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Defending Human Rights

Human rights organizations, neighborhood and community associations, religious groups and unions documented and denounced violations of human rights without formal legal impediment throughout the year. Nonetheless, several who demonstrated the courage to accuse officials responsible for abuses faced intimidation, including meritless law suits, harassment, threats, and even attempted murder. On September 5, a jeep carrying several members of the CPT in the northeastern state of Paraíba was struck by 12-gauge shotgun fire. Father João Maria Cauchí, the CPT's state coordinator, and sister Maria Ferreira da Costa were both injured but survived the attempt on their lives.

On two consecutive days in September, representatives of Amnesty International and a gay pride organization, both in São Paulo, received packages containing bombs through the ordinary mail. Police deactivated the bombs without injury. At the same time, Renato Simões and Ítalo Cardoso, the presidents of the human rights commissions of the São Paulo State Legislative Assembly and the City Council, respectively, received letters containing threats directed at themselves and others who defend human rights. At this writing, neither the state nor federal police had succeeded in identifying those responsible for the bombs and threats.

Other human rights defenders faced threats and unwarranted criminal and civil lawsuits. In February, Darcy Frigo, an attorney with the CPT in Paraná state, received death threats by phone, as did another CPT employee, Dionísio Vandresen, in June. Frigo also faced charges of resisting a judicial order in connection with a mass eviction operation on November 27, 1999, in Curitiba, Paraná, in which he was badly beaten by police. The incident took place before members of the local and national media and hundreds of onlookers, including the local Catholic bishop, Dom Ladislau Biernaski, a defense witness in the proceedings against Frigo. Authorities in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, indicted Human Rights Watch's former Brazil director James Cavallaro for the crime of defamation, initiating criminal proceedings against him. In previous court testimony and interviews with a local newspaper, Cavallaro had provided information regarding suspects in the 1996 murder of human rights lawyer Gilson Nogueira.

Human rights commissions of state, municipal, and federal legislative bodies, although governmental by definition, continued to demonstrate significant independence throughout the year, reviewing allegations of abuse, monitoring police, prisons and other state agents, and denouncing abuses to prosecutors and the media.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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