• Press Release

The Eldorado dos Carajás massacre: 20 years of impunity and violence in Brazil

April 15, 2016

Twenty years on from a brutal massacre of landless farm workers by Brazil’s military police, impunity persists for crimes committed against rural communities in the county -with 50 murders in 2015 making it the deadliest year in more than a decade, Amnesty International said today.

Since 19 landless farm workers were killed in the south-east of Pará state on 17 April 1996 – an incident which became known as the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre – more than 271 rural workers and leaders have been killed in Pará alone.

Members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) were marching to the city of Belém when police blocked their way. More than 150 officers, who had removed their identification badges from their uniforms and were armed with rifles loaded with live ammunition, violently repressed the protest.

Only two commanders of the operation - Colonel Mario Colares Pantoja, sentenced to 258 years, and Major Oliveira, sentenced to 158 years – have been convicted in relation to the massacre. They have been in prison since 2012. No police officers or political figures which may have incited the military police to commit the crime or otherwise consented the massacre have been held responsible.  

"It is unacceptable that impunity continues to be the rule for crimes committed against farm workers. Investigating and bringing to justice those who give and carry out orders, and guaranteeing the right to land, are fundamental conditions for justice to prevail in rural areas and for human rights to be effectively enforced in the country", said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil. 

The organization has documented and analysed the human rights violations committed in the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, monitoring the progress of the judicial proceedings and demanding justice in the trials of those suspected of criminal responsibility.

The autopsies revealed that 10 of the 19 MST members killed had been executed, some having been shot at point-blank range and others hacked to death with their own farm tools. 

The massacre also left 69 people wounded, many of whom have after-effects caused by bullets lodged in their bodies that still prevent them from engaging in agricultural work. Two of the injured died from their wounds, taking the death toll to 21.

"It has never been clarified why the police involved in the operation took their identification badges off their uniforms or how the documents that link the officers to the arms used to commit the crime went missing,” said José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, a lawyer representing the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of Marabá, Pará.   

“No one has been investigated for having removed the bodies from the scene of the crime without a proper examination of the area having been carried out. No reconstruction of the crime has been conducted.”

Rural violence and impunity

The Eldorado dos Carajás massacre is not an isolated incident. It has become a symbol of the recurring pattern of human rights violations and injustices committed against farmers, rural workers, Indigenous peoples and traditional communities such as quilombolas, fisherfolk and riverside dwellers, their lawyers and human rights defenders engaged in the struggle for the right to land and natural resources in Brazil.

In particular, Amnesty International Brazil has followed the case of Laísa Santos Sampaio. Laísa's sister and brother-in-law (Maria and José Claudio do Espirito Santo) were murdered in May 2011 in Marabá, Pará, for denouncing land grabbing and destruction of the forest. Since then, Laísa has been receiving death threats.

In 2015, the highest number of deaths from land conflicts in 12 years occurred in Brazil. The Pastoral Land Commission recorded 50 murders, 144 threats and 59 attempted murders in rural conflicts. Ninety per cent of these cases were concentrated in the states of Rondônia, Pará and Maranhão.

In Pará state alone, in the 40-year period from 1964 to 2014, 947 farm workers and leaders, religious leaders and lawyers were killed. The highest levels of violence are in the southern and south-eastern regions of the state, where the majority of killings of farm workers and leaders occur. 

Impunity enables these crimes to continue. Of the 40 municipalities in the south and south-east of Pará, 30 have a 100 per cent impunity rate in relation to the killing of farm workers over the past 43 years.[i]

"Cases of rural killings that go to trial are rare, but it is even rarer to see the people responsible be convicted and much rarer still for those convicted to actually serve their sentences. Impunity, the slowness of expropriations and disregard for the land demarcations provided for in the Federal Constitution encourage the violation of fundamental rights", said Roque.


The power of the images presented in a photo exhibition – organized in partnership with the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and Amnesty International Brazil, with photos by João Roberto Ripper, curated by Julia Mariano – is a contribution not only to memory, but also to the struggle for the right to land and an end to impunity. The photos can be found at amnesty.org or upon request