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Brazil’s Pankararu finally win land rights, but fight isn’t over

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Brazil’s Pankararu finally win land rights, but fight isn’t over

Jatoba, Brazil – Sarapo Pankararu, 36, sits in front of his house on the indigenous reserve in Brazil‘s semi-arid Sertao region, where, after a bitter 25-year struggle, his Pankararu people have finally won their land rights.

But intitial relief has given way to tension and unease as a long-running land conflict in the region flares up again. 

“We have had cameras installed on our houses because of the threats,” Sarapo tells Al Jazeera.

The indigenous leader says the threats – physical, verbal and online – are from the settler farmers who live on the edge of the reserve and are set to be evicted this month. He and nine other Pankararu leaders are part of a state government human rights protection programme.

The settlers’ eviction was first ordered in 1993 and a final eviction was ordered in June this year. Under the order, about 300 settler families must leave the 8100-hectare reserve in Pernambuco state where 6,500 Pankararu tribespeople live and was demarcated by the Brazilian government in 1987.

In the Sertao, long-running land disputes between indigenous people, settlers and landowners are common and often deadly. Experts blame slow-moving courts, impunity and the state’s incapacity or indifference to resolve conflicts in this poverty-stricken region.

“The biggest provoker of land conflict is the Brazilian state, with its failed land policy,” says Saulo Ferreira Feitosa, a professor and indigenous specialist at the Federal University of Pernambuco.

In the early 20th century, indigenous groups began to demand their ancestral lands back [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]

During Brazil’s colonisation in the northeast, indigenous people were boxed into villages by the Portuguese crown. In the 19th century, these lands were given to farmers, where indigenous people were forced to work. Then, in the early 20th century, they began to organise and demand their ancestral lands back.

In February of this year, Brazil was convicted at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for its 16-year fumble to demarcate the Xucuru indigenous land, also in Pernambuco, during which several were killed, including tribal leader Francisco de Assis Araujo.

Today, in Pernambuco, where 12 indigenous groups live, only one has its land fully demarcated while hundreds of other territories across the country remain in limbo with demarcations all but frozen in recent years.

Under Brazil’s 1988 post-military dictatorship constitution, indigenous people have the exclusive right to their traditionally occupied lands. Demarcation of indigenous territories throughout Brazil was supposed to be completed by 1993.

Last year was one of Brazil’s deadliest years on record for land conflict killings, according to local watchdog Comissao Pastoral da Terra, with a disproportionate number of indigenous people attacked or murdered. 

Land conflict heats up again

The Pankararu reserve is a 10-hour drive from Pernambuco state capital Recife, through Brazil’s impoverished dry backlands, passing mud houses, failed and abandoned water irrigation projects, and vast plantations commanded by powerful local landowners. 

Sarapo and nine other Pankararu leaders are part of a state government human rights protection programme [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]

The reserve sits behind a mountain range by the great Sao Francisco River where centuries ago Sarapo Pankararu says his ancestors roamed the river’s banks, fishing and hunting. Today, this stretch of the river is mostly riverside properties and tilapia fish farms.

Sarapo was just a boy when Pankararu leader Quiteria Binga was forced to flee her reserve after an attempt on her life by hired gunman believed contracted by the settlers. As with most murders and death threats to life in the Sertao, there wasn’t a conviction.

It was 1993, the first time the settlers were told they had to leave. Civil society groups intervened and the indigenous reached an uneasy truce with the settlers: they could stay until the government provided them with land and compensation.

“It was like a cold war,” says Tiago Da Silva Oliveira, 34, a Pankararu leader and indigenous school teacher. But with the looming eviction, the conflict has begun to heat up again.

Pankararu leaders say the human rights protection programme installed the security cameras because a gunshot was fired at a house last year. Al Jazeera confirmed with the public prosecutor’s office that an official complaint about the gunfire had been filed and that federal police were called to the scene. 

“It’s a very tense situation,” says Maria Beatriz Ribeiro Goncalves, a prosecutor who visited the reserve. “It’s clear that there are political interests involved, referring to the leaders of the settlers.”

