On 23 April 2017, human rights defender, Silvino Nunes Gouveia, was killed by gun shots at his home in Assentamento Liberdade (Liberty Settlement), in Vale do Rio Doce, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Silvino Nunes Gouveia was one of the directors of Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST (Movement of Rural Landless Workers). The MST was founded in 1984 and struggles for land rights and social change in Brazil. The Movement and its members have been frequently targeted by large landowners with death threats, assassinations, demolition of their settlements and evictions.
On 23 April 2017, Silvino Nunes Gouveia was at home in the Assentamento Liberdade, when unidentified persons called on him. When the human rights defender stepped outside his residence, the persons fired shots at him. The police report states that Silvino Nunes Gouveia was shot ten times. The perpetrators managed to escape by car. In the aftermath of the murder, the residents of Assentamento Liberdade protested against insecurity and attacks directed at landless people.
The United Nations office in Brazil released a statement expressing their concerns about the murder and emphasising “the importance of the work carried out by human rights defenders in promoting the development and the realisation of human rights in the country. It is necessary that the institutions guarantee all the conditions for carrying out their work safely in any community and in any part of the country”.
Violence against human rights defenders in Brazil has escalated in tandem with the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis. This situation is of particular concern as one of the first acts of the new interim government was to dismantle the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights. In 2017, after pressure from different sectors, the government created the Ministry of Human Rights, with a restricted mandate. In addition, high profile politicians in the country have made several negative statements against civil society movements and organisations, suggesting that their actions are of a criminal nature. The Minister of Justice has declared in previous statements that the MST used “guerrilla tactics” during its latest protests.
Front Line Defenders condemns the killing of human rights defender, Silvino Nunes Gouveia, as it believes the act was carried out solely due to his defence of land rights in Brazil. Front Line Defenders also expresses deep concern at the recurring reports of attacks against human rights defenders from MST and other organizations in the country.