Human Rights Violations Against Representatives of Women's Organizations in Brazil

March 28th, 2006 —On March 8th, International Women's Day, a group of more than 1,200 women from the Via Campesina took action to denounce the environmental and social injustice committed by corporations and a global agrarian policy that puts the needs of the market ahead of the needs of people. These corporations use vast tracts of land in Brazil for plantations of eucalyptus and pine to produce paper and lumber for export. The Movement of Women Peasants in Brazil points out that this monoculture creates "green deserts" that actually increase poverty instead of reducing it. As the members of the women's movement say, "We want land to grow food. We don't eat eucalyptus."

To make their point, the women occupied a farm belonging to ARACRUZ S.A., a Norwegian-owned company, and destroyed thousands of eucalyptus seedlings. The action, which took place during the International Conference of Agrarian Reform in Porto Alegre, was a direct indictment of Brazil's national agrarian policies, pointing out the government's huge investments in agri-businesses and the negative social and environmental impacts of that policy. For example, while Aracruz, a single corporation, controls thousands of acres of land, more than 800,000 peasants in Brazil are landless.

Naturally, conducting a police investigation to assess the damages, the motives and the responsible group is the job of the law enforcement agencies and government officers according to the rule of law. However, it seems that due to the group's underlying critique of a political structure that favors wealth concentration and landlessness, the official response has escalated to the level of abuse.

According to an announcement from the Via Campesina, "The sheriff Rudimar de Freitas Rosales of Camaquã followed by six officers has arbitrarily abused members of the Association of Female Rural Workers of Passo Fundo.The sheriff and his officers arrived around 2 p.m., destroyed the gate, entered the office of the association with guns drawn and detained seven women and a child in the kitchen where they were forcibly questioned. Since the officers did not identify themselves or present a warrant, the women did not know what the interrogation was all about. It was only later that they showed a warrant from Justice Sebastião Francisco da Rosa Marinho.

"The women received permission to contact a lawyer only an hour and 20 minutes after the entering of the Association by the officers, during which time the officers searched all working spaces of the Association, leaving a huge mess. They took hard and floppy discs from the Association's computers, bus tickets, money, check books, documents of the Women's Association, projects, financial reports, notebooks and other materials, all without making any inventory of the objects that were taken. The police also searched the headquarters of the National Association of Women Peasants without a warrant. In the National Association, the officers harassed an employee and another woman and they broke out drawers, took money, bus tickets, computer hard drives, floppy discs and CDs. All of this material was taken without a warrant."

Unfortunately, this abuse of authority by the police in Passo Fundo is just one more demonstration of a long-standing pattern of human rights violations against men and women who are organizing to demand that they be given the food, water and land that they are guaranteed under various international human rights conventions. It's also another demonstration of the ongoing attempt to criminalize the work of social movements. In solidarity with the women of Via Campesina, and with social movements everywhere, Grassroots International condemns these abuses and requests a clarification by the Brazilian government about the case.

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