EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 19/21/93
UA 229/93 Death Threats 15 July 1993
BRAZIL: Sister Elsa Rosa ZOTTI and other Franciscan nuns
Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Sister Elsa Zotti and
other Franciscan nuns working with indigenous people in Escondido, Mato Grosso
do Sul, who have been subjected to death threats.
According to information received by Amnesty International, the death threats
are believed to come from local landowners and agents of lumber companies,
who are targeting the Franciscan nuns for their work defending the rights of
the indigenous people of Escondido, in the Cotriguaçú region.
Earlier this month, two local peasants declared in a civil court that they
had heard the vice mayor of Cotriguaçú stating that he had personally prevented
the murder of Sister Elsa but that she could be killed within the next few
months if she and the sisters continued to defend the demarcation of indigenous
One of the Franciscan sisters, sister Salette, wrote to a friend:
"We are being persecuted and treated badly by the oppressors. We never know
if we'll still be alive tomorrow. As you can see from the document, the date
to eliminate one of our colleagues, Sister Elsa, has already been set."
"The lumber merchants, the owners of Cotriguaçú, who never tire of accumulating
wealth, have declared war on all missionaries and indigenists. The suffering
only makes our faith and commitment to the indigenous cause grow greater and
In 1991 the Brazilian Government coined the slogan "Indian is Land". It was
an acknowledgment of the centrality of land rights to the social, economic,
cultural and political survival of Brazil's indigenous peoples. Their right
to land which they have traditionally occupied is upheld by the 1988 Constitution
which proclaims that the nation must demarcate and protect these lands and
ensure the respect of Indian property.
In practice these rights have been ignored by land claimants who have abducted
and killed Indians to drive them off land sought for the wealth of its resources.
Indians who attempt to claim their constitutional rights as well as people
working on their behalf are in danger of becoming victims of human rights abuses.
Amnesty International takes no side in disputes over land. What concerns the
organization is the persistent failure of successive governments to protect
the fundamental rights of Brazil's indigenous peoples. The authorities at all