Human Rights and Democracy in Brazil — Violations and Setbacks.

Jun 12, 2017 · 14 min read
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The Articulation for Monitoring Human Rights in Brazil is a joint initiative created in 2005, whose purpose is to develop actions to monitor the situation of Human Rights in Brazil such as: the elaboration of national reports on the situation of Human Rights in Brazil and the fulfillment of international obligations the country has taken on through the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Periodic Review; processes of articulation and training with national and local partners; and some agendas of political dialog and influence with society and public organizations.

The Articulation develops its actions on national and international levels, in dialog with the network leaders and partners who coordinate and support the initiative, as well as the subjects of rights — populations and communities affected by violations in all Brazilian States. Its mission is conducted based on two axes of actions: Empowerment of networks and organizations for the full establishment of the Monitoring of Human Rights, and Political Advocacy for monitoring Human Rights in public actions.

The initiative is coordinated by the Human Rights National Movement, the Articulation and Dialog Process and Misereor Partners in Brazil. This group encompasses more than 500 organizations, movements or representations affiliated in the country. For further information and access to the Reports available, please visit:

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Brazil is experiencing a historic moment, in which a multidimensional crisis worsens human rights violations in its territory. Rights violations have occurred historically, mostly against traditional peoples and communities, campesinos and landless workers, the homeless, the black and the poor population of Brazilian urban peripheries, among others. Violence is present in a more serious and acute manner when it affects children, adolescents, women, elderly and youth. Both violence and a fast loss of rights have led the country to its worst institutional crises since the promulgation of the Federal Constitution in 1988.

The Brazilian democracy is going through its worst moment since the military dictatorship. The impeachment process that removed Dilma Rousseff, the democratically elected president, through a parliamentary coup met the interests of the financial market and tried to dodge and halt investigations that affected Brazilian politicians and businesspeople, which unleashed an unprecedented institutional crisis. Members of the present government, including the president of the Republic himself, are involved in numerous corruption accusations that evidence how the governability pact created after the impeachment is no longer sustainable.

Despite the advances since the Federal Constitution, the frailty of the Brazilian democracy has hampered the realization of an effective political reform through people’s empowerment. The community base and society as a whole are vulnerable to the efforts of anti-popular and ultraconservative institutions.

Over the last years, a number of social subjects managed to forward their struggles for acknowledgement and their agendas for rights and public policies, such as women, youth, black people, traditional community peoples, the homeless, the landless, the LGBT community and others. However, their current situation is marked by an increase in threats, violence and setbacks. There is also an escalation in the use of force — particularly from public institutions — against those who struggle for rights by daring to democratically defy the established order in public demonstrations.

The present moment has also fostered fundamentalism, bigotry and religious conservativeness, which increase the social fascism, the hatred against human rights, and the affirmation of anti-equality positions such as class prejudice, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

The criminalization of social struggles and movements weakens social mobilization and leads to a demobilized criticism. Although Brazil has seen enormous demonstrations since 2013, that has not resulted in an effective growth of progressive organizations, which points to losses in the base of human rights organizations and in their mobilization capacity. The recent approval of Brazil’s anti-terrorism legislation reinforces the criminalization of public protests. Therefore, in spite of the advances and efforts, recent data and elements lead to the conclusion that: (1) Brazil does not invest its available resources to the maximum in order to ensure the fulfillment of rights, (2) Brazil does not ensure the progressiveness of human rights.

In general terms, socioeconomic inequalities were mitigated between 2004 and 2014, particularly due to income transfer programs, creation of jobs and the raising of the minimum wage.

The commitment of a large share of the federal budget with the public debt has a negative impact upon human, cultural, social and economic rights, jeopardizing the guarantees described by the Constitution and the pledges related to international human rights pacts and conventions.

