Laísa Sampaio, an environmental activist supported by CAFOD, has been awarded the Human Rights Dorothy Stang award. It is the highest award given by the Brazilian government to individuals or organizations who work tirelessly in defense of justice and human rights.
Laísa is a high-profile critic of illegal logging and charcoal burning in her home state of Pará, one of the most violent regions in Brazil. Her sister Maria and brother-in-law José Cláudio were killed in 2011 for campaigning against illegal logging in the Amazon.
Since then, only Laísa remains with her family, defending her land and taking on the cause of her sister and brother-in-law. As a result, she too faces death threats, and has been living every day in fear of her life.
In August 2011, the trunk of a coconut tree was placed across a road near Laísa’s house – an act recognized in the region as a death threat. Soon after, her house was broken into and her dog was shot. Laísa says that her sister and brother-in-law experienced exactly the same before they were killed, but this hasn’t stopped Laísa fight for justice for some of Brazil’s poorest and marginalized communities.
Speaking after receiving news of her award, Laísa said: “I believe that each individual barrier that we overcome is a reason for being and feeling proud. I realized that I spent last year running for fear of death. But today I am running in pursuit of life. Even if there is danger, we need to believe that we are going to succeed in the end.”
Laísa is supported by CAFOD’s partner, the Pastoral Land Commission in Marabá, Northern Brazil. According to the Commission, over 900 people have been killed in land conflicts in the Brazilian Amazon since the mid-1980s. However, fewer than 30 cases have been brought to trial, and only a handful of perpetrators have ever been convicted and imprisoned.
Clare Dixon, Head of CAFOD’s Latin America team, said: “This is a much deserved award and we are very proud to support the work of Laísa Sampaio and the landless movement in Brazil. Her tireless pursuit to protect the environment and achieve justice for the murder of her sister and brother-in-law at great risk to her own life and that of her family, has meant that the voices of the most marginalized landless communities have been amplified around the world.”