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English Report

The massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás was not an isolated incident. It puts into context the constant human rights violations in the incessant struggle for a piece of land. It is yet another example where the law ends up being just a piece of paper because the long arm of the state does not assure its fulfillment. It is within this context, as a systematic pattern of violations and impunity, that it should be analyzed.

Eldorado dos Carajás

CEJIL Brazil*

The struggle for land rights is an historic problem in Brazil. The incessant conflicts in the countryside between workers and large estate owners demonstrates that the State still has a long way to go until it offers a just division and management of the land, despite the country's Constitution guaranteeing the social function of property. In this sense, the path is a slow one, principally because it refers to the necessity of guaranteeing survival and dignity to the whole population.

The problem of inequality in land distribution in Brazil was also one of the preoccupations of the Inter-American Commission when it visited on location. Their 1997 Report notes:

"There exists in Brazil an historic situation of grave inequality in the distribution of land and economic opportunity in rural areas. Despite the constitutional power of the State and its authorities to resolve the situation, it nonetheless persists. Although the current administration has initiated programs to reduce the severity of the problem and to facilitate access to land and credit for small farmers, the reach of such measures is limited and, especially in the North and Northeast of the country, there persist situations of poverty and general inequality in the protection of basic rights. The difficulties and tensions caused by the inequality of credit and land distribution are the cause of confrontations that in turn lead to excessive repression and violations of human rights."

"6. Religious non-governmental organizations note that in 1995 there were 554 rural conflicts registered, of which 440 were due to problems of land, 21 of forced labor, and 93 of working disputes connected with droughts or agrarian reform. In total, there were 69 more conflicts than in 1994, involving 3,250,731 persons. As a result of these conflicts, 39 people were assassinated or lost their lives to violence. 2"

This state of inequality in land distribution and economic opportunity in rural areas, as well as the Brazilian government's lack of implementation of appropriate domestic legislation to combat this reality, persists even today. It is the fodder for the continually high levels of violence in the Brazilian countryside, whose principal victims are the workers, both male and female, who organize themselves to face this unjust situation, and those who support them in their struggle for access to land and a dignified existence. The serious crimes committed against this sector of the Brazilian population remain largely unpunished.

In the month of August 2003, the organizations Evandro Lins e Silva Center for Human Rights, the Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT), the Carioca Institute of Criminology, and the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights released a report concerning the Crimes of the Latifúndios (large estates), which included the following:

Between January and August of 2003, the Pastoral Commission on Land registered 44 murders of agricultural workers. Data from the CPT reveals that from 1985 to 2002 there were registered 1,280 murders of agricultural workers, lawyers, technicians, union and religious leaders, all connected with the struggle for land. Of these 1,280 murders, only 121 have been brought to trial. Of those who ordered the killings, only 14 were prosecuted, 7 were convicted. Four of middlemen involved were put on trial, 2 were convicted. Among the 96 assassins brought to trial, 58 were convicted.

Between 1985 and 2002, 6,330 agricultural workers were imprisoned while engaging in political activities connected with the struggle for agrarian reform. In 2001, there were 254 arbitrary arrests of agricultural workers and, in 2002, 158 farm workers were imprisoned. In 2002, there were 43 murders, 20 attempted murders, and 73 death threats against rural workers, in addition to 44 others physically attacked and 20 tortured. These figures reveal that, historically, violence in the countryside occurs against landless workers .

This situation is more serious in some parts of the country, such as the state of Pará, and especially the south and southeastern regions of state, where there exists a systematic pattern of violations against the human rights of workers and workers without access to land. It begins with the absence of effective and socially inclusive politics, is furthered by the lack of mechanisms for non-violent conflict resolution, and culminates with impunity for the authors of these human rights violations against workers and workers that organize the struggle for their rights, as well as against all other defenders of these rights in the region.

The Crimes of the Latifúndio Report, cited above, provides alarming statistics concerning the conditions of rural violence in this state:

The survey conducted by the Agrarian Commission on Land reveals that, in just the first half of 2003, 22 murders of agricultural workers were registered in the state. In this period 20 rural workers were imprisoned during evictions.

This form of land distribution in the southern region of the state of Pará has ended up producing the largest index of estate concentration in Brazil. According to the official data from the Brazilian government (Agrarian Atlas, Incra, 1996), 75% of the existing lands in the state of Pará are considered idle.