Settlers say they’ve been cheated 

While some have already left, 302 settler families remain. They claim they’ve been cheated and that compensation cash offered for their homes and land is inadequate.

“Our fight is for all 302 families to be justly compensated and resettled here in the municipality of Jatoba,” says Eraldo Jose de Souza, 63, the group’s leader and a former city councilman for Jatoba. Souza denies the accusations by Pankararu leaders that he incited violence against them.

“This is fiction,” he tells Al Jazeera. 

Hilda Isabel da Silva, 64, will receive 88,000 Brazilian real (about $21,100) for her home where she lives with her sons Jailson and Nildo and three other family members and keeps livestock and crops. She says the money is not enough for her to buy another home in Jatoba where a three-bedroom house with no land goes for more than 100,000 Brazilian real (about $24,000). 

“We are children of this land and we want to stay here,” she tells Al Jazeera.

Hilda Isabel da Silva will receive 88,000 Brazilian real (about $21,100) for her home where she lives with her sons Jailson and Nildo [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]

Fernanda Antonia Bezerra, 35, who is blind, will not receive any compensation because her home was built after an agreed 1994 timeframe. Altogether, 153 families will not receive any compensation.

Brazil’s National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) is charged with providing compensation and told Al Jazeera in an email that the payments were “scientifically elaborated by official agencies and priced in the region where it is located”. 

Regarding the settlers who will not receive compensation, the agency said: Homes “existing before the timeframe are considered as having been installed in a time of good faith,” and “only such improvements are entitled to compensation.” Last year, Funai’s budget was cut by 44 percent.

The settlers also say the land where they will be resettled is not suitable for family agriculture. A report by Brazil’s state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, produced at their request, noted the land was “considered unfit for crops”.

The state needs to act, because we need our land and [the settlers] need somewhere to go

Sarapo Pankararu, indigenous Pankararu leader

Felipe Mota Pimentel de Oliveira, a Pernambuco judge who ruled on the settlers’ eviction in March, tells Al Jazeera that he has sympathy for all parties, “but above all, we must uphold the law.”

The settlers appealed, but judge Pimentel’s decision was upheld. In late June, a 90-day limit for the eviction was established. Failure to comply means police will evict the settlers.

In the meantime, Sarapo and other Pankararu leaders continue to live in unease.

“The state needs to act, because we need our land and [the settlers] need somewhere to go,” he says.

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Azerbaijan

Laza, the land of waterfalls – Photo Gallery

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Originally published by Caucasian Knot

The Azerbaijani village of Laza, about 200 km from the capital, Baku, is situated on a high-altitude plateau, Shah Yaylag. At the end of March when the snow starts to melt, tourists flock to Laza to see the waterfalls for which the area is famous. The locals, who are mostly ethnic Lezgins, earn a living by renting out cottages to tourists and offering visitors transportation in all-terrain vehicles in the winter.

Azeri Times presents this photo essay from Laza by Aziz Karimov, republished from Caucasian Knot.

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Azerbaijan

Opposition activist sentenced to 6 years in Azerbaijan

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On 18 September, the Baku Court for Serious Crimes sentenced a member of the youth committee of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFAP), Orkhan Bakhishli, to six years in prison.

Bakhishli was detained by men in plain clothes in downtown Baku on the evening of 7 May. On 10 May, the Yasamal District Court in Baku charged the youth activist with drug possession and ordered his detention for four months.

The PFAP has claimed that the charges against Bakhishli are trumped up and politically motivated. Several days before his arrest, on 3 May at a World Press Freedom Day event at the grave of journalist Elmar Huseynov, who was shot and killed in 2005, Bakhishli accused the Azerbaijani government of Huseynov’s murder.

Human rights activists consider Bakhishli a political prisoner. Previously, he served 30 days of administrative detention after being arrested ahead of a 31 March opposition rally.

In recent years, activists Ahsan Nuruzadeh, Murad Adilov, Bayram Mammadov, Giyas Ibrahimov, Elgiz Gahramanov, blogger Rashad Ramazanov and others have also been jailed on charges of drug possession.

