June 2017

Brazil: According to UN and IACHR one environmentalist or land rights activist killed every week for 15 years

Protest in Brasilia against the killing of indigenous people

In its Annual Report for 2016, Front Line Defenders reported the killings of 281 human rights defenders in 25 countries. Fifty-nine of those killings took place in one country – Brazil. Of those killed in 2016, 49% were working to defend land, environmental or indigenous rights.

This is consistent with a pattern of killing in Brazil over decades.

A recent joint statement by the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) said that, “Over the last 15 years, Brazil has seen the highest number of killings of environmental and land defenders of any country, up to an average of about one every week. Indigenous peoples are especially at risk.” According to a 2015 report by the Brazilian NGO Conselho Indigenista Missionario (Indigenous Missionary Council or Cimi), 390 Guarani-Kaiowá leaders were killed between 2003 and 2014.

That statement is shocking enough, but when you do the math this means a figure of 780 environmental and land rights activists have been killed in that period. The vast majority of these cases are never properly investigated and it is rare for any perpetrator to be brought to justice.

This figure is backed up by research by the Commissâo Pastoral da Terra ( the Pastoral Land Commission, CPT), which shows that “since 1985, 1,833 peasants and leaders of the struggle for agrarian reform have been assassinated in conflicts over land, while during the same period of time large land estates have grown by 375%”.

This is the background against which HRDs, defending the rights of their communities, are routinely killed with total impunity. While the numbers are shocking and grab our attention, what is of equal concern is the response of the Brazilian government. Rather than taking action to protect the rights of indigenous and peasant communities the government is instead actively trying to limit the legal protections they currently enjoy.

According to the UN and IACHR “Against this backdrop, Brazil should be strengthening institutional and legal protection for indigenous peoples, as well as people of African heritage and other communities who depend on their ancestral territory for their material and cultural existence. It is highly troubling that instead, Brazil is considering weakening those protections”.

As noted in the joint statement, “A number of draft laws establishing general environmental licensing that would weaken environmental protection were being circulated in Congress on Friday 2 June.  For example, the proposed legislation would remove the need for environmental licenses for projects involving agri-business and cattle ranching, regardless of their size, location, necessity, or impact on indigenous lands or the environment”.

A recent inquiry by a group of congressmen who are supporters of the agribusiness called for the abolition of FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, which is the Brazilian government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples.

If killings on this scale took place in one incident it would be called a massacre. But because the victims are poor campesino or indigenous people living in remote rural areas there is tacit acceptance of this climate of violence which is further exacerbated by the violent response of the state itself.

The Brazilian government should be held to account for its failure to take any meaningful action to end this culture of killing or to protect human rights defenders.

Chile: “The bullet that killed Luis Marileo was fired a long time ago”

Comunidad Cacique José Guiñón, Ercilla.

On Saturday 10 June, Luis Marileo and a friend, Patricio Gonzáles, were shot dead in a dispute with Ignacio Gallegos Pereira, the occupier of a large estate and former sergeant with the Carabineros ( National Police). Luis Marileo  was a human rights defender working to protect the rights of the Mapuche people.  According to an eye witness, the two men had entered the disputed land to recover a horse which had escaped. While Gallegos Pereira claims to have been acting in self defence, medical reports suggest that the two men were shot in the back.

While the Spanish empire never managed to defeat the Mapuche and their territorial rights were recognised under numerous treaties, those rights have been consistently undermined both under the Pinochet regime and following the return to democracy. For years, members of the Mapuche people have reported that they have suffered from police violence, torture and ill-treatment, legal persecution, stigmatisation and criminalisation because of their human rights work.

Anti-terror legislation has been used to target Mapuche activists who are routinely smeared as being involved in violent and criminal activity. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has targeted human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, in an attempt to discredit their work to support social organisations and indigenous communities in Chile.

Luis Marileo has a long record of activism defending the rights of the Mapuche people. At the age of 8 he was injured in a police raid on his home. When he was sixteen he was arrested under the anti-terror legislation (the first person to be targeted under this legislation) and spent 7 months in prison, even though he was a minor. He was finally released because there was no evidence to link him to the crimes of which he was accused. In 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison, charged with the murder of landowner Héctor Gallardo, a charge which he always denied. During his time in prison he took part in several hunger strikes to protest at the use of secret witnesses in ordinary civil cases. After three years he was released on provisional liberty.

The killing of Luis Marileo and Patricio Gonzales is consistent with a pattern of entrenched discrimination, defamation and violence against Mapuche activists.

“Ayer fue asesinado Luis Marileo, pero la bala que lo mató fue disparada hace mucho antes, fue disparada desde el momento en que los gobiernos de la Concertación (hoy Nueva Mayoría) y la Derecha, optaron por la criminalización del movimiento, optaron por marcar con fuego las vidas de los niños y jóvenes de comunidad”, publicaba Claudio Alvarado Lincopi.

“Yesterday Luis Marileo was shot dead but the bullet that killed him was fired a long time ago; it was fired when the authorities in Concertación (now called Nueva Mayoría)  and La Derecha decided to criminalise the movement and to mark out with fire the lives of children and young people in the community”, said Claudio Alvarado Lincopi.

Colombia: Failed by the state – HRD shot dead in second attempt on his life

At 7pm on Wednesday, 7 June 2017, Bernardo Cuero Bravo was at home with his family watching a football match on television, when two unknown men arrived at his home in Malambo, Atlántico province. Pretending that they were looking for an apartment that was supposedly for rent in the area, they enticed him out onto the patio where they shot him 4 times in front of his wife. He died instantly.

Bernardo was president of the local Junta de Acción and was also a member of the Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados (Afrodes). Afrodes represents members of the Afrocolombian community who have been displaced because of the conflict in the region. He was also an active member of the Mesa de Víctimas de Malambo y del Atlántico.

Several years ago Bernardo had survived an earlier attempt on his life. At that time his case was brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which instructed the government of Colombia to provide protective measures for him and the other members of Afrodes. He was provided with a bullet proof jacket and a cell phone but a year ago these were withdrawn.

Given the frequent threats to which he was being subjected, Bernardo had repeatedly asked for protection from the state, but this was never provided. Afrodes has lodged numerous complaints about threats against their members in Cali, Cartagena, Bogotá y Soacha.