The existence of this large contingent of workers without access to land and without professional prospects constitutes the base of the diverse violations of human rights endemic in the region. In fact, these impoverished workers are an easy target for large estate owners searching for slave labor. On the other hand, those who attempt to organize themselves and fight for the land are the victims of violence on the part of these same estate owners and businessmen who are against any proposal for agrarian reform. These problems are aggravated by the complete incapacity of the region's policing and judicial bodies to identify and punish those responsible for the violations.

In an attempt to avoid the thousands of impoverished workers in the region demanding the Brazilian government redistribute the land in southern Pará, at the start of the 1980's the local estate owners, in many cases counting on the aid of the very police force, began to systematically assassinate rural workers, their representatives, and defenders of human rights.

In reality, the persistence of this situation in the south and southeast of Pará demonstrates that the Brazilian state is not adopting all the necessary measures to speed agrarian reform in the region, despite what has happened in Eldorado dos Carajás and in so many other violent episodes in the region related with the struggle for land.

According to the Report of Violence against Rural Workers in the State of Pará, produced by the Forum of Entities for Agrarian Reform in South and Southeastern Pará, in the current year of 2003:

[...]In order for us to visualize in comparative terms the tragedy in numbers of murders from agrarian conflicts in the state of Pará, let us adopt the criterion "number of murders in agrarian conflicts per group of 100,000 inhabitants." In the period between 1989 and 1999, in all of Brazil, the yearly average of murders in the countryside was 0.02681 murders per group of 100,000 inhabitants. In the same period, in the state of Pará the average was 0.7 murders per group of 100,000 inhabitants, an average 26 times larger than the national average. In certain sub-regions of Pará - sub-region Parauapebas (municipalities of Parauapebas, Eldorado do Carajás, Curionópolis, and Água Azul do Norte) - in the same period 1989-1999, the murder average in agrarian conflicts was 8.7 per group of 100,000 inhabitants, 12 times greater than the state average, and 324 times greater than the average for all of Brazil. In the sub-region Marabá (municipalities of Marabá, Itupiranga, São João de Araguaia, São Domingos do Araguaia, São Geraldo do Araguaia, Brejo Grande do Araguaia, Nova Ipixuna, and Palestina do Pará) the average for the same period (3.2 homicides per group of 100,000 inhabitants) was 120 times greater than the average for all of Brazil.

For a union organizer or rural worker from Parauapebas or Eldorado dos Carajás, the probability of being killed in an agrarian conflict in the period from 1989-1999 was 324 times greater compared with a union organizer or rural worker in any other state in Brazil. In light of this data, we can easily understand why rural workers as a whole in the south and southeastern regions of Pará have such a clear perception of the extremely violent character of agrarian conflicts in the region 4.

Concerning the impunity in relation to these violations, the Crimes of the Latifúndio Report, already cited, noted that:

If the pattern of violence in the southern and southeastern regions of Pará is impressive, the impunity shocks us even more. The agrarian conflicts have resulted, in the past 18 years, in innumerable slaughters in which the complicity of public officials with organized crime in the countryside has been unequivocal. Conspirators and murderers are not arrested or even brought to trial, arrest warrants are not carried through, and gunmen act in conjunction with police.

In south and southeastern Pará, in the period 1985 to March 2001, 340 rural workers were murdered. Of all these crimes, only two were brought to trial with those responsible, resulting in an average of 99.41% of murders without any criminal judicial resolution - conviction or absolution.

In a city like Xinguara, with 76 rural workers murdered in the last 30 years, there has yet to be a single crime brought to justice. This represents a rate of impunity of 100%. In São Geraldo do Araguaia, with 49 murders during the same period, there is an identical rate of impunity. This occurs also in São Félix do Xingu, with 37 killings, and in Marabá, with 35 murders.

Among the 40 municipalities that compose south and southeastern Pará, only two, Rio Maria and Eldorado do Carajás, do not have a rate of impunity of 100% in relation to murders of agricultural workers in the last thirty years (1972-2002) 5.

The pattern of impunity demonstrated by this and other reports derives from the partial and inefficient conduct of internal resources in the south/southeastern region of Pará. The majority of times, the crimes are not investigated, the material evidence and testimony are not produced, the authors of the crimes are not brought to trial and less often censured, arrest warrants are not carried through, and, in the rare instances they are, escape is easy. This is the reality of the region's internal resources delimited here.

