Being included in Brazil’s Human Rights Defenders Protection Program (HRDPP) didn’t prevent Maria Bernadete Pacífico from being murdered last Thursday (17) in her terreiro (the place where Candomblé religious rituals take place) in the city of Simões Filho, Bahia, in front of her three grandchildren.
The program, which should guarantee Bernadete protection in her daily life, had failures, and the federal government did not provide the quilombola leader with the robust assistance to safeguard her life.
Installed in 2019, the image surveillance system, demanded by Bernadete’s attorneys since 2017, had 7 cameras. Of all of them, 4 were broken. In July of this year, in a meeting with one of Brazil’s Supreme Court ministers, Rosa Weber, the quilombola leadership talked about the surveillance system.
“Today, I live like this. I cannot get out. I have been searched, my house is full of cameras. I feel bad, but that’s how it is”, Bernadete explained to Weber. On the occasion, she said to the minister that she had received death threats.
According to reports from the quilombolas, relatives and friends of Bernadete, the threats were made by illegal loggers in the region of Simões Filhos, inside the quilombo (how the remaining quilombola areas are called). Although not yet acknowledged by the government, it is an Environmental Protection Area.
Another failure of the program, highlighted by Bernadete’s acquaintances, was the Police presence. Only one police car used to go to the association’s headquarter led by Bernadete, during the morning and afternoon. They checked the place, saw that everything was fine, and then left the area. “What kind of protection is this?”, asked David Menezes, the family’s lawyer, in an interview with the Brazilian news website G1.
In an interview with Brasil de Fato, Bernadete’s son Jurandir Pacífico stated that the images recorded by the camera placed inside the terreiro were given to the Police. The investigation is yet to identify the murderers.
“I take responsibility”
Last Friday (18), Brazil’s minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, Silvio Almeida, lamented the death of Bernadete Pacífico. “We do not want martyrs. We want human rights defenders to cross this path towards a fair society alive and together with us. The duty of the state now, in a left-wing government, is to improve mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders”, said the minister at a dinner organized by the Landless Workers Movement (MST in Portuguese) on Friday (18).
“It’s the state’s responsibility. I talking about the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship. I take responsibility on behalf of the Brazilian state. We cannot accept such an absurdity that happened to Bernadete. We cannot accept these failures in the Brazilian state, and I am saying this as a minister.”
The minister also stated that there are a set of structural “problems” in Brazil that prevent the full protection of human rights defenders. In this sense, he said that the Brazilian people must organize to change society.
“We live in a country that despises human rights defenders. That is why there is a series of problems even when the state wants to protect human rights. The population that is dying did not depend only on goodwill. If the people are not organized, we won’t get anything. The role of a popular government, a left-wing government, is to support people’s organization. Society won’t change without a crucial connection with the people,” he said.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes and Vivian Virissimo