Systemic impunity and economic interests are killing human rights defenders one after the other, says UN expert: Brazil


Brazil needs to prioritise the demarcation and titling of land – the root cause of most attacks against human rights defenders in the country, a UN expert said today.

“Human rights defenders are under extreme threat in Brazil. The Federal Government knows this but has so far failed to put the structures in place to provide them with better protection and tackle the root causes of the risks they face,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in a statement following an official visit to the country.

Brazil’s Federal Government recognises human rights defenders and their work, and understands the risks they face, the expert noted. However, when human rights defenders challenge structures of power that impose and reinforce injustice, they are violently attacked and face an extremely high level of risks, she said.

“Again and again during my visit I heard from defenders who had survived assassination attempts, who had been shot at, had their houses surrounded, had death threats delivered to their door. I heard from defenders whose work had been criminalised,” Lawlor said.

“The defenders most at risk in Brazil are indigenous and quilombola people and members of other traditional communities. In many cases, perpetrators of the attacks are known. Yet, there is rampant impunity for these crimes,” the expert said.

The UN expert said business and markets play a key role as drivers of conflicts, putting human rights defenders at risk. “The demarcation and titling of indigenous, quilombola and other traditional peoples’ land, as well as the revision of the legality of all existing concessions given to companies must be prioritised,” she said.

Lawlor said that in urban areas, human rights defenders were also being attacked, defamed and heavily criminalised, specifically black women human rights defenders, journalists, popular communicators and lawyers, and social and cultural workers.

“The conflation of human rights defenders with criminals by local authorities – in particular defenders who are part of social movements and supporting the most vulnerable in society – is a clear problem and must end,” the expert said.

A protection programme to address situations of risk for human rights defenders has been in place in Brazil for some time. However, Lawlor said it was currently unfit for purpose and needs radical reform and expansion.

Lawlor applauded the Federal Government for re-opening the door to human rights defenders and civil society in the design of policy that affects them and encouraged authorities to not abandon these efforts.

“The Federal Government needs to match the courage of human rights defenders in the country – and it must do so now,” Lawlor said.

/Public Release. View in full here.