Brazil: Risking lives to defend land and human rights

8 August 2017

José Batista Afonso is a land rights lawyer working for our partner, CPT (Pastoral Land Commission), in the Brazilian Amazon

José Batista Afonso is a land rights lawyer working for our partner, CPT (Pastoral Land Commission), in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: CPT

Violence linked to land conflict is on the rise in Brazil.

For more than 40 years, CAFOD’s partner CPT (Pastoral Land Commission) has been defending the rights of landless communities. Your support is helping people in the Brazilian Amazon to own land, thrive and live peacefully.

Recent human rights violations in Brazil

On 7 July 2017, human rights defender Rosenildo Pereira de Almeida was killed by unidentified attackers in Pará state, in the Brazilian Amazon. The killing comes around one month after ten landless rural workers from the same community – nine men and one woman – were shot dead by 29 civil and military police at a farm known as ‘Santa Lucia’, in the municipality of Pau D’Arco, on 24 May 2017.

This was the worst massacre of land and environmental defenders to happen in this region of Brazil since 19 landless farmers were killed by military police in Eldorado dos Carajás in 1996.

Our partner, CPT, is supporting investigations into the murders and working to achieve justice for this community.

We are also working with the organisation Frontline Defenders, to put pressure on the Brazilian authorities to condemn the killings, hold those responsible to account, and provide adequate protection for other human rights defenders.

From 1985-2015, CPT reported 1,270 murders linked to land conflict in Brazil, of which less than 10 per cent have reached court.

Esther Gillingham, CAFOD’s Brazil Programme Officer, said: “In 2016, Brazil was reported for the second year running as the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders. Not only are these people defending their human rights, many are also protecting the precious natural resources in the Amazon, which are essential for our survival too.”

Who or what is a human rights defender?

Risking his life to defend the landless

The job of defending the rights of landless farmers to land is extremely dangerous.

Every day, CPT’s staff put their lives at risk to defend communities from human rights violations, in a region where state protection, justice and the rule of law are almost entirely absent.

José Batista Afonso is a land rights lawyer working for CPT. 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.

Share Batista’s story on Twitter and on Facebook

Root causes of land conflict

Unequal land ownership is one of the root causes of poverty and human rights violations in Brazil. The state of Pará, where CAFOD supports CPT, has historically been one of the most critical regions for land conflict in Brazil.

Large agricultural businesses and mining companies 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.

Many communities are forced to camp in tarpaulin tents for several years in their struggle to gain a small plot of land, without knowing from one day to the next if they’ll be violently evicted, threatened or even murdered.

Hope for a life beyond survival

But there is hope. Although the struggle is long and hard, the work of CPT Marabá’s legal team over the last 20 years, led by land rights lawyer, Jose Batista Afonso, has helped create more than 481 community settlements with legal land tenure in the region.

More than 80,000 families can now feed their children and have a sustainable income. And most importantly, they can thrive and not just struggle to survive.

Read Batista’s story and share his profile on social media

Maria do Carmo Lacerda is a farmer from Brazil who has been supported by our partner CPT

Maria do Carmo Lacerda has been supported by our partner, CPT

Last year, the community of João Canuto finally received land tenure after an 11-year struggle. Maria do Carmo Lacerda, a 62-year-old farmer, said:

“I was scared I would have nothing to eat when I started my struggle for land. My children were scared that I would be the target of violence.”

“CPT never abandoned us, they always accompanied us, and without their support we would never have got here”.

It’s through CAFOD’s unique long-term partnerships, enabled by your generous donations, that we can support every-day heroes such as CPT staff. Your support is changing lives such as Maria’s, despite the huge challenges and risks they face on a daily basis.

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