Photo: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil

For more than 20 years, the Supreme Court has been discussing the power that the Presidency of the Republic has to denounce (or repeal) international treaties signed by Brazil. The case dates back to 1996, when then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, by decree, denounced Convention 158 of the ILO (International Labour Organization), which had been ratified by the country just months earlier. The treaty, which is legally binding, contains rules to protect workers from arbitrary dismissals. 

In 1997, Contag (National Confederation of Agricultural Workers) and CUT, Brazil’s largest trade union, filed Direct Action of Unconstitutionality No. 1625 in the Supreme Court, arguing that the Executive had violated the Federal Constitution by repealing a treaty without the consent of Congress. 

Consequently, besides its importance to the debate on labor rights, the case could definitively determine what procedure will be adopted in Brazil to denounce (repeal) international treaties. 

In its memorials and request for admission as amicus curiae, Conectas contended that, in addition to the importance of the content of Convention 158, the ruling on the case will have a direct impact on the internalization of human rights norms.

The organization defended the argument of the petitioners that the Constitution, by stating that it is the duty of Congress to “resolve definitively” on treaties (article 49), refers to both the adoption and the repeal of international commitments and, therefore, that the Presidency cannot withdraw from ILO Convention 158 without the approval of Congress. 

The case has been suspended since 2016 due to an adjournment requested by Justice Dias Toffoli. To date, five court justices have voted either partially or completely in favor of the case, on the understanding that the Presidency cannot unilaterally denounce a treaty. Only one justice voted to dismiss the case. 

Other similar cases involving ILO Convention 169 and the withdrawal from Unasur (Union of South American Nations) are also pending in the court.

Technical information

  • Case: ADI-1625
  • Court: Supreme Court
  • Status: No date has been scheduled for the court to resume the case
  • Procedure:
    • 1982 – Brazil accedes to ILO Convention 158
    • 1996 – Brazil ratifies the Convention and, just months later, the Presidency announces the withdrawal from the treaty by decree
    • 1997 – Contag and CUT file the ADI case in the Supreme Court
    • 2003 – Start of judgment and request for adjournment by Justice Nelson Jobim
    • 2006 – Resumption of judgment and request for adjournment by Justice Joaquim Barbosa
    • 2009 – Resumption of judgment and request for adjournment by Justice Ellen Gracie
    • 2016 – Resumption of judgment and another request for adjournment, this time by Justice Dias Toffoli
    • 2/5/20 – Request for Conectas to be admitted as amicus curiae