TrialWatch, a Clooney Foundation for Justice initiative, announced today that it will monitor the trial of Brazilian lawyer and human rights defender José Vargas Sobrinho Junior.
Mr. Vargas is a wellknown advocate for rural and indigenous communities in Brazil whose representation of the victims of the 2017 Pau D’Arco massacre—where 10 land defenders were killed by police—has resulted in harassment and threats to him and his family. He now faces a range of charges including qualified homicide, which carries a potential sentence of 12 to 30 years in prison. TrialWatch monitors criminal proceedings around the world, grades their fairness, and advocates for individuals who are unfairly detained.
The authorities have accused Mr. Vargas and four co-defendants of involvement in the murder of Cicero José Rodrigues de Souza, a candidate in municipal elections who went missing in October 2020. In particular, the prosecution alleges that Mr. Vargas conspired with his law partner to arrange for the purchase a profitable private organization owned by Mr. de Souza, and then participated in a scheme to have Mr. de Souza murdered to allegedly further remove him control of the organization. Mr. Vargas was arrested on January 1, 2021 and detained. After a habeas corpus petition, he was placed under house arrest on January 25.
Mr. Vargas is a prominent human rights defender who has continued his advocacy on behalf of the victims of the Pau D’Arco massacre; almost four years after the massacre, the police officers who were arrested for their potential involvement have still not been brought to trial. However, in January 2021, a few weeks after Vargas’ arrest, a key witness and survivor of the massacre was murdered, raising concerns that the proceedings against Mr. Vargas may be part of an attempt to thwart justice in that case.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice will be monitoring this trial in partnership with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), Columbia Global Centers in Rio and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. CFJ and IBAHRI call on the Brazilian authorities to ensure that any prosecution “is well-founded upon evidence reasonably believed to be reliable and admissible” and is not an effort to suppress Mr. Vargas’s human rights work. CFJ and IBAHRI further stresses the need for trial to respect Mr. Vargas’s fair-trial rights.
See statement in Portuguese (Português) here.