The following is based on a communication written by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Working Group on People of African Descent, which was sent to the Government of Brazil on 27 October 2021.
Topic: alleged criminalisation of human rights defenders Anacleta Pires da Silva, Joércio Pires da Silva and Elias Belfort Pires
Ms. Anacleta Pires da Silva, 55, is a woman human rights defender, Quilombola leader and mother of four. Messrs. Joércio Pires da Silva and Elias Belfort Pires, aged 29 and 49, are human rights defenders, respectively the President of the Association of Rural Quilombola Producers of Santa Rosa dos Pretos and the President of the Union of Rural Quilombola Communities of Itapecuru Mirim – UNICQUITA.
All three are members of the Santa Rosa dos Pretos Quilombola community in the municipality of Itapecuru Mirim, Maranhão State. As of 4 August 2021, they have been included in the national Human Rights Defenders Protection Program in the state of Maranhão, although, when this communication was sent in October, it was reported that at that time, protection measures for the human rights defenders had been inconsistent.
In the communication, we expressed our concern at the accusations brought against Ms. Pires da Silva, Mr. Pires da Silva and Mr. Belfort Pires, which we fear may be an attempt to delegitimize and curtail their peaceful efforts to defend the collective rights of their community over their land.
The Santa Rosa dos Pretos community in Itapecuru Mirim, Maranhão State, comprises approximately 900 families, including 5,000 people. In 2004, it was formally recognised as a Quilombola community by the Palmares Cultural Foundation, the body responsible for certifying the claims of Quilombola communities expressing a wish to obtain formal recognition of their heritage, in order to subsequently obtain land titles. Since 2005, the territory traditionally occupied by the community has been under a land titling process, overseen by the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária – INCRA.
As part of this process, in 2008, a report identifying the boundaries of the community’s land and examining the community from an anthropological and historical perspective was finalized. In 2015, a Presidential Decree of Expropriation concerning the land was published, providing for its expropriation to the benefit of the community, along with compensation for private parties currently accessing or using it, in cases where they held valid titles to do so. The titling process has remained stagnant since the publication of the Presidential Decree, with the identification and evaluation of the properties overlapping the community’s territory, as well as the compensation of valid title holders, yet to be completed.
In the absence of progress in the land titling process, community members defending their right to a collective title over their land have allegedly faced retaliation from private actors, including efforts to criminalize them and delegitimize their legal claims, as well as violations of their right to free, prior and informed consent, as defined in ILO Convention 169, concerning large- scale public and private projects affecting their land. In this context, on 29 April 2021, Ms. Pires da Silva, Mr. Pires da Silva and Mr. Belfort Pires were summoned to appear at the police station located in the city of Itapecuru Mirim, approximately 25 km from the community.
The summons was connected to a criminal complaint lodged against the human rights defenders by a private individual identifying themselves as the purchaser of two farms overlapping with the territory of the Santa Rosa dos Pretos community. The individual in question accused Ms. Pires da Silva, Mr. Pires da Silva and Mr. Belfort Pires of threatening them in connection with their purchase of the farms, allegedly based on unfounded indirect reports. If convicted, the human rights defenders risk one to six months’ imprisonment, or a fine, under article 147 of the Brazilian Penal Code.