Three defenders of workers rights murdered !

30/01/2004
Press release

The Observatory for the protection
of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International
Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against
Torture (OMCT) expresses its deepest concern about the assassination
of Erastótenes de Almeida Gonçalves, Nelson José da Silva and João
Batista Soares Lages, three lawyers of the Brazilian Ministry of
Labour, in Unaí, Minas Gerais (Brazil).

On 28 January, 2004, unknown individuals driving a Fiat Strada shot
Erastótenes de Almeida Gonçalves, Nelson José da Silva and João
Batista Soares Lages in the head while they were driving to the
property of a landowner in the State of Minas Gerais, to investigate
a case of slavery. Aílton Pereira de Oliveira, the driver, was found
severely wound and died later the same day at a hospital in Brasilia.

The Observatory has reasons to believe that the three lawyers were
murdered in connection with their work defending workers rights in
Brazil. These lawyers had allegedly been threatened as a consequence
of their work in the past. Slave labour is still common in the
State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, where most of the violence is
generated by conflicts over land. In 2003, 4,852 workers under
conditions of slavery were able to escape their condition thanks to
the work of the Ministry of Labour.

The Observatory urges the Brazilian authorities to comply with their
international obligations. In particular, the Observatory urges them
to :
- 1. Conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry about these
crimes, in order to identify the authors, bring them to justice and
pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of their crimes;
- 2. Adopt immediate measures to put an end to all acts of violence
against human rights defenders;
- 3.Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights
defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December
9, 1998, in particular its article 12.2 which states that "the State
shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the
competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association
with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or
de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary
action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the
rights referred to in the present Declaration ";
- 4. Conform with the international and regional human rights
instruments ratified by Brazil.

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