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Survey points to 169 homicides against human rights defenders in the last four years, in Brazil

The indigenist Bruno Pereira and the British journalist Dom Phillips are two of the human rights defenders murdered in the period; both were murdered in Vale do Javari (Javali Valley), in June 2022

The lives of human rights defenders are constantly in great danger, according to the study "On the Front Line: Violence against Human Rights Defenders in Brazil" ("Na Linha de Frente: violência contra defensores e defensoras de direitos humanos no Brasil"). The survey carried out by the organizations Terra de Direitos and Justiça Global (Land of Rights and Global Justice) registered cases of violence against those who defend rights in Brazil throughout the entire government of former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL), from 2019 to 2022. The alarming data point to 1171 cases of violence, of which 169 were murders and 579 were threats. The data show the intensification of territorial and environmental conflicts in the country, with cases registered in all Brazilian states. 

The study considered cases of violence against human rights defenders that occurred as a way to prevent the claim and defense of rights. Violence was categorized into eight types: threat, physical assault, murder, attack, criminalization, delegitimization, sexual harassment, and suicide. Episodes of violence registered throughout Brazil were considered. In addition, the survey considered cases of individual violence and against collectives, such as attacks against indigenous peoples and quilombolas. Bruno Pereira, Dom Phillips, Dilma Ferreira, Fernando Araújo dos Santos, and Paulo Paulino Guajajara are some of the 169 human rights defenders killed over the past 4 years. Most murders were caused by firearms (63.3% if the shooting and multiple shot categories are added).  

In 11 of the murders, there is a reference to signs of torture found on the dead defender's body. In the case of the murder of indigenist Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips, in Vale do Javari (AM) (Javari Valley), in June 2022, both were ambushed and killed while traveling by boat through the region. According to investigations, they were shot to death, burned, and buried. The crime would have been motivated by the work carried out by Bruno in the denouncement of illegal fishing in indigenous territory.

The data from the survey highlight that indigenous defenders were the targets of most of the violence suffered by human rights defenders: 346 cases, 50 of which were murders and 172 threats. The four years were marked by the adoption of an anti-indigenous policy by the federal government and the increase in the invasion and exploitation of traditional territories by mining, deforestation, and agribusiness.  

In the opinion of the executive coordinator of Terra de Direitos, Darci Frigo, the data reflect a period when attacking human rights defenders was government policy. "Jair Bolsonaro's government has elected indigenous peoples, quilombolas, traditional and landless peoples and communities as central enemies of its government strategy. All this with direct attacks on their constitutionally guaranteed rights", he highlights. And he adds: “At the same time, [the Bolsonaro government] carried out a dismantling of public policies for the demarcation of indigenous lands, it was conniving with the deforestation and invasion of indigenous lands by land grabbers and ranchers, it supported armament and mining. And this whole situation has remained unpunished throughout these four years of government ".



The threat is the type of violence with the highest number of occurrences in the data collected by the research. The survey shows 579 occurrences in the four years. Although cisgender men are victims of 45.3% of reported cases of threats, the survey found that cisgender women tend to suffer more from this type of violence than other types.  

In cases where it was possible to identify that the same person was the victim of more than one episode of violence during the analyzed period, it was noticed that the threat is the most recurrent type of crime because when they are not investigated, they tend to repeat themselves and even get worse. The survey points to several emblematic cases in which threats are constant, intensifying conflicts and, in some cases, resulting in deaths.  


Bolsonaro's Government 

During the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL), the situation of human rights defenders in Brazil was a cause for concern and complaints both nationally and internationally. The former president has frequently expressed controversial views on a range of human rights issues, which has created a hostile environment for those working to defend these fundamental rights. Bolsonaro has often discredited social movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), accusing them of "defending criminals" or of having an agenda that runs counter to national interests. This stigmatization contributes to a climate of hostility and distrust of human rights defenders, making their work more difficult and dangerous. 

In addition, several studies and reports point to the lack of confrontation by the Federal Government with structural problems, such as land concentration, non-demarcation of indigenous territories, non-title of quilombos, etc. - which increased the exposure of defenders to violence. Brazil retreated in the guarantee of human rights in the last period, pointing out the countries that make up the United Nations Organization System (UNO) and social organizations in the Universal Periodic Review process.  

The organizations that authored the study also warned of the urgent changes that must be made to the Federal Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators, and Environmentalists (PPDDH). In 2022, Justiça Global and Terra de Direitos also released the report  HYPERLINK "" "_blank" Olhares críticos sobre mecanismos de proteção de defensoras e defensores de direitos humanos na América Latina (Critical views on mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders in Latin America), which drew attention to the fact that the protection policy lacks the apparatus and resources for the effective protection of the lives of human rights defenders, requiring a restructuring with budgetary and personnel allocation. 

For Sandra Carvalho, a sociologist and project coordinator for Justiça Global, the data reinforce the need to prioritize the National Plan for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators and Environmentalists (PPDDH). “It is urgent that President Lula's government assumes the commitments agreed during the transitional government prioritizing the PPDDH, and undertakes to spare no effort to strengthen the program with an adequate budget, parity between the state and civil society in its Deliberative Council and a new legislative proposal that establishes the legal framework of the public policy of protection, "she said. 


Research Methodology:  

The study classifies human rights defenders as subjects, peoples, popular movements, or collectives that act in defense of human rights, even though some of these rights have not yet taken on a legal form. According to the United Nations, human rights defenders are “individuals acting alone, legal persons, groups, organizations or social movements that act or have the purpose of promoting or defending human rights”. Currently, this is the same concept that gives rise to the main Brazilian protection policy for those who work in defense of human rights.  

