10 years after Sister Dorothys death, the Amazon is still unsafe for forest defenders

by Daniel Brindis

February 12, 2015

(Photo above) Greenpeace unites with locals, holding hands. The ceremony is part of a symbolic act held one year after the assassination of Sister Dorothy Stang. Greenpeace activists and people in the local community erect 772 white crosses and 48 red. The white crosses represent the rural workers assassinated in land conflicts over the last 33 years in Para State. The red here represents the community leaders currently under death threat.02/11/2006 Greenpeace / Daniel Beltr

Today, February 12th, marks the ten year anniversary when Dorothy Stang, the American nun and environmental activist was shot and killed at age 73 in Para State in Brazil. According to her killer, Rayfran das Neves, when she noticed his approaching motorcycle, she opened the Bible she carried under her arm and began to pray.

Dorothy served 30 years in the municipality of Anapu in Para State, supporting extravists, forest communities that rely on natural forests for subsistence, whose lands were under attack by illegal loggers and land grabbing ranchers. The iconic late photo (below) of Sister Dorothy features her in a t-shirt reading A morte da floresta o fim de nossa vidathe death of the forests is the end of our life. A year before her murder she had traveled to Brasilia to bring the threats on her life to the attention of federal Brazilian authorities.

This anniversary also marks 10 years of impunity for those who ordered the crime. After repeated trials and a controversially canceled guilty verdict of one of the perpetrators, the architects of the murder, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura and Regivaldo Pereira Galvo, remain at large. Unfortunately this case is not exceptional and in fact typical of the violence and impunity that plague rural communities in the Amazon.

According to data from the NGO Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) between 2005 and 2014 325 people were victims of killings motivated by land disputes. More than half of these cases, 67.3%, occurred in the Amazon Region. The same study found that of 768 murders in the field in Brazilian Amazon, only 19 those responsible have received any form of punishment. NGO Global Witness released a report last year that calculated that worldwide there was a spike in murders in recent years, yielding an average of two murders of environmental activists per week in the last four years. Moreover, the same study found that Brazil represented almost half of all 908 murders of environmentalists globally between 2002 and 2013.

Violence in the field is closely related to the illegal deforestation and logging in the Amazon. In Para state, where Dorothy was killed, almost 80 percent of tree felling is estimated to be illegal. This problem hasnt changed, in large part because of a climate of intimidation and impunity.

Sister Dorothy


Daniel Brindis

By Daniel Brindis

Daniel is the Forests Campaign Director, based in San Francisco. His portfolio includes the Amazon, the Canadian Boreal, and environmental certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council. He splits his time between the San Francisco and Manaus offices.

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