The persistence of this reality in the south/southeast region of Pará shows that, despite ample consciousness of this serious problem, the Brazilian government is not undertaking all the necessary steps in order to guarantee that this part of the Brazilian population may exercise its free and full rights and guarantees recognized by the American Convention on Human Rights. In this way, the victims cease to have access to effective resources for preventing these violations, resources that might promote justice when their basic rights are violated, as well as guarantee reparations for damage suffered by the victims and their families.

And this is what happened in April of 1996 when two soldiers from the state of Pará's Military Police, under the pretext of conducting an operation for removing the obstruction from Highway PA-100 - then occupied by hundreds of landless working families from the countryside marching in protest, including many women, children, and seniors - committed a true massacre, applying force in an unnecessary and incommensurate manner. They shot indiscriminately into the crowd of demonstrators, as well as local inhabitants, and summarily executed - even under a blade - many workers who had already surrendered. The result of the operation was the death of 19 workers, all men, and more than 67 wounded workers (male and female), as well as two babies.

Eldorado dos Carajás is not an isolated incident. It puts into context the constant human rights violations in the incessant struggle for a piece of land. It is yet another example where the law ends up being just a piece of paper because the long arm of the state does not assure its fulfillment. It is within this context, as a systematic pattern of violations and impunity, that it should be analyzed.

Recognizing the existence of this pattern of violations against this sector of the Brazilian population is of extreme importance in comprehending the circumstances in which the violations were committed in this concrete circumstance, as well as understanding the inadequate response of the domestic resources facing these violations.

While the commotion it caused nationally led many to believe that human rights in Brazil would take a new path, more than seven years have passed since the fact, and there has not yet been a single person responsible censured for the serious violations and no victims have been compensated.

Confronted with such investigative irregularities, and by virtue of state agencies participating in the massacre at Eldorado dos Carajás, the Center for Justice and International Rights (CEJIL) and the Landless Workers Movement (MST) have denounced the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), soliciting the accountability of the Brazilian government for the violations of Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (physical integrity), 8 (due process), and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights, in conjunction with Article 1.1 of the Convention.

The denunciation is intended to pressure Brazil as a signatory of the Convention, in light of its assumed obligation to respect the rights and freedoms recognized by the Convention, and to guarantee their full exercise without any type of discrimination.

Scenes of the massacre at Eldorado dos Carajás, filmed almost in its entirety, could be seen repeatedly by the whole nation through the press. Brazilians watched the violence up close, a rare occurrence in cases of human rights violations in the countryside. The images and the examination of the victims' evidence constitutes substantial proof of the unnecessary force used by the police.

According to the Basic Principles of the United Nations on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, those responsible for establishing order should use non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Assuring that police action be exerted legally and efficiently, the rule affirms that the use of excessive force by state officials affects principals in which are based the respect of human dignity and human rights.

Over and above the arbitrary use of force, the case of Eldorado dos Carajás was marked from the start by other irregularities in the police's actions: the officials removed their identifying badges and did not sign the register for the guns. Carrying machine guns and rifles they arrived, just as the footage shows, shooting and launching gas bombs.

Unfortunately, the impunity in relation to crimes committed against rural workers in conflicts over land has been the rule, not the exception. In Eldorado dos Carajás it was no different. The criminal inquiries and the judicial proceedings against the individuals responsible for the violations were conducted with negligence. Various denunciations, known to the Federal Police and the Ministry of Justice, were never duly investigated.

In order to clarify the facts of the case in Eldorado dos Carajás, the Military Police initiated investigations into the arising crimes of homicides and assault and battery committed by the military police officers in the exercise of their duties. The jurisdiction to try these proceedings fell to the State Military Justice. Simultaneously, the Civil Police opened a new inquiry to investigate the same facts, whose jurisdiction was given to the State Common Justice.

The entire proceedings, which should have assured a complete and impartial investigation into the case for the punishment of those responsible, presented serious faults. In practice, the principal investigation was conducted by the Military Police, which received only auxiliary support from the Civil Police. The inquiry was marked by distortions and errors in the examination of the facts, in the inquest of the cadavers, and in the ballistics analysis.

Of the 144 military police officers brought to trial in 2002 before the civilian criminal court, 142 were acquitted and only two officials from the Military Police were convicted of homicide. However, in light of the appeal against the conviction, they were granted the right to await a new trial in freedom.