In 2015, 47 per cent of the federal public budget was committed with interest payment and the amortization of public debt. In 2014, the amounts invested in education, health and culture were 3.73, 3.98 and 0.04 per cent, respectively. Fiscal adjustment measures cut the public budget by R$ 34.96 billion in 2015, which translated into losses of 42.7 per cent in Health and 23.7 per cent in Education. Additionally, the cuts in social investments announced by the present government, particularly the 20-year spending cap established by Constitutional Amendment 95/2016, point to an increase in poverty in the country, according to a recent World Bank study.

The current Brazilian government has been engaged in the proposition of Constitution changes that reduce the guarantee of rights. This is illustrated by this government’s decision to vote against a resolution proposed by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to renew the UN’s term to monitor the impact that fiscal policies have on human rights. Labor rights are also at stake in the country as the Law Bill 6787/16 advances. It weakens the present labor legislation by allowing that it is substituted by agreements between employers and employees in collective agreements.

The Brazilian Social Welfare Reform — Constitutional Amendment Proposition 278/2016 — also threatens workers’ rights by changing the rules for retirement. If approved, the present proposition determines that workers will have to contribute for 49 years to be entitled to a full retirement pension. Institutionally, there has been a drastic reduction in the implementation of public policies, particularly those for women, black people, LGBT population, indigenous peoples and human rights.

A public debt audit, identifying the social costs of interest payments and amortization. The immediate revocation of Constitutional Amendment 95/2016, which sets a spending cap for public policies in the country for the next 20 years, affecting constitutional rights.

The urgent halt of the Constitutional Amendment Proposals for the Social Welfare Reform and the changes to the labor legislation, allowing for a debate that includes union representatives and workers associations. The promotion of a socially fair tax reform, with a lower impact upon the poor and the working class and more taxes for the richer sector, large fortunes and inheritance.

Urgent delivery of the Report on the compliance with the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was due in June 2014, and the urgent ratification of its Optional Protocol. Respect for democracy, popular participation and mobilization, with no repression and violence against human rights defenders and demonstrators in social protests.

Respect and increase the State-Religion separation — not to eliminate the cooperation between them, but to avoid the interference of religious dogmas and doctrines in the implementation of public policies, and to protect traditional (indigenous) and Afro-Brazilian religions.

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The different hierarchies established in societies such as the ones defined by gender, race, ethnicity, age and generation, geographical or territorial location, class, sexual orientation, physical or mental condition, political or religious positions, are part of the creation of the inequalities and violence to which socially excluded groups are submitted, such as the Brazilian black population. These inequalities cross generations and are expressed in the highest levels of poverty; in violence; in rights violations, particularly economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as in the lack of access to justice.

The black population is still submitted to insufficient income levels; low schooling and employability rates; housing precariousness, in areas with non-existing or inadequate services. They are also submitted to the violence and criminality perpetrated by the Brazilian government. The high homicide and incarceration rates among the black youth reveals a social control policy that causes deaths and arrests. Moreover, this group is under-represented in the instances of power and decision-making, once black people correspond to 54 per cent of the Brazilian population. Even 129 years after the slavery abolition and almost 29 years since the promulgation of the present Federal Constitution (1988), Brazil’s reality shows that racism is still present in all social and state structures in the country. After 1988, racism became a crime no longer subject to bail or a time limit. “To practice, induce or encourage the discrimination because of race, color, ethnicity, religion or nationality”.

As for freedom of speech and belief, the racist bias of the state is evidenced in the persecution and violence suffered by the black population in the cultural and religious segment.

One of the major challenges for stopping racism and implementing human rights for the black population is a political attitude by public authorities and society in order to confront racism practices in public and private institutions.

Investigation on the causes of black youth homicides in Brazil and the incarceration policy that affects the black youth in Brazil (particularly black women), as well as the creation of remedial measures for the losses caused to families and the black population as a whole.

Implementation of the actions provisioned by the Racial Equality Statute (Law 12288/2010), establishing the Racial Equality Promotion System and programs to eradicate institutional racism. Reinforcement of policies to confront institutional racism, increasing access opportunities to jobs and public policies, basic services such as healthcare and education, and the protection of groups vulnerable to violence, such as black girls and women.

