Brazil: Human rights defenders killed and arbitrarily detained

(Joint Communication sent to the Government of Brazil)

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On 8 February 2021, The Special Rapporteur on the environment and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial or summary executions and I wrote a letter to the Government of Brazil, conveying our concerns over the arrest of human rights lawyer José Vargas Sobrinho Junior and the killing of Fernando dos Santos Araújo.

Mr. José Vargas Sobrinho Junior is a human rights defender and lawyer in Pará State. He is known for his work defending landless rural workers and indigenous communities, and has played a leading role in efforts to seek justice for the killing of 10 land rights defenders that took place at the Satna Lúcia settlement in the municipality of Pau D’Arco, Pará State in May 2017.

Mr. Vargas has been receiving threats in response to his work as a human rights defender since the Pau D’Arco massacre in at least 2017 and has previously had to relocate for his own safety.

On 1 January 2021 he was arrested at his home in the municipality of Redenção. Members of the civil police confiscated his computer and mobile phone, which contain sensitive information related to his legal work. The events reportedly relate to an investigation into the disappearance of a local council election candidate in October 2020.

After three weeks in preventive detention he was placed under house arrest.

Mr. Fernando dos Santos Araújo was a peasant, human rights defender and landless rural worker. He was a survivor of the Pau D’Arco massacre, during which his partner was killed. He acted as a spokesperson for survivors of Pau D’Arco in their pursuit of justice and accountability. He was represented by Mr. Vargas.

On the night of 26 January 2021, Mr. dos Santos Araújo was shot dead at his home in Santa Lúcia.  Prior to his killing he had informed local allies and human rights organisations of a recent wave of death threats against him. However, the human rights defender chose not to report the threats to the authorities for fear of retaliation.

I expressed profound concern, along with the other experts, at the killing of Mr. dos Santos Araújo, which appeared to be in retaliation for his human rights work. It, along with the detention of Mr. Vargas, would demonstrate an environment of severe insecurity for defending human rights in Brazil.

Given the severity of the allegations, I issued a Press Release on this case prior to the expiry of the 60 day confidentiality period for this letter:

Read the letter in full –


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