Participating in foreign policy
The Foreign Relations and National Defense Commission of the lower house of Congress completed, on Thursday (November 6), a public consultation process to find out what foreign policy topics Brazilian society wants the commission to debate.
The initiative, which has been backed up by the campaign #TheCongressDoesItToo, run by Conectas, collected 45 suggestions on trade, immigration, foreign conflicts, human rights, transparency and diplomacy. Now, these topics will be put to a public vote on the internet to determine their priority. Click here to participate in the process, which will take place by November 21.
Before then, on November 19, the Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo will testify in the Foreign Relations Commission of the lower house of Congress. We have launched another campaign entitled ‘Congressman, #AskTheMinister’ to encourage the members of the commission to step up their dialogue with the Foreign Ministry. Accompany the stance of each commission member on our website to find out whether they were present at the session and what questions they asked.
Camila Asano, coordinator of Foreign Policy at Conectas, comments on some of the topics that were raised and that could be addressed by the commission at the minister’s hearing. She points out their strategic importance for the country and the role that Congress could play in each of them.
Topic (T): The OAS and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Camila Asano (CA): The IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) is a fundamental part of the human rights protection system that is currently available to people who live in the Americas. To weaken this system would be to weaken the protection. This is what Brazil did when it condemned the precautionary measures issued by the IACHR in 2009, in the case against the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.
Although it claims that relations have been normalized, the country has still not appointed a permanent ambassador and has still not resumed its direct financial contributions to the IACHR, disregarding the serious and well-known economic difficulties of the commission. Brazil’s most recent contribution, in 2009, in the amount of just US$10,000, was very small. Congress has the duty to debate the full reestablishment of these relations and to demand greater participation by Brazil in the strengthening of the system.
T: Immigration Policy
CA: Over the past five years, as a consequence of its stability and prosperity, Brazil has become a favorite destination for immigrants. If the country continues to grow, with strong employment figures, it is only natural that people will want to come – and we are fully capable of absorbing these inflows.
Brazil has demonstrated an awareness that its restrictive policies are bad, which is why, for example, it has not resorted to mass deportations. The problem lies in the fact that it is still constrained by the Foreigner Act, a law that dates back to the military dictatorship and views immigrants in terms of national security. This urgently needs to be changed.
The Ministry of Justice, through a commission of experts, has prepared draft bill to rectify this situation. Congress must now do its part and approve the new legislation as quickly as possible. This is the only way for Brazil to be recognized as an example to follow.
T: BRICS Bank
CA: To begin with, there was a lot of skepticism about the BRICS. It was believed that the block would do little more than hold its annual summits. However, the creation of the New Development Bank in June illustrates that this is not the case. The block is a reality and enjoys a strategic importance.
The main concern is for this new financial institution to not reproduce the same flawed practices used by the national development banks of the BRICS members, such as the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). It is vital for Congress to debate ways to mitigate the risks of the bank committing violations.
Conectas and partners defend five key conditions for the BRICS Bank: the creation of socio-environmental and human rights-respecting guidelines; free, prior and informed consultation for projects that impact the lives of indigenous and tribal peoples; solid transparency and participation policies; an effective and transparent grievance and conflict resolution mechanism; and, finally, participation by society during the formalization of the bank and the cycle of the projects. The agreement establishing the BRICS Bank still has to be approved by Congress and it is extremely important that transparency and human rights concerns are among the issues debated by lawmakers when the time comes.
T: White Paper
CA: The White Paper, a public document containing the principles, priorities and outlines of Brazilian foreign policy, was the issue most frequently mentioned in the suggestions submitted to Congress.
This goes to show that participation requires information. There is no sense calling foreign policy a public policy if hardly any data is available.
In this regard, the White Paper is an extremely important topic. A round of meetings with civil society has already been held to define the key points it should contain, but the Foreign Ministry needs to make more of an effort – and it is the job of Congress to pressure the Executive for this to occur. Members of the lower house commission could, for example, ask for the draft version of the White Paper to be posted online for public consultation, like what happened with the bill that created the Civil Framework for the Internet. This would prevent the White Paper from becoming an innocuous document.
T: Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)
CA: The treaty approved in September is a landmark in that it is the first international agreement to regulate trade in conventional weapons. Prior to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulation was limited to specific categories, such as nuclear and chemical weapons, or to regional agreements. Brazil claims that its arms contracts are responsible. If this is the case, it should not be concerned about the effects of the treaty. Nevertheless, the country has not yet ratified the ATT.
Congress has a fundamental role to play in this process because Brazil will only be able to implement the treaty when it completes the ratification process. Just a few days ago, the Executive finally sent the treaty to the Legislative, where it must first be approved in the lower house of Congress. Members of Congress now need to commit to its swift approval.
T: National Council on Foreign Policy
CA: The creation of a National Council on Foreign Policy is a long-time demand of civil society, and it would satisfy the need to establish a permanent and formal forum for dialogue between the Foreign Ministry and Brazilian society. Today, the debate on Brazil’s foreign policy is restricted to a select group of ‘insiders’ who move in informal channels. A council could help democratize these relations. Congress and, more specifically, the Foreign Relations and National Defense Commission of the lower house, need to support this initiative. It is worth pointing out that the Foreign Relations Minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, has already committed to the creation of a forum such as this.