Brazil under fire for canceling UN mission on fiscal austerity

37th Session of the Human Rights Council, High-Level Panel: 70th Anniversary of the UDHR and 25th of VDPA, Palais des Nations, 28 February 2018, Geneva, Switzerland. OCHCHR/Pierre Albouy 37th Session of the Human Rights Council, High-Level Panel: 70th Anniversary of the UDHR and 25th of VDPA, Palais des Nations, 28 February 2018, Geneva, Switzerland. OCHCHR/Pierre Albouy

The last-minute cancellation, by the Brazilian government, of the mission by Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, was the target of criticism this Thursday, March 1, during the 37th session of the Human Rights Council. The visit, which was scheduled for March 18-30, was intended to assess the impacts of the country’s economic austerity measures, in particular those caused by Constitutional Amendment 95 that caps federal spending for 20 years.

According to a statement made by Conectas, Inesc and Oxfam Brasil, the justification used by the Brazilian government – a change of command at the Ministry of Human Rights – is not plausible and the most likely reason is the 2018 election agenda.

“A coalition of 60 organizations has been working for months to mobilize local stakeholders and prepare grassroots information to contribute to this mission,” said the organizations in the statement. “We fear that the cancellation of this visit may be just another example of a measure based on electoral convenience, with adverse effects on human rights. We request the Brazilian government to reconsider its decision and to reschedule the visit before the end of 2018.”


Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, was scheduled to come to Brazil in March to assess the impact of the amendment that capped spending. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Last Tuesday, February 27, Conectas publicly criticized the cancellation of the visit and described the decision as a lack of commitment by the Temer government to policies for the protection and promotion of human rights.
Since 2015, Brazil has adopted a number of tough fiscal austerity measures, particularly after the approval of Constitutional Amendment No. 95 that places a cap on federal spending for twenty years. When it came into effect, the amendment was labeled as the “harshest austerity package in the world ” by the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

According to information from Inesc, Oxfam Brasil and the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the amendment has already resulted in budget cuts of 70% in food security policies, 19% in education policies, 17% in health policies and 55% in policies to combat violence against women.

“The development of guiding principles for assessing the human rights impacts of economic reform policies is a paramount step to help different stakeholders evaluate them on the basis of existing human rights standards. In this regard, visiting the countries that have implemented these policies is a key tool available to the independent expert for assessing these impacts on the lives of peoples,” said the organizations in the statement.

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Immigration and security

Civil society organizations also criticized the regulatory decree of Brazil’s new Immigration Law. They said the decree issued by President Michel Temer insisted on continuing to address immigration from a national security perspective, while the new law is based on the principles of human rights.

The main criticism of the decree is the possibility of arrest for immigration reasons. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has already pointed out in a report that “criminal or administrative detention based solely on immigration status exceeds the legitimate interests of States in protecting their territory and regulating irregular immigration and should be regarded as arbitrary”.

Conectas, Missão Paz and Caritas Archdiocese of São Paulo believe that the criminalization of immigrants can result in violations such as mistreatment and torture. The organizations asked the Brazilian government to review the decree so immigration in Brazil is viewed from a humanitarian – and not a national security – perspective.

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The response of Brazil

At the end of the session, the Brazilian State requested the floor to refute the statements. The representative of the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN argued that the visit of the independent expert was postponed, not canceled, due to changes in the ministries.

He also said that a series of measures have been taken to guarantee and strengthen social programs and claimed that “without fiscal responsibility, social responsibility is an empty promise”.

Concerning the regulatory decree of the new Immigration Law, the Brazilian government argued that it maintains a human rights perspective and assures due legal process for all immigrants, regardless of their legal status. It also stated that nobody will be detained based only on their immigration status.

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