The survey carried out by the organizations was based on news, consultation with other reports, and internal research of cases followed by the organizations and networks they are part of. The cases were organized and categorized according to the defender's demographic information, gender, race, the place where the violence was registered, the type of violence, the context of the action, the offending agent, and the complaints made, among others. 

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General data:  

  • A total of 1,171 cases of violence against human rights defenders were mapped between 2019 and 2022;
  • 2019 registered 355 cases of violence; 2020 registered 285 cases; 2021 registered 302 cases; and 2022 registered 229 cases of violence;
  • According to the categories of type of violence, the study identified the following cases: Threats (579 cases); Attacks (197 cases); Murder (169 cases); Criminalization through institutions (107 cases); Delegitimization (63 cases); Physical aggression (52 cases); Sexual harassment (2 cases); Suicide (2 cases).  

Data by Regions:  

  • All 27 states of the federation are represented in the survey, that is, they had at least one incident of violence mapped from 2019 to 2022;
  • The State with the highest number of registered violations against human rights defenders was Pará, where 143 violations occurred, followed by Maranhão with 131 cases.
  • Among the five Brazilian regions, the Northeast and North concentrate the greatest number of violations against human rights defenders, with 379 and 367 cases respectively;
  • The Southeast region registered 198 cases in the 4 years; Central-West registered 146 cases; the South region registered 81 cases;  
  • Almost half (47%) of the cases of violence against human rights defenders were registered in the Legal Amazon.
  • Although the total number of violations in the South is below that of the other regions, it is noteworthy that a high percentage of the cases mapped in this region are murders (18.5%). It is possible that underreporting of cases in other categories explains the high murder rate in the South, as this more serious type of violence is more easily monitored and registered. 



  • On average, 3 defenders of human rights were killed per month;
  • Despite 2021 being the year with the highest number of murders, 2022 was the year in which murders had the highest proportion, compared to other types of violence, representing 19.2% of cases in the year.
  • Practically 1/3 of the murders of defenders were registered between the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022.
  • Maranhão is the state with the highest number of murdered defenders, with 26 cases, followed by Amazonas and Pará, with 19 cases, and Rondônia, with 18 cases.
  • Most murders were caused by firearms (63.3% if the shooting and multiple shots categories are added together).
  • In 11 of the murders, there are references to signs of torture found on the body of the dead defender. 


Threats and Attacks: 

  • Threat cases occupy the category with the highest number of cases in the 4 years, registering 579 cases (49.4% of total cases); in second place are the cases of Attacks, with 197 registrations;
  • The attacks registered the highest number of cases in 2019 with 56 cases; the average of attacks in the period is 49.25 cases per year and in all they represent 16.8% of the cases;
  • The Northeast region is the region with the highest total number of cases of threats, with 380 cases registered (39%). However, the Southeast region is the region with the highest proportional frequency of threats, since of the 195 cases of violence, 76 were threats;
  • Of the 5 regions of the country, the Central-West and the South have averages of attacks above the averages of the total of other violations, having the Central-West 44 cases of attacks out of 146 total cases and the South region with 17 attacks out of 81 cases;
  • Most human rights defenders threatened between 2019 and 2022 act in defense of rights linked to land, territory, and environment;  
  • A fifth of the threats (103 cases) affected communities. They are communities, peoples of indigenous land, families, or leaders who, as a collective subject, were victims of violence.
  • Assaults are the most frequent form of violence against the community.   


Defenders Profile:  

  • 140 murdered defenders were fighting for the right to land, territory, and an ecologically balanced environment; this is the type of struggle that 78.5% of male and female defenders who are victims of any type of violence identified in the survey;
  • The average age of the murdered people is 41.87 years old, slightly above the average of 39.27 for the other violations.


  • 292 cases of violations against women defenders (cisgender, transsexuals, and transvestites) were registered.
  • In cases involving cis women, threats are the most frequent, with 161 cases out of 253 filed against them;
  • The transsexual and transvestite population registered 40 cases of violence, 10 of which were murders;
  • Out of every five murders, four were men who defend human rights. 

Color and Race: 

  • The scenario of deaths and violence affects indigenous and black defenders with greater intensity.
  • Of the cases that can be identified by color and race, indigenous defenders are the most victims of violence, with 346 cases (58% of cases where it was possible to identify color and race), 50 of which were murders. 2022 was the year with the highest mortality rate for this population, with 17 murders;
  • Black people (black and brown) are also a priority target, registering 153 cases, 30 of which were murders (34% of the cases in which race and color were identified);
  • White male and female defenders were victims in 16% of cases of violence in which it was possible to identify the color and race of the victims, and in 10% of murder cases;
  • The protection policies for human rights defenders do not take into account the specificities of race and gender. 


  • Private agents are mainly responsible for attacks on the lives of defenders, threats, and attacks. Registering 343 occurrences of 450 occurrences of this type in which it was possible to identify the violating agent;
  • In most of the murders, farmers, gold miners, private security guards or other actors belonging to the typology of private agents committed the crime.
  • Public agents were involved in 279 cases as rapists;
  • Public agents are most frequently associated with criminalization violations (100 cases) and delegitimization (37 cases).
  • Public Officials were involved in 26 cases of murders and 46 cases of Threats; in murders involving the presence of a public agent, the police are involved. In some of these, the police are cited as being co-responsible alongside ranchers and gunmen. 

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Actions: Human Rights Defenders
Axes: Human rights policy and culture