Center for International Forestry Research: Killings over forest and land issues must end

Dorothy Stang, a 74 year-old missionary and supporter of peasant land rights, was shot to death in the State of Pará in the Amazon region on February 13th. According to media reports, the killing took place a few days after she accused loggers and ranchers of death-threats against rural workers. Within two or three days of the killing, three other people in the State of Pará were murdered in the area of Anapú, a rural village approximately 850 Km from Belém, Pará’s capital city.

The Brazilian government has compared Mrs. Stang’s murder with the infamous 1988 killing in Acre of rubber tapper, union leader and environmental activist, Chico Mendes. Sister Dorothy, as Mrs. Stang was known in the region, was very active supporting poor peasants in the region and an outspoken critic of land clearance and land grabbing in the Amazon. Sister Dorothy, from North America, had lived in Brazil since the 1960s and recently took out Brazilian citizenship.

Sister Dorothy’s was widely admired for her efforts in conducting a peaceful struggle for the rights of poor rural workers and standing-up for the rational use of forest resources.

Her struggle for the development of a new model of settlement focused on implementing fair and sustainable forest management practices. She was tireless in her efforts to solve environmental problems and promote land use that encouraged the peasants to remain on their properties and have a say in how these properties were managed.

CIFOR´s Latin America Regional Office, as an international forest research institution committed to improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, deplores these acts of violence. associated with land conflicts in the Amazon.

The murder of Sister Dorothy and union member, Daniel Soares da Costa appear to have been premeditated acts committed in response to disputes over land ownership and land use in the Amazon.

CIFOR acknowledges that finding answers to land use and ownership issues is a complex and difficult task. But violence makes the finding solutions even more difficult. CIFOR hopes that a peaceful approach to resolving these issue can be adopted by all parties concerned, including ranchers, loggers, farmers, peasants, NGOs, the military and the state and central governments.

Conflict can only be resolved through negotiations and discussions that encourage the participation of all stakeholders concerned, regardless of their differences in beliefs, cultural background, opinions and interests. Fundamental to this is a respect for basic human rights.

CIFOR commends the Brazilian Government for its swift response in sending 2,000 troops to restore security and safety the region. We trust the government and the police will act quickly in investigating these crimes and bringing the guilty parties to justice. If these killings go unresolved, it will encourage others to believe they can act with impunity, thus promoting further conflict and destabilizing justice, peace and good governance in Pará and other parts of the Amazon.

CIFOR also commends the Government’s decision to establish 5 million hectares of conservation areas across Brazil, including 3.7 million hectares in Pará. The Government’s decision to look at the land tenure problems along the Transamazon highway is also an important step towards preventing more conflict over forest and land resources.

For further information, please contact:

Coordenador Regional
CIFOR – Centro Internacional para Pesquisa Florestal
Escritório Regional para América Latina
Trav. Dr. Enéas Pinheiro s/n
66.095-780 Belém – Pará – Brasil
Fone/Fax: ++55 91 2760041 Ramal 34

Communications Specialist
Situ Gede, Sindang Barang
Bogor Barat 16680.
Tel: 0251-622-622
Fax: 0251-622100