At the UN, Damares says she advocates women’s rights but insists on the criminalisation of abortion

During an international speech, on Monday 25 February, at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, stressed that policies aimed at defending women will be a priority agenda in President Jair Bolsonaro’s government. The Minister stated that no tolerance will be shown regarding “feminicide and sexual assault.”

In the same speech, however, Damares upheld the “full exercise of the right to life, from conception,” in support of the criminalisation of women who terminate pregnancy.

“Generally speaking the Minister tries to demonstrate concern with the integrity and the lives of women, but in practice her discourse is radically opposed to this. The criminalisation of abortion, not only violates women’s rights to life and to health, but also affects a disproportionate number of young, poor, black women, who live in vulnerable economic and social conditions.” Juana Kweitel, Executive Director at Conectas pointed out.

The speech comes at a time when the Supreme Federal Court is judging the constitutionality of articles 124 and 125 of the Penal Code, the focus of action that seeks to decriminalise abortion (ADPF 442).

When citing Brazil’s commitment to international human rights treaties, the Minister also ignored the fact that since the 1990s the Brazilian state has been a signatory on global accords that recommend the prevention of unsafe abortion, a review of punitive laws and full respect for women’s rights to sexual and reproductive autonomy, the case of action programmes at the International Conference of Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), The Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the Montevideo Consensus (Cepal, 2013).


Human Rights Defenders

Without mentioning the assassination of Councilwoman Marielle Franco, nearly one year ago and still unanswered, the Minister stressed that “Brazil continues to be committed to the protection of its courageous human rights defenders.” She announced a broadening of the government programme for the protection of professionals in this category that will start to include social and environmental communicators.

The PPDDH (Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), however, still has no legal framework, receives insufficient funding and in addition faces political problems in its relations with federal states and public security bodies in implementing protective measures, according to the organisation Terra de Direitos.

Neither does the alarming data point to any particular concern on the part of the State regarding this issue. According to Global Witness, Brazil is the most dangerous country for environmental and human rights defenders. In 2017, there were 57 assassinations.

Commitment to the International Human Rights System

However, in her speech Damares said the Brazilian state reached out to the international human rights system and asked for support for its candidacy for re-election to the Human Rights Council. The Minister upheld an open invitation to all special rapporteurs to visit Brazil for on site inspections and made a commitment to submit all overdue reports to the UN Committees on Treaties. “We will pay attention and will call for visits to take place.” Kweitel said.

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