A deadly attack on an indigenous community in southern Brazil highlights the authorities’ failure to protect indigenous peoples amid ongoing land conflicts, Amnesty International said today.
Some 40 gunmen arrived at a Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous encampment in southern Mato Grosso do Sul state, near the border with Paraguay, early on 18 November and shot their leader (cacique) Nísio Gomes before dragging him away. Gomes’ body and three indigenous children abducted during the attack have not been seen since.
This is the latest in a series of attacks in recent years against Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous communities in the state who live in precarious conditions as they await government action on an effort to demarcate their ancestral territory.
“The Brazilian authorities’ failure to resolve outstanding land claims is putting indigenous communities like the Guarani-Kaiowá at extreme risk of violence and social deprivation,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy Americas Programme Director.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident – for years, gunmen in the mid-west of Brazil have launched violent attacks with impunity against indigenous communities who attempt to occupy their ancestral lands.”
Landowners and ranchers in Mato Grosso do Sul frequently use hired gunmen and private security companies to intimidate indigenous communities fighting for their constitutional rights to their ancestral lands.
In recent weeks, gunmen repeatedly threatened the Guaiviry encampment’s residents and two days before the attack they reportedly threatened to take Nísio Gomes’ life.
According to eyewitnesses, on 18 November the gunmen seized Gomes at the Guaiviry encampment and shot him repeatedly before dragging his body along the ground and dumping it in one of their trucks. Some of the men beat Gomes’ grandson when he tried to intervene, and three other children were abducted from the encampment – a 12-year-old boy and two girls, aged five and 12.
Federal police and prosecutors, as well as the national indigenous agency FUNAI, are investigating the attack.
Around 60 Guarani-Kaiowá people settled at the Guaiviry site on 1 November, on land which is in the process of being officially identified as ancestral territory, but which is now being used by local farmers and ranchers. The indigenous community had previously been living in extremely precarious conditions alongside a local highway, after being forcibly evicted from the same lands.
Some 60,000 Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous people across Brazil’s southern Mato Grosso do Sul state live in poverty in densely populated reserves as they await the demarcation of ancestral indigenous territory, mandated in the 1988 Constitution.
Frustrated by the slow progress of land demarcation, many Guarani-Kaiowá have begun reoccupying their ancestral lands in recent decades, leading to numerous forcible evictions and a rise in threats and attacks against them.
Despite the grave ongoing risks to their safety, the Guarani-Kaiowá community at Guaiviry have said they have no intention of leaving the encampment.
“The federal authorities must ensure the safety of the Guaiviry community and urgently address their land claims,” said Guadalupe Marengo.
“In the meantime, we urge the authorities to do all they can to find Nísio Gomes’ body as well as the three abducted children, and bring their attackers to justice.”