Hearing in the UN

Government releases report on human rights situation in the country

03/06/2017 human rights council un upr

The federal government published on Monday, March 6, Brazil’s official report for the UPR (Universal Periodic Review), a hearing in which all UN Member States assess the human rights situation in a specific country. This third review of Brazil is scheduled for May 5 in Geneva, Switzerland. The process occurs every four and a half years.

Click here to read the report in full.

The publication of the Brazilian report had been expected in early February, which was the deadline for submitting the document to the UN. The Brazilian Human Rights and Foreign Policy Committee, of which Conectas is a founding member, went so far as to file a Freedom of Information Request to access the content.

The preliminary version of the report, released in October 2016, was harshly criticized by human rights organizations and official bodies such as the Federal Attorney General’s Office for the Rights of the Citizen and the Committee on Human Rights and Minorities of the Lower House of Congress for being “distant from reality”.

The preliminary report was discussed at a public hearing in the abovementioned committee in December. The criticisms of the content and the tone were such that the government extended the time frame for submitting suggestions.

“We noticed that the new version has, in a number of ways, reduced the distance between what is written and the real situation, in a clear demonstration of the power of civil society and its capacity to identify flaws and demand improvements in institutional processes,” said Camila Asano, coordinator of the Foreign Policy program at Conectas.

Despite acknowledging improvements in the language and in the methodology of the preparation of the report, Asano stood by her criticism of the content. “We are still a long way from adequately responding to the problems in the country in this area. One clear example is the mention of the collapse of the dam owned by Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton in the town of Mariana, which was the worst social and environmental disaster the country has ever seen.”

According to Asano, the lack of any reference to the incident in the preliminary version of the report was harshly criticized by civil society, but the new version “instead of adequately correcting the omission, makes only a brief bureaucratic mention – a clear reflection of the way the government has been handling the situation on the Doce River. The topic was worthy of less than 15 words.”

The disaster is addressed in paragraph 145, on the last page of the report, in a section dedicated to the environment: “Brazil ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016 and is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 37% by 2025 and by 43% by 2030. This demonstrates the firm commitment of the Brazilian State to the environmental issue. On the national level, the challenge persists of enforcing public policies and environmental regulations. One example is the incident in the town of Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais, in 2015.”

Other issues identified during the public hearing in the Lower House of Congress are still absent from the report, such as police repression at protests and the approval of Constitutional Amendment 95, which freezes public spending in areas such as health and education for the next twenty years.

“A reform of this magnitude, with such a large impact on social rights, should never have been left out of the report. The lack of any mention of the public spending cap shows that the government was not even concerned about justifying how the measure, which has already been described by a UN expert as ‘radical and lacking in compassion’, would not cruelly affect human rights, particularly among the poorest in society,” said Asano.

The absence of topics like these can be explained by the government’s decision to limit the report to recommendations made in the previous UPR cycle. This, however, conflicts with UN guidance for the preparation of the document. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the official report should also address “new and emerging topics, including advances and challenges” for each of them.

“Fully implemented”

Another change in the second version of the report is the inclusion of a table that shows, according to the government, the degree of implementation of the 170 recommendations made to Brazil in the previous UPR cycle. The document, however, does not provide explanations about the methodology used for the classification.

According to calculations made by Conectas, the federal government claims that 60% of the recommendations it received in 2012 have been “fully implemented”, that 32.94% are in the “implementation process” and that 4.11% have been “partially implemented”. Only one recommendation (0.58%) appears as “not implemented” and four (2.35%) were not assessed.

Among the recommendations that have been “fully implemented”, for example, is one made by Spain on police violence: “revise the human rights training programs for the security forces, emphasizing the use of force according to the criteria of necessity and proportionality and putting an end to extrajudicial killings”.

As far as Asano is concerned “it is inconceivable that the Brazilian government is telling the UN that it has fully implemented a recommendation that called for an end to extrajudicial killings when we are still witnessing an alarming amount of police violence”.

Another example is the recommendation from Greece on prisons: “make more efforts to improve the situation in detention facilities, especially in women’s prisons”.

“We have no clue about the methodology used by the government to classify these recommendations as ‘fully implemented’ because no such indicators exist, not even on ObservaDH,” said Asano, referring to the platform developed by Brazil to monitor the recommendations made to the country in the UN.

“The effort to analyze the degree of implementation of the recommendations is valid and urgent, but the way the assessment was made merely reinforces the idea that, in Brazil, the monitoring of the human rights situation in the country still depends, in most cases, exclusively on the word of the federal government,” she added.