On the respect to the human rights of Quilombos communities in Alcântara, State of Maranhão, Brazil


The International Human Rights Organizations, COHRE – Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and Social Watch, and the Brazilian National Centre for Global Justice hereby jointly reconfirm their full support of and commitment to the struggle of the Brazilian Quilombo communities in general and especially with the communities of the Municipality of Alcantâra, in the State of Maranhão, Brazil,

The remaining 153 ethnic quilombo communities that have traditionally occupied considerable areas in the Alcântara region have been carrying on an arduous struggle to guarantee the implementation of their fundamental human rights and to prevent violations of their right to Adequate Housing and to independent self-determination.

Since the implementation of the Space Launch Centre (CLA- Centro de Lançamentos de Alcântara) in the municipality in 1984, 312 families belonging to 32 traditional communities have been relocated to alternative housing known as agrovilas. These are completely inadequate for the fundamental necessities or even the survival of the populations because the land is infertile and the relocation removed the communities from contact with the sea and fishery that had been traditionally their chief mean of livelihood.

In the new location these communities also have little access to drinking water and nowadays have to buy water where previously it was freely available. Neither have land titles to the new locations been issued and any extensions or alterations to the houses have to be previously authorized by the Space Centre of Alcântara. The direct social consequence of this relocation is the destruction of the harmonious social fabric that has historically guaranteed the survival of the few remaining communities of the quilombos in the Municipality of Alcantara.

These traditional social relations were based on an intricate system of family relationships and unity and on the common use of the old lands and natural resources in an economic and territorial structure completely different from the consumer and private property society existing outside the quilombos. An extremely negative effect of the relocation is that the communities are today facing social problems such as teenage pregnancy, youth prostitution and the use of drugs previously unknown to them, and these problems were directly related to the relocation by the community during the Public Hearing in Alcântara, on 06 June 2004.

Although no critical evaluation of the effects of the previous dislocations has been made nor have the communities been permitted to state their objections or give suggestions, further dislocations are planned to allow expansion of the Space Launch Centre that today occupies almost 55% of the Municipality.

Between the 29th May and 12th June, the United Nations Special Rappourteur for the Right to Adequate Housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, visited Alcântara by invitation from the Brazilian Government. The Brazilian National Rappourteur for the Right to Adequate Housing, Mr. Nelson Saule, together with entities of Civil Society and NGO, organized a series of visits for Mr. Kothari to the Alcantara quilombo communities, in particular to those of Marudá which has already been relocated to an agrovila and also to that of Mamuna which is now threatened with the same fate. During the visit a Public Audience was arranged with representatives of the various quilombo communities, of Civil Society, of COHRE, of the Centre on Global Justice and of Social Watch in addition to the official reporters. Disappointedly, and although specifically invited, no government representatives took formal part in the Public Audience. Both during the visits to the Marudá and Mamuna communities and at the Public Audience it became clear that the dislocation of the communities had not resulted in the benefits promised at the time of the relocation and furthermore that indeed there had been an increase in the violation of these communities´ rights. The United Nations Special Rapparteur for the Right to Adequate Housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, and the Brazilian National Rapparteur for the Right to Adequate Housing stood solidly with the communities and publicly declared that any dislocation of populations could only be carried out in accordance with the respective international Human Rights laws and with the full agreement of the affected communities.

Therefore, the signatories of his declaration, intended for Brazilian and International civil society and the Brazilian Government, seek to revert this situation and to avoid that further dislocations result in more of the negative effects observed in the dislocations already made and hereby

1) That the claims of the communities already relocated be considered and attended to, especially as to the provision of housing suitable for residence and work, access to quality education, public transport, piped water supplies and sewage treatments systems. Also, that the long-standing violations of the rights of these communities to adequate living conditions and full citizenship be rectified and that their Human Rights as guaranteed by the fundamental International Instruments and by Brazilian law be respected.

2) That the communities threatened with dislocation due to the expansion of the Space Launch Centre be fully consulted and that all dislocations be suspended until adequate and agreed solutions are found to the problems of housing, work opportunities and citizenship for these populations. Furthermore, that it be arranged that they receive the benefits of social policies for the improvement of the quality of life and access to the essential services and to social assistance.

Also in this respect, we would like to ask all our partners and friends from COHRE, The Centre on Global Justice and in Social Watch to send e-mails supportive of this Declaration to the electronic addresses given below. These e-mails may be very short mainly informing the name of the entity, the name of its representative and a short sentence in support of this declaration. Based on these demonstrations of support we will draw up an open letter from civilian society to the Brazilian Government, requesting the authorities to take all possible steps to fulfil the preliminary recommendations concerning Alcântara made by the United Nations Special Rappourteur for the Right to Adequate Housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, Also, that they take steps to ensure that the remaining quilombo communities affected by the Alcantâra Space Launch Centre, get the Federal, State and Municipal government attention that this case merits in governmental transactions.

Thanking all our partners and friends for their attention and interest,

COHRECentre on Global JusticeSocial Watch