Sister Dorothy: unfinished business

Feature story - February 13, 2006
One year since the violent death of Sister Dorothy at the hands of hired gunmen in the Amazon, little has changed for the rural workers and activists trying to protect the rainforest from ranchers, landgrabbers, and loggers.

At a memorial in the remote rural area in the Amazon where Sister Dorothy lived and worked, Greenpeace activists, community people, and other environmental and human rights advocates planted white crosses for each rural worker who has been assassinated in land conflicts over the last 33 years in the Amazon state of Pará alone.  They erected  red crosses for every community leader currently under a death threat in the state.

By the end of their efforts, there were 772 white and 48 red crosses at the site.

Pará state in the Amazon is one of the most violent areas in the world, where disputes are routinely settled with weapons. At 72 years old and more than 30 years of activism, Sister Dorothy Stang was no stranger to the dangers of her work, and she had been threatened many times. On the morning of February 12th last year, she was shot six times by Rayfran das Neves and his accomplice, Clodoaldo Batista.

The two gunmen have since received sentences of 27 and 17 years of prison, respectively, for her murder. The two landowners accused of ordering the murder have managed to postpone their trials through judicial appeals.

At the time of her death, Sister Dorothy was working to create sustainable development projects, which encourage Amazon communities to use the land in an environmentally-friendly way by combining food production and sustainable use of forest resources, without destroying the forest.

"The creation and implementation of protected areas are important to stop land-grabbing, deforestation, and the violence related to illegal land occupation and environmental destruction in the Amazon," said André Muggiati, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, in Anapu.

The Brazilian Government made many promises about the implementation of the two Social Development Projects that Sister Dorothy was working to create at the time of her murder.

Her work remains unfinished, and the violence continues. In the year since her death, at least 18 rural workers have been murdered in the state.

In a region marred by land-grabbing, human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and land conflicts, Sister Dorothy always fought for the protection of the Amazon. It is now time for the Brazilian Government to make good on their promises and help Sister Dorothy finish her work.