Brazil’s top court ordered a retrial of a rancher convicted of masterminding the murder of U.S. nun and environmentalist Dorothy Stang.
"The right to a defense is a value that must prevail, because it is fundamental for the development of a fair trial," Supreme Court justice Ricardo Lewandowsky said regarding the annulment of a 30-year prison sentence against Vitalmiro Vastos de Moura.
The 73-year-old Stang was gunned down in February 2005 as she was returning home from a community meeting in the state of Pará.
In 2007 de Moura was convicted of planning the murder of Stang, a tireless campaigner for the preservation of the Amazon and for the rights of poor landowners. One year later, a jury overturned de Moura’s conviction much to the disappointment of then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and human rights groups. In April 2010, however, de Moura was again convicted and sentenced to thirty years behind bars after several of his co-conspirators testified against him.
De Moura will remain in prison awaiting a third murder trial, which could commence as soon as the end of May. In the meantime, land rights activists in Brazil decried the Supreme Court’s ruling:
The Pastoral Commission on Land, a group linked to the Catholic Church, called the Supreme Court ruling "absurd."
"Unfortunately, court decisions like these only serve to increase the violence in rural areas and to maintain impunity, principally for those who order the murders of peasants," Jose Batista Alfonso, a lawyer for the commission, was quoted as saying by the G1 news website.
Moura's lawyer, Arnaldo Lopes, who took over the case from another lawyer, told G1 he had not had time "to study the 26 volumes (in the case), but I now know the dossier and in the next trial my client will be absolved."Stang has not been the only victim of the battle over land in Pará that pits wealthy cattle ranchers against poor settlers of unused terrain. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife were murdered in May 2011 after he denounced multiple death threats against him.
“Here, land is power,” said Maria Raimunda César, a local member of the MST land rights group. “The conflict is never-ending. In Pará, people are gunned down like animals. A side of beef for export is worth more than a human life. There is tremendous injustice, and growing oppression and violence.”
The land rights issue, such as the debate over the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, has pitted current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff against indigenous groups and environmental activists. Yet she may be making a major shift in policy after it was reported on Tuesday that she ordered officials to halt seizing farmland to create indigenous reservations.
Video Source– YouTube via user sisterdorothy (Exceprt from the 2008 documentary “They Killed Sister Dorothy”)
Online Sources – Yahoo! News; The Guardian; IPS; GlobalPost; France 24; BBC News; The Latin Amercanist