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Brazil: Killing of land rights defender must be duly investigated to stop impunity, says UN expert

22 February 2021


GENEVA (22 February 2021) – The murder of land rights defender Fernando dos Santos Araújo, a key witness and survivor of the 2017 massacre of rural workers in Brazil’s Amazonia region, should be duly investigated to bring the perpetrators to justice, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

Fernando dos Santos Araújo, who had testified in the criminal probe into the police killings of 10 workers occupying land in Pau D'Arco, was found shot dead in his home in Pará state on 26 January 2021. He had told local human rights organisations of recent death threats against him.

“The fact that another human rights defender has been killed in the state of Pará, even after the Pau D´Arco massacre in May 2017, shows a concerning pattern of impunity,” Lawlor said.

Human rights lawyer José Vargas Sobrinho Junior, who represented dos Santos Araújo, has been threatened over his efforts to ensure accountability for the killings in Pau D'Arco. Vargas Sobrinho has also faced a smear campaign by local media outlets and messaging groups since the start of the year.

“Despite constant threats and intimidation by local actors, both Mr. dos Santos Araújo and Mr. Vargas Sobrinho continued to bravely speak out on behalf of the survivors and to demand justice for the victims of the massacre,” Lawlor said.

Although there had been some progress in the Pau D’Arco investigation, many questions remain unanswered. “The investigation into those responsible for the crime has not been completed and officers allegedly involved in the crime have been reinstated to their functions and remain active,” Lawlor said.

The expert said she was also concerned about the lack of protection for Vargas and other victims and witnesses of the massacre, as well as the absence of reparation and support for the families.

“To duly investigate and protect human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of others should be a priority for the Government. If such a tragic murder remains in impunity, it would set a worrying precedent to the defence of human rights in the region, and in the country overall.”

The expert is in contact with the authorities on this matter.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by Mr. David R. BoydSpecial Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment.


Ms. Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, Country Page:Brazil 

For more information and media requests please contact Adriana Zarraluqui (+41 22 917 9965 /[email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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