Civic Responsibility


Sister Stang

In February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, a fighter for human rights and an environmentalist, was reading the Bible when two gunmen aimed weapons at her as she was walking through the Brazilian Amazon jungle. The American nun was murdered by contract killers for expressing opposition to rainforest logging--and loggers eviction of citizens from their land. Sister Stang also opposed intensive soybean farming in the Amazon, ranching and other exploitive economic activities.

News of the nun's murder spread across the globe — the BBC, Reuters, local and international radio and many media websites covered the story and cause for which Sister Stang fought.

Sister Stang was born on June 7, 1931, in Ohio, USA. She joined the Order of the Sisters in Notre Dame de Namar in 1948 and took her vows in 1956. The order, founded in France at the end of the 18th century, was dedicated to taking a stand for poor people--especially women and children--in the most abandoned places. A nun and an activist, Sister Stang had campaigned for many years through the local media, bringing attention to deforestation and corruption--part of her efforts to help the poor people of Brazil improve their livelihoods.

logsBefore her death, the 74-year old activist was helping the Brazilian people by creating small farming plots and gathering sustenance from the forest without resorting to deforestation. At the time of her death Sister Stang was challenging the government to protect the rainforest and its people from disaster

After her brutal murder, the Brazilian government established several protected areas in the contested forest zone and proposed a land use permit system for selling concessions to loggers who agreed to set aside land for settlers and indigenous groups. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silver signed the plan to safeguard the most threatened area of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Alongside Sister Stang's work, other environmental groups had been campaigning for years to stop violent attacks on farmers by commercial developers. "The government must implement real policies to put an end to land grabbing, illegal logging and other causes of destruction and violence in the Amazon," said Carlos Rittl, a Greenpeace Amazon campaigner. "To guarantee a sustainable future for the Amazon forest and its inhabitants, the federal government must strengthen public agencies such as the Land Reform Institute by giving them sufficient resources and the necessary infrastructure and authority for enforcing the law," said Carlos Rittl, Greenpeace Amazon campaigner .

The global coverage of Sister Stang's murder made a great impact; the Brazilian government iwas forced to take a stand against the ranchers, loggers and wealthy land owners and put into place an official environmental protection plan supported by peasant farmers and environmentalists. Jose Goldberg, a former minister, suggested a complete ecological-economic zoning of the region to indicate where agriculture and cattle rearing could be permitted.

The media coverage of Dorothy Stang made people question why the government did not do more to stop her death--or do more to aid her cause.