Defending our common home

19 January 2020

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 Generations Unite 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. 

Generations Unite

All around the world, young climate leaders are working tirelessly to protect our common home and inspire others to speak out and take action. Through 2020, we're praying for five leaders or groups from Peru, Nigeria, New Zealand and Colombia.

Read the stories of the young climate leaders

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 our Generations Unite campaign.

Read more about human rights defenders in Brazil  

Support young climate leaders around the world

As part of our climate campaigning in 2020, we're asking for support for young climate leaders around the world, who are often on the frontline of defending our common home and inspiring others to act. In the year that the UK government will host the UN global climate talks, it's never been more urgent to call for our leaders to take more urgent action. By taking part in our Generations Unite campaign, parishioners can support young climate leaders with prayers, and sign action cards to the Prime Minister.  

Join our Generations Unite campaign

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