The fourth anniversary of the killing of an outspoken community leader in Maranhão state must be a wake-up call to the Brazilian government to urgently address increasing violence in the region, said Amnesty International today.
Flaviano Pinto Neto, leader of the Charco community in north-east Brazil, was shot dead on 30 October 2010. In April 2011, four people were charged with the killing but have not yet been brought to trial.
“This shocking case is emblematic of the serious injustices that befall human rights defenders in Brazil. By failing to investigate the death of Flaviano Pinto promptly, thoroughly and impartially, the Brazilian government is denying justice to his family and effectively giving the green-light for the murder of other activists,” said Renata Neder, Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International Brazil.
The state of Maranhão is plagued with land conflicts and violence against rural workers. This year alone, five community leaders have been killed in struggles over land.
Impunity for these deaths is all too common. Records show that out of 1,600 cases of killings over land issues between 1985 and 2009, only around 5% were brought to trial.
Flaviano Pinto was shot seven times. As well as being a community leader, he was President of the Association of Rural Small-holders Farmers of the Charco Community (Associação dos Pequenos Produtores Rurais do Povoado do Charco).
He had been part of a struggle to get his community officially recognized as “quilombo”, a group identified as Afro-Brazilian settlers who are afforded certain protections under the Brazilian constitution, including access to land titles. The title could help protect the group against powerful local farmers.
In 2012 the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reformation officially recognized the Charco community as quilombo. However, the administrative steps needed to process this identification have not yet been taken.
“While government agencies slowly process bureaucratic steps, the Maranhão community continues to be threatened and attacked. This has to stop. Today, on the sad anniversary of Flaviano Pinto’s death we are calling on the Brazilian government to step up to the challenge and address the violence against human right defenders in Maranhão,” said Renata Neder.
Quilombos are Afro-Brazilian settlements which were first established at the end of the 16th century in remote rural areas in Brazil, by escaped and free slaves that resisted slavery.
The 1988 Brazilian Constitution (Articles 215 and 216) acknowledges the right of descendant communities to the lands historically occupied by quilombos. In particular, Article 68 of the Transitory Dispositions states that “Final ownership shall be recognized for the remaining members of the quilombo communities who are occupying their lands and the state shall grant them the respective land titles”. A series of federal and state laws has been issued to regulate how the quilombos’ lands are identified and how titles are to be given to the remaining communities.
There are over 1,000 quilombo communities in Maranhão. Hundreds of administrative procedures have been initiated before the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform but to date no community has received its land title.
The Charco community, with over 90 families, has been fighting for their land rights for more than 60 years and has been previously threatened with various eviction orders. In 2009, the community initiated the administrative process to have their land recognized as the remaining of a quilombo settlement.