Compliance with international conventions and treaties that protect these groups’ rights, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, as well as the national laws that provide for protection from discrimination.

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There are several forms of rights violations suffered by human rights subjects and defenders who take the lead in the struggles of social and popular movements, both in urban and rural areas of Brazil. Historically, the ever-growing process of criminalization of struggles, movements and leaders in Brazil is in effect through the actions of State agents and instruments, or through political-ideological groups seeking power and the prevalence of their private viewpoints, disguised under a so-called legality. A notably criminal legal framework has been employed against defenders, subjects and leaders, as well as legal and police institutions and media broadcasting in order to cancel the right to organize, defend and protest, as ensured by the Brazilian Federal Constitution (1988).

The historical violations associated to interests of politically and economically powerful groups in Brazil are reflected in the growing figures of criminalization and murder of leaders in a number of struggles, as well as all the hardships experience by legal and operational mechanisms when it comes to the guarantee of struggles and rights for social movements and human rights defenders in Brazil. According to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), 3,964 people were arrested in the country between 1995 and 2014, in the context of rural struggles organized by workers, union and social movement leaders, and human right defenders. Such numbers evidence the situation of persecution, pressure and criminalization to which Human Rights defenders are permanently subject.

The repressive use of state apparatus in the context of an attack to democracy, rights and liberties has also become common in urban areas. According to a research by the NGO ARTIGO 19, there were 121 episodes of serious violations against communicators between 2012 and 2015, notably homicides, which represents a 67 per cent increase in serious violations against communicators.

Accelerate the process and approval of Law Bill 4575/2009 in the Lower House, regulating the Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders and supporting the implementation of protection policies for this group in Brazil.

Implement the National Plan of Protection for Human Rights Defenders immediately through the allocation of funds and the creation of articulation mechanisms among different organizations responsible for the application of human rights actions and policies in Brazil.Ensure that communicators receive specific attention from Protection Program, with respect to the singularities of this activity.

Make sure the State and governments guarantee the democratic exercise of citizenship expressed by different forms of demonstration and protest from social struggles, organizations and movements in the country. Ensure that Brazil investigates the assassination of human rights defenders in urban and rural areas over the last 30 years.

Hold the State and governments responsible for reported actions of repression, authority abuse and police violence, which pose a barrier for the free manifestation of the press and liberties in the country.

Demand that the Brazilian judiciary system is attentive so as to prevent the advance and adoption of punitiveness in penal matter as far as the social struggles’ right to organization, manifestation and protest are concerned.

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Indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities have been recognized in the Brazilian legislative structure for their specificity and unique cultural characteristics, as well as their systems of social organization. The indigenous peoples received special attention in the promulgation of the Federal Constitution of 1988 through the article 231, which grants indigenous peoples “the original rights over traditionally occupied lands, and it is the Government’s attribution to mark and protect them, ensuring their assets are respected”. The guarantee of lands occupied by this people is the State’s constitutional duty and commitment. That right was ensured by article 68 of the Transitory Constitutional Dispositions Act, guaranteeing that right to quilombolas who occupy their own lands, and the government must issue proper titles.

The present political scenario has seen several attempts to impose setbacks upon the rights of indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and traditional peoples and communities. Those setbacks are expressed in proposals that alter rules defined by the Federal Constitution, as well as in legal decisions that wish to limit to the application of previously acquired rights. Their purpose meets the interests of the developmental policies of the Brazilian government, which focus on the available natural resources in the territories of these populations to create economic resources. Among the setbacks that threaten the indigenous peoples’ rights, we highlight the following: Constitutional Amendment Proposal 215/2000, which transfers the responsibility for the demarcation of indigenous lands from the Executive Power to the Legislative Power.

Supplementary Law Bill 227/2012, which allows economic activities performed by non-indigenous people and territory occupation in indigenous lands. Law Bill 1610/96, which enables the exploration of mineral resources in indigenous lands.

