Contested land in Brazil handed to state
A long standing land dispute in Brazil between landless workers movements and a Swiss multinational, which led to the deaths of two men, has been brought to a conclusion. Agrochemical business Syngenta has handed over its experimental farm in Paraná state to the state government, marking an end to violent conflict over the site. Syngenta gave the land to the Paraná state government on 14 October 2008. The government has promised to use the land for the production of native seeds for distribution to small holder farmers and impoverished countries who have suffered devastation from hurricanes. The 127-hectare farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste was used by Syngenta to field test its genetically modified (GM) crops. This was contested because it potentially contravened an environmental zoning law and because it was identified as a possible site for the settlement of landless agricultural workers. Two men were killed after the landless workers movements MST and Via Campesina occupied the farm in protest on 21 October 2007. An illegal and violent eviction by 40 armed employees of NF Segurança, the private security company hired by Syngenta to protect the farm, led to the deaths of MST leader Valmir Motta de Oliveira (known as Keno) and security guard Fabio Ferreira. Human rights groups and land activists in the state of Paraná have previously suffered threats and intimidation from a number of groups formed by landowners. In a public hearing on 18 October 2007, local rights groups presented a dossier of evidence to the state human rights commission that highlighted the activities of armed men hired by landowners and agricultural companies. According to the report, they act with no legal controls, often using violent and illegal methods to forcibly evict, threaten and attack land activists. Several investigations into irregular and illicit behaviour by NF Segurança, including the investigation into Keno’s murder, have led to its licence being revoked. The company continues to operate pending its appeal. Amnesty International has said it is vital that steps are taken by federal and state authorities across Brazil to control the flood of irregular and/or illicit security companies, many of whom are effectively acting as illegal militias in the service of landowners or agro-industry. "It is essential that the state and federal authorities investigate individuals, organizations or companies which use security companies that commit human rights violations or criminal acts," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s America’s director. “Those found to have failed in their duty to adequately vet or oversee their security company must be held to account.” With the trial of the suspects of the killings of Keno and Fabio Ferreira about to begin in November Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ensure that it meets international standards for fair trials. “It is vital that those individuals truly responsible for these deaths are brought to justice, ending the long history of impunity for rural killings and the protection of vested economic and political interests.” Susan Lee stated.