International Responsibility of the Brazilian Government

The responsibility of the Brazilian government for the human rights violations that took place in Eldorado dos Carajás is based on three factors:

- the violations were committed by state officials;
- the police and judicial apparatus has not demonstrated conditions guaranteeing the victims' access to an investigation and effective judicial proceedings that would identify and punish the authors of these violations, not even permitting the compensation of the victims for the damage suffered;
- the absence of preventative measures to avoid or minimize the violence against rural workers who struggle for land.

According to the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, it falls to the state to guarantee preventative measures in order to avoid private or state agents committing human rights violations. It is clear in the Court's understanding that also included is the obligation to realize, with all methods available, serious investigations to identify and punish those responsible, assuring adequate reparations for the victims and/or their families.

The interpretation of the Court is not limited to the existence of a normative order, but that this produces tangible effects. It is necessary that state agents be qualified and assure that the law is implemented in concrete cases.

In February of 2003, the Commission declared its willingness to acknowledge the denunciation - put forth by the MST and CEJIL - in relation to the alleged human rights violations in the case of Eldorado dos Carajás protected by the American Convention, and that this meets the requirements for admissibility. It is the first victory in a case that sums up the manner in which human rights have been treated in the country, especially in the rural areas.

Autonomy, independence, and impartiality are essential prerequisites so that national agencies can make violators take responsibility. However, in its report on admissibility, the Commission regarded such requirements lacking in the Military Police, considering that the principal suspects of the crime are in fact the military police officers themselves. According to the admissibility report, "the investigation of the case by offices of the military eliminates the possibility of an objective and independent inquiry, executed by judicial authorities connected with the security forces' command hierarchy."

Despite the case being relegated to the civilian courts, the Commission questioned the efficacy of the process based on investigations carried out by the Military Police. Noted the report, "the necessary evidence was probably not collected in an effective and opportune manner."

It is important to highlight the fact that until 1996 the jurisdiction to investigate and try human rights violations committed by the Military Police was conferred to the offices of the military. This year the law was modified. Trials for felonies committed against civilian lives have been relegated to civilian courts, but investigation of the crimes still fall under the jurisdiction of the Military Police. As stated in the Commission's report, the new dispatch contradicts Article 133 of the Federal Constitution, which assigns the Civil Police the function of judiciary policy, investigating criminal offences, except in military cases. As the felonies of homicide do not involve the lives of military personnel, the civil police should have been in charge of the investigation that determines the veracity of the allegations and, thus, the jurisdiction to judge it.

For these reasons, the CIDH determined that "Brazilian legislation does not offer the due process of law to effectively investigate the alleged human rights violations committed by the Military Police. Despite the trial being conferred to civilian tribunals, a prejudiced investigation suggests errors that affect the whole proceeding."

Eldorado dos Carajás is one more emblematic case of massacre and summary executions denounced to the Commission. Impunity reigns for the individual authors of these violations. It is hoped that, through petitions directed to the CIDH, there will be a change in this grave situation concerning the disrespect of human rights, and that Eldorado dos Carajás will not be just another example of violations, but instead the beginning of a new path toward solutions for land disputes, motivating the state to adopt preventative measures, agrarian reform, social inclusion, peaceful resolutions to the confrontations, and punishment of those responsible.


* The present article is the product of the collective work of the Center for Justice and International Rights (Centro pela Justiça e o Direito Internacional, CEJIL). Paula Magalhães - communications intern - was in charge of its final form.

2. See the Report of the Human Rights situation in Brazil - 1997. Organization of American States, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.97, Doc. 29. Ratified by the IACHR on September 29, 1997 during the 97th regular session

3. See the Crimes of the Latifúndio Report, August 2003, by the Evandro Lins e Silva Center for Human Rights, the Agrarian Commission on Land (CPT), the Carioca Institute of Criminology, and the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights

4. See the Report of Violence against Rural Workers in the State of Pará, by the Forum of Entities for Agrarian Reform in South and Southeastern Pará (Federation of Agricultural Workers in Pará and Amapá, Landless Workers Movement, Subsecretary of the CPT in the south of Pará, Pará's Society in Defense of Human Rights, Union of Rural Workers in the South and Southeast of Pará. FASE. CEPASP). Marabá, October 4, 2001.

5. See article: Violence and Impunity: Permanent Reality in the State of Pará, by José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, attorney and national coordinator of the CPT, Crimes of the Latifúndio Report, August 2003, produced by the Evandro Lins e Silva Center for Human Rights, the Agrarian Commission on Land (CPT), the Carioca Institute of Criminology, and the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.