100 days of the Lula government: the main measures on the human rights agenda

Following the resumption of public participation and the creation of ministries focused on combating various inequalities, Lula distances himself from four years of neglect of democracy

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva participates in a meeting with journalists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on April 6, 2023. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP) Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva participates in a meeting with journalists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on April 6, 2023. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

The first 100 days of the Lula government can be analyzed in light of the contrasts with the constant attacks on human rights and democracy experienced during the years of the Jair Bolsonaro administration. The start of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s third term saw, on January 8, the largest attack against democracy since the end of the dictatorship. This highlights the need for the resumption, in the coming months, of public policies on human rights and opportunities for social participation, as well as the adoption of measures to reinvigorate democracy and strengthen democratic institutions. 

Reconstruction will be challenging insofar as the Bolsonaro administration adopted a systematic anti-rights policy by weakening bodies promoting human and socio-environmental rights, such as the Palmares Foundation, FUNAI and IBAMA, whether by appointing to key positions people who acted against the very mandate of the agencies and/or by weakening their budgetary and oversight capabilities. The new government, meanwhile, has established new ministries such as Racial Equality, Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples, signaling its concern with combating inequalities. 

One unconstitutional feature of the Bolsonaro government was the issuance of decrees and ministerial orders to deviate from the existing legal framework. This happened on the environmental, gun control and migration agendas, among others. There were also resounding efforts by the Bolsonaro government to attempt to change laws in the National Congress that are considered an international reference on the agenda for protecting minorities or to adopt new laws to criminalize social movements. In this regard, the repeals of sub-legal acts that have already occurred in these 100 days were fundamental and the Lula government needs to be increasingly engaged in preventing any legislation that runs counter to human rights from being approved in the National Congress.

In these 100 days, efforts were also made for Brazil to restore its external prestige, in contrast with the status of “international pariah” to which we were relegated in recent years. One of the first actions of the new foreign policy was for Brazil to resume its leading role in the debates on climate change, to rejoin the Global Compact for Migration and to withdraw from the Geneva Consensus, an international alliance of the world’s most conservative countries that resist sexual and reproductive rights.

Racist policies and statements that are an affront to the rights of minorities and that were so common in the previous administration have been replaced by relevant actions in various fields since the beginning of the new administration. In the months ahead, it is crucial that new concrete measures are adopted to continue the reconstruction of human rights policies and the strengthening of the democratic rule of law. This includes, among other things, the combat of disinformation, the defense of civil society space after attempts to criminalize social movements, the demarcation of indigenous lands and the removal of intruders from lands already demarcated, actions for a fair energy transition that do not repeat past mistakes with regard to communities affected by the projects, the implementation of a plan to defend black lives, the adoption of policies to combat mass incarceration and torture, and the strengthening of racial affirmative action policies both in education and in public service.

Conectas lists below some of the actions that deserve to be highlighted in the first 100 days of the current government: 

Rights of indigenous peoples

In addition to the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, under the command of Minister Sônia Guajajara, the government recreated the National Council for Indigenous Policy and restructured Funai (renamed the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples) – under the command of Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman to preside over the institution. These actions reinforce the strategy of valuing areas occupied by traditional peoples as a way of protecting biodiversity and mitigating the climate crisis.

The declaration of a public health emergency in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, home of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana peoples, also illustrates the interest of the new administration. In response to the crisis, an Inter-Ministerial Action was organized and the decree of former President Jair Bolsonaro that created the “Pro- Mape” program, to encourage “artisanal mining”, was repealed. 

Nevertheless, in a meeting with Yanomami representatives in early March, Lula was asked to step up efforts to tackle the crisis. “We need to reach the communities where sick relatives are drinking contaminated water,” advised the indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa. “I need to go there, but I can’t right now, because wildcat miners are there, hiding, waiting to end my life”.

Climate and environment

A series of decrees related to environmental policy were issued on the first day of the Lula government. One of the measures is the reinstatement of the Amazon Fund, which will unlock R$3.3 billion, while additional transfers should reach more than R$5 billion, according to the governor of the state of Pará, Hélder Barbalho. Another agency that has been restructured is Conama (National Environment Council), which had been abolished by the Bolsonaro government. Furthermore, through an agreement signed between the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and the MapBiomas project, the government announced that it will block financing for farmers who carry out illegal deforestation. 

Another highlight of the government’s first 100 days is the new structure of ministries, which is committed to mainstreaming the environmental and climate agendas. Civil society needs to closely monitor this new structure to understand whether it is working effectively, including whether the ministries are receiving an adequate budget to carry out their activities. 

Sectors of civil society have also drawn attention to the need to carry out an energy transition that is fair, inclusive and democratic. On this topic, environmentalists criticized possible BNDES financing for the construction of the Nestor Kirchner gas pipeline in Argentina, which is at the center of a conflict with the Mapuche indigenous peoples. 

Public Security

One the first measures taken by the government was to start restructuring the country’s gun control policy. In a decree, President Lula restricted access to guns and ammunition and suspended the registration of new gun licenses and authorizations for new shooting clubs. 

In March, the government relaunched the New National Public Security and Citizenship Program (Pronasci), whose key fronts are: preventing and confronting violence against women; promoting public security policies with citizenship (with a focus on more vulnerable territories and with high levels of violence); promoting citizenship policies, focused on employment and formal and vocational education for prisoners and ex-prisoners; supporting victims of crime; and fighting structural racism and all the crimes resulting from it.

