On 24 May 2017, Jane Julia de Oliveira, president of the Association of Rural Workers (Associação dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais) in the local community, was shot dead in the municipality of Pau D’Arco in Pará state. According to local media reports the killing took place when police carried out an attack on a camp of participants in a land occupation on the Santa Lúcia estate. Jane and 9 other participants in the occupation were shot dead.
While the police claim that the killings in Pau D’Arco took place during an armed confrontation there is no evidence of armed violence by the LCP members. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the attack by the police was in retaliation for the shooting dead of a security man on the estate, several days previously. According to local media reports, the police managed to approach the estate without being observed and opened fire on the members of the LCP. According to an eye-witness, several people who had hidden were shot dead by the police after being captured.
Those killed were: Weldson Pereira da Silva; Nelson Souza Milhomem; Weclebson Pereira Milhomem; Ozeir Rodrigues da Silva; Jane Julia de Oliveira; Regivaldo Pereira da Silva; Ronaldo Pereira de Souza; Bruno Henrique Pereira Gomes; Antonio Pereira Milhomem; Hércules Santos de Oliveira. 7 of the victims belonged to one family.
The estate is occupied by a family of alleged “grileiros” whose title to the land is disputed by the farmers. “Grileiros” is a term used to refer to people who have seized control of large tracts of land often using dubious title documents. It is estimated that in Brazil 64% of the land is occupied or owned by 8% of the population. In another land occupation in the same state, the LCP had been able to show that of the 800 acres claimed by the land owner, only 200 acres had been properly documented. The remaining 600 acres were state land which had been illegally occupied. This is a recurring problem across Brazil and is the root cause of many conflicts in which human rights defenders are killed for protecting the rights of their communities.
This latest spate of killings brings the total number of killings in the context of land disputes in Brazil in 2017 to 36, 25 of which took place in one forty day period. On the first of May, the incinerated bodies of 4 farmers were found in their burnt out lorry in Santa Maria das Barreiras, in southern Pará. Two days earlier, on 29 April, the bodies of another 3 farmers were found, again, incinerated in their burnt out lorry. These killings took place ten days after a massacre in north east Rondonia, which shocked the whole country when the bodies of 9 farmers were found.
According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), which started collecting data on rural killings in 1985, there have been 1,833 such killings up to the end of 2016. These killings are seldom properly investigated and it is rare for anyone to be brought to justice. In a joint statement 29 Brazilian human rights organisations have demanded an independent international investigation into the killings in Pau D’Arco: “Given the visible failure, and inability, of the Brazilian authorities to adequately investigate or punish crimes by its own agents, either in the city or in the country, we are demanding an independent international investigation by international bodies into the circumstances of the killings in Pau d’Arco”. Front Line Defenders echoes this call.