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