The city of Macapá is in the middle of a river archipelago with around 50 villages and 14,000 inhabitants, where the Amazon meets the Atlantic Ocean. Some of these communities are almost impossible to reach, with dense mangroves and fluctuating water levels making the journey dangerous. For a long time, conflicts were resolved by local leaders, from theft, to land disputes, to rape. The machete was often the quickest recourse to justice.
Judge Sueli Pini visited Macapá 20 years ago. Seeing the problem, she founded a system that’s unique in the world, the “floating court.” Four times a year, an old steam vessel called the João Bruno II becomes this “court.” It’s loaded with lawyers, social workers and a judge. These representatives of Brazil’s justice system arrive by water, sleep in hammocks and wear flip-flops. The journey lasts a week. Villages in some of the remotest parts of the Amazon River system are visited and hundreds of complaints processed.
In these remote river habitations, where the law is all too easy to avoid, rules can easily be bent. Join journalist Fabian Federl and the legal team on their week-long journey. The setting is rudimentary and justice must be swift. It may be a month or more before the boat can return to enforce the decisions made, so the judge must seek solutions which can appease both claimant and defendant.
Presenter: Fabian Federl
Producer: Yannic Hannebohn
Editor: Helen Lennard
A Two Degrees West Ltd and Pola Berlin production for BBC World Service