Dismissal of any law and constitutional amendment proposals that may represent setbacks to traditional peoples and communities rights, avoiding the adoption of the 1988 Time Frame (not described in the Federal Constitution) as criterion for judicial decisions that involve territory issues, granting people the totality of their constitutional rights;

Elaboration of public policies for indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities with their broad representation in the process, ensuring that policies are in accordance with their needs and specificities; and the right to Previous Consultation before the implementation of administrative or legislative projects that affect these people’s territories in municipal, state or federal level.

The Brazilian Legislative, Executive and Judiciary Powers must recognize the rights inherent to the human person dignity and the ethnical dignity of indigenous peoples, as a party in legal actions that may discuss their territory rights. The wardship of indigenous peoples should become unconstitutional.

Aligned actions with neighboring countries in order to ensure the life and the human rights of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in Brazil; the interdiction and further demarcation of the territories in which Funai has identified the presence of indigenous groups in voluntary isolation, granting them the self-determination described by the UN Declaration about the Indigenous Peoples Rights (2007).

The Brazilian government must consider quilombola and indigenous lands potentially affected by environmental licensing processes, expressing respect for the territorial rights of these populations whether the lands are identified or not.

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Over the last 15 years, there have been an intense escalation in mineral extraction at a global level because of demand and prices, in a process conducted by the Chinese economy and strong speculation in the financial market. The exponential growth of global demand leads to a reduction of the best mineral reserves and an aggressive quest for intensified production in new regions and countries, as well as cuts in operational costs for older or low-grade mines. The Doce River disaster in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais illustrates this process: intensified extraction followed with cuts in labor and dam safety costs.

In this context of strong demand for ore, extreme financialization of the economy, great power in the hands of transnational corporations and rendition of peripheral national governments, Brazil has been targeted for an intense process of mineral extraction involving internationally coveted ores such as iron, bauxite, copper, gold, niobium and nickel.

For its nature and scale, the extractivism-based economic model is connected to deep inequality within and among countries. Therefore, most of Latin American social conflicts today are related to environmental threats and impacts: poor people try to keep control of the resources necessary for their survival, while threatened with losing them to the capitalist private property or to the government.

Despite such reality, Brazil still does not recognize itself as a mining country. However, its position in the global production geography results not only in its subordination in international exchange relations but also in a systematic and increasingly intense process of human, social, territorial, environmental, labor and cultural rights violations caused by mining activities and its related production infrastructure. Consequences include: Socioeconomic impacts — compulsory displacement of families and communities; environmental impacts — water contamination, river siltation, soil contamination and others; socioenvironmental disasters — irreparable damages to the environment and to people’s lives.

To ensure democracy and transparency in the creation and application of the Brazilian mining policies.

To guarantee the right to consultation, consent and veto to local communities affected by mining activities.

To respect extraction rates and paces.To delimit and respect mining-free areas.

To prevent and control environmental damages and ensure Mine Closure Plans with allocation of resources. To respect and protect workers’ rights and integrity. To ensure that Mining Activities in indigenous and tribal lands comply with ILO’s Convention 169 and are subject to the approval of the Indigenous Peoples Statute.

More Rights, More Democracy!

The national campaign More Rights, More Democracy — All Rights for All People is a collective initiative created by networks, entities and social movements whose purpose is to dispute the present narrative and values in society, in the Human Rights segment and the guarantee and expansion of democracy in Brazil. It results from the need to fight both the loss of granted rights and the conservative, fundamentalist wave that affects Brazil in a number of ways. Democracy itself and its role as the guiding principle of the Brazilian State have been tested by actions that privilege the private moral over the public ethics and illustrate the blatant fascism, sexism and racism in the society.

The main goals of “More Rights, More Democracy” campaign are: (1) To affirm the notion of human rights as an ethical, juridical and political content and as the basis for the creation of a culture of rights for all people; (2) to defend democracy and perfect the democratic environment as a fundamental value for the construction of a participating, solidary, plural and fair society; (3) to promote the acknowledgement and the affirmation of the identities of subjects and groups and to confront discriminating attitudes and practices against them.

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