Preliminary findings and recommendations of IAPL International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission in Randonia, Brazil

The IAPL, as an international organization of human rights lawyers from various countries - especially where exploitation and oppression are most severe, human rights violations are most widespread and the peoples’ struggles are most intense - supports the struggles for the rights of people all over the world.

The IAPL has members coming from Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, India, Nepal, Philippines, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Turkey. It has observers or has established solidarity linkages of varying degrees with lawyers from Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Cuba, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea, North Korea, Spain, United Kingdom and The United States.

It was invited to conduct an International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission by the Brazilian organizations Núcleo dos Advogados do Povo (NAP) and Centro Brasileiro de Solidariedade aos Povos (Cebraspo) in order to verify and investigate reports on human rights violations in the countryside of Brazil, particularly in the state of Rondonia and especially concerning the poor peasants movement.

The NAP is the IAPL country chapter in Brazil. The NAP itself invited other individual lawyers to join the Mission. The delegation is composed of lawyers from Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Turkey. The Mission took place on December 1-4, 2008.

It visited the Urso Branco prison where it met the director and the vice-director of the prison, the judge for penalty executions of Porto Velho, Sérgio William Domingues Teixeira, and the peasant José Gonçalves Filho. During the visit the group had a very interesting and revealing conversation with several prisoners in and outside their cells and a particular interview with Goncalves Filho. This visit was followed by a meeting with people’s lawyers from Porto Velho who shared their experience and challenges in handling local cases and issues.

The delegation also visited the local Radio Brasil FM where its members explained the objectives of the Mission and their impressions thus far. It later interviewed Iramar, the Chief of Police of Buritis, where they expressed their concerns on the respect for human rights of the prisoners. The delegation was shocked to have personally chanced upon the plight of a pregnant woman who was handcuffed and left sitting on the floor of the prison’s hallway for hours. It spent an afternoon and night in solidarity with the poor peasants in their settlement in Jacinopolis and spoke at length with Gilson, son of José Gonçalves Filho. Several peasants also came forward and shared with the delegation their experiences and accounts of violations of their rights. The delegation then had a breakfast meeting with one of the peasant families who narrated their problems.

 

 

It visited the detention centre in Ariquemes and was able to speak with four detained landless peasants, one of whom told the Mission that he was severely tortured during his arrest.

The Mission then participated at a forum with students, professors, lawyers and social workers on the criminalization of people’s movements in Brazil and Latin America at the University of Rondonia.

 

 

The Mission ended with a final meeting with judge Teixeira, who provided his findings and recommendations that he presented to the Brazilian authorities concerning the Urso Branco prison.

 

Since a long time the issue of human rights in Brazil has intensified, especially the killings and the repression of peasants. There has been in the past several incidents between peasants, the local government and the latifundistas (landlords) during which poor peasants have been subjected to various human rights violations. The most known case is the Corumbiara incident of 1995 where 12 peasants have been brutally murdered by police forces.

Even though the Brazilian state has been recently found by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights liable because of this massacre, the Brazilian state has not made any effort on a genuine agrarian reform neither has it given any indemnification to the victims of the massacre.

Nevertheless, the human rights violations in Rondonia do not belong to the past as found by the Mission. The delegation wants to express its concerns about the detention conditions in Rondonia’s prisons, the repression of poor peasants and the working conditions of people’s lawyers.

1. Condition of the Urso Branco prison and the Arquemis detention centre

The main problem of the prisons, particularly in Ursu Branco, is the congestion and overpopulation. The building does not provide basic human treatment to the prisoners such as a proper hygienic condition. There is a very insufficient social welfare program. Prisoners are only allowed to leave their cells once a week for a short period, while legally they have the right to have sunning once a day. Prisoners seem to be not provided enough food. There is no social program for reintegration (re-socialization). Prisoners have only limited possibilities to receive visits from their relatives. A significant number have cases dragging on for some time. If this is the situation of the detention conditions in the whole Rondonia, this is a very concerning situation.

2. Repression of poor peasants

The delegation was able to speak with several detained poor peasants and some of their relatives. The case of José seems to be an example of illegal investigation methods and serious false accusations. José told the delegation of having been harassed systematically by civilian armed men that apparently act on the order of latifundistas. José told the delegation that he was captured after an attack in his farm by police men and civilian armed men. José has been accused of murder and illegal possession of firearms. Based on the information received during interviews with other prisoners, similar methods were reportedly used in other cases in the province of Rondonia. The captured peasants the Mission spoke with were struggling for their land and survival for them and their family. They have all been accused of the same infractions, namely illegal possession of firearms, although the possession of rifles by peasants is commonly accepted. The delegation is greatly concerned about this fact.

3. Situation of people’s lawyers

Our fellow lawyers spoke to us about the difficulties they experienced in practicing their profession. One of our colleagues – Ermogenes Jacinto De Souza – who works in the defense of poor people, has been seriously harmed and threatened in his work. We express our concern about the fact that a lawyer working for the interest of the people has been accused of libel because he was practising his profession. The delegation hopes that the lawyers association takes into account our concern for lawyers when they are handling cases of imprisoned poor peasants.

Initial Conclusions and Recommendations

 

 

The delegation is presently processing all the information, materials and data it has gathered so far and will receive forthwith. The Mission will consider and take into account all these and will be included in the Final Report.

 

Preliminarily, the Mission wants to express its consternation about the human rights situation in Rondonia. Even though the Brazilian state has been found responsible by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concerning the massacre in Corumbiara and in 2002 regarding the detention conditions in the Urso Branco prison, human rights violations seem to be a continuing practice.

While the Brazilian government does not take any decisive action to resolve the tremendous problem of lack of land for the poor people, there are credible reports and indications that it oppresses those that struggle for such a basic right as the possession and use of land. The land problem in Rondonia state is a major source for social inequality, unemployment and poverty.

The recommendations made by the Inter-American court concerning both the issues of Urso Branco as well as the victims of Corumbiara should be urgently implemented and the human rights violations taking place in the state of Rondonia should be ended.

The delegation hopes that the bar association and human rights organizations and concerned individuals and entities in Brazil take into account our concern about the cases of imprisoned poor peasants as above mentioned. The Mission calls for the respect for human rights of the poor peasants in Rondonia and in other similar places. The Mission urges that steps be taken to protect lawyers and other human rights defenders involved in helping and defending the poor people from harassments and threats and other human rights violations. ###

05 December 2008, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil