Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Brazil: Settlers Kidnap Missionaries and Attack Indigenous People

The settlers, reportedly co-ordinated by local landowners, invaded the Surumu Catholic mission, in the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous reserve, on 6 January 2004. Brother Joao Carlos Martinez from Spain, Father Cesar Avellaneda from Colombia and Brazilian Father Ronildo Franca were taken hostage. Settlers have also blocked roads to indigenous communities in the area, and violent protests are continuing in several towns. Federal Police have tried to control the violence, but apparently do not have sufficient forces in the area to protect the community of Raposa Serra do Sol against further attacks.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'This violence and intimidation must not be allowed to continue. Amnesty International calls on the Brazilian authorities to provide protection to all of its citizens.

'Those responsible must be swiftly and fairly brought to justice.'

The Minister of Justice announced on 23 December 2003 that presidential 'ratification' of the demarcation process to guarantee Raposa Serra do Sol as an indigenous reserve, pending since 1998, would finally take place. Indigenous peoples, including the Macuxi and Taurepang, have been campaigning for the demarcation of these lands for over 30 years. Amnesty International welcomes the Justice Minister's announcement, but fears that federal and state authorities will use the recent attacks to justify further delay to this process, condemning the indigenous communities to more violence. The previous long delays appear to have contributed to the systematic violence suffered by indigenous peoples during this period and allowed outsiders to illegally settle and mine this land.

Amnesty International has called on its members to write urgently to the Brazilian and state authorities, demanding adequate protection for those under threat and that those responsible for violence and intimidation to be brought to justice.

Background Information

On 2 January 2003 Aldo da Silva Mota, a leader of the Macuxi peoples, was killed in Raposa Serra do Sol. An initial, local autopsy, claimed he died of natural causes. However, following protests from indigenous groups, a second autopsy was carried out in Brasilia which stated he had been shot in the head, while his hands were in the air, most probably when kneeling on the ground, indicating a probable execution-style killing. Though two farm workers, employed by a local politician, are suspected of involvement in the crime they were released due to lack of evidence. To this day nobody has been detained for the crime.

The long-running dispute over the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation has seen at least 12 indigenous people killed, while hundreds more have been beaten and their homes and livestock destroyed by local landowners, settlers and members of the military police. Over the years the state government and elements in the armed forces have reportedly tried everything to block the process of demarcation, including the support of illegal settlements in the area and the build-up of extensive rice plantations, which have damaged the local environment.

Local politicians and landowners reportedly involved in extensive corruption scandals, presently under investigation by the Federal Police, have sought to co-opt some members of the indigenous community, allowing the authorities to dismiss attacks on tribal peoples as internal conflicts, an excuse all too often used by authorities unwilling to protect indigenous peoples.

Since the election of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva the situation of indigenous peoples has apparently deteriorated. Across Brazil indigenous peoples have suffered systematic attacks and violence with apparent impunity. Twenty-three indigenous leaders were killed in 2003, many as a result of their struggle to defend their land rights, a dramatic rise on killings from previous years.

View latest press releases