PARA, Brazil (RNS) On Feb. 12, 2005, two hired gunmen killed Sister Dorothy Stang, 73, as she read aloud from the Bible in a remote settlement just off the Trans-Amazonian Highway.
As a tireless advocate for the poor and landless in Brazil for more than three decades, the Ohio-born nun came into conflict with ruthless landowners who tried to enact their own violent rule over swaths of the Amazon rain forest.
Round-faced and small in stature, with close-cropped white hair, Stang seemed sweet and provincial at first, but she was very clever and extremely persistent, friend and fellow nun Sister Rebecca Spires said.
In recent years, independent civil society truth commissions have begun investigating the history of violence in the Brazilian countryside, grappling with the roles of unequal land distribution, poor documentation of land rights, and expulsion and killings of indigenous peoples. These investigations were inspired by Brazil’s National Truth Commission, which reported human rights abuses under the 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
For Girolamo Treccani, a law professor at the Federal University of Para and a member of Para State’s Rural Truth Commission, the question of prison time was less important than ensuring that all cases are acknowledged and investigated.
“The right of justice demands denouncement and recognition,” he said, “even if individuals can’t go to prison.”