include: the Pau D’Arco massacre in 2017 where 10 landless people were killed by police, the killings of the environmentalists Maria do Espirito Santo and Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva in 2011, and many rural trade union leaders killed by large-scale land owners.

Join Batista in supporting the Our Common Home campaign.

Read more about human rights defenders in Brazil  

Defending our common home is a global call to act 

We should not accept these human rights violations, but instead speak out and challenge practices that harm our environment and our brothers and sisters protecting us and our common home.

Laudato Si calls us all to act. We must continue to support and protect affected communities and individuals. We stand in solidarity with them for all they do to protect the poorest communities and our planet’s natural resources from further irreversible damage by climate change.

We can all support these courageous human rights defenders, by joining the Our Common Home campaign. Continue to spread the word and inspire people in your community to do the same.

“Sometimes we think we can’t do anything, especially those living far away, outside the Amazon," Batista says. "But each of us can do something. We can find out what is happening in the Amazon and stand in solidarity with our communities that defend our common home.”

Help defend the defenders today 

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