This post is written by the Centre for Justice and International Law, a Freedom Fund partner.
On June 6th and 7th of this year, three judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited Brasilia to hold an additional hearing in the case Fazenda Brasil Verde vs. Brazil. This case is the first time the Court has heard violations focusing on slave labor in the Americas. Hundreds of men and boys were trafficked from their home communities in northeastern Brazil to the Fazenda Brasil Verde, a large agricultural complex located in the state of Pará, beginning in the late 1980s through the early 2000s. Approximately 340 men were removed from the Brasil Verde ranch during periodic government inspections during this time period, but no efforts were undertaken to halt the practice, or investigate or punish the perpetrators.
The case was brought before the Inter-American Court by the anti-slavery campaign of the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a human rights NGO. This is the second time these organizations have filed strategic litigation regarding slave labor in Brazil before a regional human rights body. In 1999, the CPT and CEJIL achieved a decision from the Inter-American Commission in the Jose Pereira case.
While a first hearing was held in Costa Rica in February, the Court then sought the opportunity to hear testimony directly from a group of victims, in consideration of the collective and widespread nature of the violations. This hearing in Brasilia, in addition to providing a platform for the victims to testify about the violations, also brought renewed focus on the problem of slave labor in Brazil at a key moment when government attention is on the wane. Antonio Francisco da Silva, Marcos Antônio Lima, Francisco das Chagas Bastos Sousa, Francisco Fabiano Leandro, and Rogerio Felix Silva testified about the inhuman conditions they suffered at the ranch in 2000 in the hope of receiving justice and reparation. Five Brazilian government officials also provided testimony about government efforts to combat slave labor.
Although the government made efforts to address slave labor during the 2000s, largely in response to key recommendations from the Inter-American Commission in the Jose Pereira case, in recent years this attention has faltered. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights now has a historic opportunity to create real impact in Brazil, and establish strong regional standards for the Americas that will reverberate worldwide.
Representatives from CEJIL (Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director; Beatriz Affonso, Program Director for Brazil; and Helena Rocha, consultant), and the CPT (Xavier Plassat; Joana Lúcia Feitosa) participated in the hearing. CEJIL and CPT’s participation was made possible in part by the Freedom Fund.
Judges Eduardo Ferrer MacGregor Poisot, Patricio Pazmiño Freire, and Eugenio Raul Zaffaroni attended in representation of the Inter-American Court. They were accompanied by Court Secretary Pablo Saavedra and attorney Carlos Eduardo Abdo Gaio.