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Azerbaijan a year after the LGBT raids: has anything changed in Europe’s most homophobic country?

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Azerbaijani society has never been tolerant toward sexual minorities, but no one expected the cruel and large-scale violence that occurred last year. At least a hundred people were humiliated, beaten and raped. People who were suspected of being gay were blackmailed and warned not to walk in the central streets of Baku. Meydan TV investigated the possible reasons for the police violence immediately after it happened last year and we now return to this topic to find out what has changed in Azerbaijan over the past year.

I felt like I had done something terrible

“I was absolutely desperate. I was leading a repulsive life: I drank a lot, I used drugs,” Ali recalls September 2017 (all names have been changed). He says that the “repulsive” life he led seemed to help him forget what he had experienced for a while: like many other gay Azeris, Ali was detained in a surprise raid in downtown Baku. He spent several days at a police station. It still is not easy for him to talk about what he experienced – in response to every questions he says that many people, for example, transgender people, had an even harder time than he did. “Not only did they call them the filthiest words and beat them, they also shaved their heads, which was the most humiliating thing for them,” Ali says.

Ali had never advertised his sexuality but it became obvious for people around him after police detained him. “I felt like I had done something terrible and that I was persecuted for it. My landlord kicked me out of the apartment I was renting, and my friends and loved ones turned away from me,” Ali recalls.

Ali gradually did manage to return to normal life – there were kind people who helped him while he was looking for a job. Unlike Ali, another gay man who was detained, Murad, had a certain amount of money which helped him flee the country. Murad left immediately after he was released from the police station and now lives in Turkey: “I wanted to move to Norway, but I was denied a visa.”

Murad has not been successful in finding a job and it seems he will have to go back home soon. “Of course I’m afraid, of course I don’t want to go back. I’d stay here if I could. At least there’s an LGBT community in Turkey, and they help each other,” Murad says.

 

Four brave lawyers

According to official statistics, police detained 83 people during the LGBT raids in Baku in September 2017.

“Thirty-three people filed lawsuits for illegal arrest and cruel treatment after they were released,” said Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a representative of the human rights organization Minority Azerbaijan and a member of the local LGBT alliance Nefes (Breath). Gulnara says that apart from physical and moral damages, those detained also incurred material damages:

“They were jailed for different terms, some for 10 or 15 days and some for 20 or 30 days. Many lost their jobs because their employers refused to take them back after their long absence,” Gulnara Mehdiyeva says.

Four lawyers agreed to defend the rights of the LGBT people affected. One of them, Samad Rahimli, says that judges rejected all the complaints. The same 33 people sent complaints to prosecution agencies, but prosecution agencies did not find any criminal wrongdoing.

Azerbaijani rights activist Kamala Aghazadeh believes that lawsuits will not produce results while the country has no law defending LGBT people from discrimination. “Society absolutely needs a law that would guarantee the protection of LGBT rights,” she said. Perhaps, the adoption of such a law would remove Azerbaijan from the list of the most homophobic European countries which Azerbaijan has led for four consecutive years now.

A month after the raids, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks sent a letter to Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister in which he called for “thorough investigations into serious allegations of human rights violations of LGBT persons recently arrested and detained in Baku”.
No reaction followed from the Azerbaijani government.

 

Four suicides and five murders

Samad Ismayilov, the director of Minority Azerbaijan magazine, said that four LGBT people committed suicide in Azerbaijan in 2017. Ismayilov said that specialized organizations recorded five murders which presumably were anti-LGBT hate crimes over the year. He said those were average annual figures.

“However, these are only cases that we have managed to learn about. In reality, there are many more crimes of this kind,” he said. According to Ismayilov, activists were not able to find out even an approximate number of members of the LGBT community in Azerbaijan because most people hid their sexual orientation.

Samad said no raids or large-scale assaults on gays had been recorded in Azerbaijan in 2018, but several trans people were at the police station the other day. “They were summoned to the police, asked several questions and released. However, we do not understand the reason for this interest, nor did we understand it last year,” Samad said.


Produced with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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