On the afternoon of the Martyrs Walk I stand in the square of St John the Baptist church. Hundreds of pilgrims are arriving by the hour and there is an atmosphere of festival in the air. This pilgrimage takes place once every five years.
Pilgrims are given a meal tickets which entitles us to a welcome plate of rice and beans, served from tables with the names of Martyrs of the last 30 years.
Only on 24 May 2011, two rain forest activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo were shot dead in a contract killing. For years, they had fought against the deforestation of the Amazon caused by logging and other businesses. A man believed to have witnessed their murder, Erenildo Silveira dos Santos, was killed four days later.
The killings occurred in the central-northern Brazilian state of Pará which contains some of the most heavily logged regions of the Brazilian rain forest. Pará state has long been a focal point for rural violence, but frontier areas where illegal loggers and ranchers operate in Maranhão, Mato Grosso and Rondônia states also have a history of rural conflict and violence. Lack of effective state presence in these areas, and a lack of political will to intervene, has meant that economic power groups have been able to use force with impunity against environmental and land activists.
In the same week as the killings in Pará state, peasant leader and environmental campaigner Adelino Ramos was shot dead in Rondônia state. One week later, on 6th June, hired gunmen fired shots in rural communities where five community leaders have been “marked down for death”.
Impunity remains a key obstacle to achieving protection for social and environmental activists in Brazil. According to
CAFOD´s partner the CPT, over 1,500 people have been killed in rural violence since 1985, but less than 100 people
have been convicted. In Pará state, 98% of rural killings in the last decade remain unresolved, with those responsible for the assassinations enjoying ongoing impunity.