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At work: Grassroots Internationals human rights defense

February 2011

This week, two Grassroots International partners in Brazil combined to win dismissal of charges against landless workers brought by Coca-Cola subsidiary Cutrale. The 3rd District Court of S Paulo state rule that the case against family members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) was baseless.

Cutrale, the worlds largest orange juice maker, controls 30 percent of orange juice in the global market. Land rights advocates in Brazil accuse the company of using public land without proper concession from government. Land grabbing by international agribusinesses is a growing concern in Brazil.

In October 2009, families affiliated with the MST occupied one of 10 farms controlled by Cutrale, seeking to reclaim the land from the international agribusiness. Following their arrest under what the court ruled as false pretenses, the media portrayed the impoverished families as troublemakers who had stolen and destroyed property. Brazils main news media outlets also accused the MST of creating chaos and violence.

After reviewing the information, the court dismissed the case, concluding that the families did not pose a threat; authorities wrongfully arrested them prior to a formal accusation; and evidence did not support the companys claim.

Grassroots Internationals partner, The Social Network for Justice and Human Rights (Rede Social) represented the families in this case. Rede Social is a human rights organization that supports the work of social movements in Brazil through legal assistance, trainings, reporting and media campaigns on abuses of human rights.

“We hope this decision becomes a common outcome, so justice prevails in opposition to the interests of agribusinesses, the large landholders and businesses opposed to the agrarian reform. On this occasion the court agreed that these big businesses supported the illegal warrants against the workers.”

Rede Social provides legal support and trainings on human rights to social movements, including the MST and other Grassroots International partners in Brazil. Its team of lawyers has led or assisted important cases of human rights violations, such as the murder of the American-born Brazilian nun and land activist Sister Dorothy Stang.

Through partnerships with human rights organizations like Rede Social in Brazil, Grassroots helps landless farmers and indigenous people achieve their right to land, water and food.

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