December 1-4, 2008
The Philippines-based International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) sent a team of investigators on a fact-finding mission (FFM) to Rondonia State in Brazil from December 1st to 4th 2008 to verify reports of ongoing human rights violations against peasant land reform activists and their lawyers and to investigate reports of further violations within prisons. Lawyers from Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Turkey made up the FFM. Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) supported the FFM by offering to provide legal research but did not send a representative.
The Brazilian state of Rondonia is a militarized region in western Amazonia where peasants and poor farmers advocating for agrarian reform are targeted with a variety of human rights violations including imprisonment and mal treatment while in prison. Militarization and targeting of peasant activists, are two of the factors that have led to Rondonia state having one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world: 30,000 per 100,000 in 2008. In 2005 Hina Jilani, then UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, visited Brazil to investigate reports of human rights violations. Mrs. Jilani confirmed ongoing human rights violations against peasant activists and their legal representatives in her report to the UN Commission on Human Rights and made remedial recommendations to the government of Brazil, which have yet to be implemented.
The FFM team of lawyers met with peasant activists, lawyers, judges and prisoners and with officials from the police, prison and other government departments. Team members visited the Ariquemes detention centre and the Urso Banco prison and participated in an education forum with academics and students.
The preliminary FFM report was released to the government of Brazil in December 2008: the final report Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission in Brazil, December 1st to 4th, 2008 was released in August 2009. The report confirms human rights violations against peasant activists and their legal representatives and deplorable conditions in Urso Banco prison. The report concludes that lack of access by peasants to land use is a major source of social inequality, unemployment and poverty in Rondonia and recommends land reform and an adequate social aid programme are necessary to improving justice.
As a result of the report, José Gonçalves—one of the cases investigated by the FFM team– was released from prison 30 January 2009 and some of the prison conditions reported on have improved.