As it is aligned with the National Public Security Plan, which was created during the Bolsonaro administration, a close monitoring of the implementation of Pronasci will be essential to ensure the inclusion of important issues that have been ignored, such as mass incarceration, combat and prevention of torture, police lethality and enforced disappearances. 

Strengthening democracy

In his first speech as president, Lula reinforced the strengthening of democracy as one of the main pillars of the new government. As such, among his first measures, the president repealed Decree 9759, restoring civil society participation in the democratic field. The decree reduced from 700 to less than 50 the number of councils included in the National Social Participation Policy (PNPS) and the National Social Participation System (SNPS), programs created by the Dilma Rousseff government, which were also abolished. The decree was signed by the then-president Bolsonaro to mark the first hundred days of his government in 2019. 

Combating racism 

On March 21, when the 20th anniversary of the first public policy on racial equality was celebrated, President Lula announced, alongside the Minister of Racial Equality Anielle Franco, a package of measures with actions to reduce racial inequality, value quilombola peoples and reduce violence against black youth. Among the measures, the government gave land titles to three quilombola communities: Brejo dos Crioulos, in the state of Minas Gerais, and Lagoa dos Campinhos and Serra da Guia, in the state of Sergipe, and it also announced the creation of the Aquilomba Brazil Program, to promote the rights of the quilombola population.

Also announced was the reformulation and implementation of the Black Youth Plan, the institutionalization of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group of Cais do Valongo and the creation of the Working Group to Combat Religious Racism, in addition to a technical cooperation agreement on historical reparation for African-based religions. It also created the National Affirmative Action Program, an inter-ministerial working group whose purpose is to enable access by black, indigenous and disabled people and women to areas such as education, justice, health and employment. 

Migration policy

On January 23, Minister of Justice Flávio Dino published Ministerial Order 290/2023, which set up a Working Group to draft the National Policy on Migration, Asylum and Statelessness. Participating in the Group were migrants and representatives from civil society, including Conectas, who addressed the topic Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Combat of Racism and Xenophobia. The work of the Group was concluded at the end of March and Hearings and Public Consultations are expected to be held to debate the preliminary text of the Policy in the coming months. Organizations have been calling for the creation of this Policy for some time, particularly since 2017, since it is provided for in Article 120 of the Migration Law and, as such, the initiative was considered a step forward.

Also announced was the launch of the Program for Attention and Acceleration of Asylum Policies for People of African Descent and the Moïse Kabagambe Observatory of Violence Against Refugees. Brazil also announced that it has rejoined the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). 

“For the IOM (UN Agency for Migration), the return of Brazil to the GCM represents an important step in the continuity of its reception policy that benefits nearly 1.6 million migrant people who have chosen Brazil as their home, also benefiting host communities,” said the IOM in a congratulatory statement.

Combating contemporary slavery 

Actions taken by the current government are already addressing the growing insecurity of labor and the persistent practice of contemporary slavery. In January, President Lula announced the creation of a working group responsible for eliminating imbalances in relations between employees and employers. The idea is for the proposed measures to be sent for debate in the National Congress. The initiative is in line with the campaign promise to create new labor legislation, with “special attention” on workers “mediated by apps and platforms”.

However, many such measures will have to be adopted to recover from the setbacks caused by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who, on his first day in office, in 2019, abolished the Labor Ministry, turning it into a secretariat reporting to the Ministry of Economy before it was restored it in 2021. At the same time, the civil society participation mechanisms, as well as the oversight structures, were continually dismantled.

As pointed out in the report by Conectas, OECD Watch and FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights), the relaxation of labor laws in the country in recent years has caused insecurity for many workers. Among the main problems listed in the document are the lack of budget and shortage of labor inspectors. Following the recent case of contemporary slavery found in vineyards in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the government announced that it plans to review the 2nd National Plan for the Eradication of Slave Labor and, possibly, release a third plan with new public policy proposals to combat the practice. 

Gender policies 

In January, the federal government announced Brazil’s withdrawal from the Geneva Consensus Declaration, an agreement that takes a position against legal abortion and in favor of recognizing an ultraconservative concept of family as the foundation of society. With membership formalized in 2020, during the Bolsonaro government, Brazil had assumed a leading role in this group.

Also in January, the Ministry of Health repealed six ministerial orders signed by the previous government which, it claims, conflicted with public health system guidelines. The repealed orders include one that required the medical team to notify the police about abortions in cases rape (Order No. 2,561). 

This order was published in September 2020, making it difficult to perform abortions in cases permitted by law. The text made the process more bureaucratic and arduous, establishing four new steps for the procedure, such as the need to prepare a technical opinion signed by three members of the medical team and the victim’s signature on agreements of responsibility and consent. The order also required doctors to inform the victim about the possibility of seeing the fetus or embryo by having an ultrasound, in an attempt to humiliate her for undergoing the procedure. 

International posture 

Brazilian diplomacy has also returned to a vision of respect for human rights in the UN Council that deals with this subject. In March, Brazil rejected recommendations made by other Member States in the 4th cycle of its Universal Periodic Review, in November, that limit the definition of family and discriminate against LGBTQIA+ persons. The Brazilian Ambassador to the United Nations, Tovar da Silva Nunes, said that these recommendations adopted a narrow interpretation of family, in conflict with Brazilian legislation and rulings by the Judiciary. “Brazil’s national public policies are geared towards all types of family, without any type of discrimination,” said the ambassador. 

Beforehand, in February, the Minister of Human Rights, Silvio Almeida, said, also in the UN Human Rights Council, that the Brazilian government is “deeply committed” to international treaties and the Universal Periodic Review, a UN mechanism that assesses the human rights policies of member countries.

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