See how the UN Universal Periodic Review works and its importance for human rights

In partnership with other organizations, Conectas prepares reports with recommendations for Brazil in the review process organized by the UN

Recomendações da RPU foram destaque para o Brasil durante a reunião
(Foto: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo) Recomendações da RPU foram destaque para o Brasil durante a reunião (Foto: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo)

Every four and a half years, approximately, all 193 United Nations Member States are questioned on the measures adopted to address human rights violations in their countries. This is the UPR (Universal Periodic Review), which occurs in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a form of accountability in the area of human rights. 

In November 2022, Brazil will undergo its fourth review since the UPR was created in 2006. During the review, other Member States will make recommendations to the country based on three documents: what Brazil says about itself; the problems identified by civil society; and the compilation of reports from UN agencies on human rights in Brazil. 

How the UPR process works

In its first report, the country’s government must provide information such as the process of adapting to international standards, the development of methods to monitor progress in the field of human rights and an assessment of the new challenges being faced, in addition to what it has done to address the recommendations made at the previous review. Meanwhile, civil society and the UN also prepare reports to be compared with the government’s official version. The three documents are forwarded to Member States so they can prepare their recommendations for the day of the review. The government under review may then accept or reject these new recommendations. 

The system employs the strategy known as “naming and shaming”, which does not involve penalties but instead “embarrasses” the country by exposing its persistent violations, causing the State to worry about its international reputation and the subsequent impact on business. 

The effects of the last UPR

In 2017, when Brazil underwent its third review, the country received 246 recommendations, of which it voluntarily accepted 242. Between the 2012 review and the 2017 review, the country saw an increase in murders, police violence and the number of incarcerations. According to the National Justice Council, the prison population stood at 654,000 in 2017. By 2018, this number had risen to more than 800,000. Today, according to data from the National Prison Department (Depen) until July 2021, the prison population stands at 820,689. 

In 2017, however, the most worrying topic was the public policies for indigenous peoples – a situation that has only worsened since the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019 stating that there would not be “one square centimeter of demarcated” land in Brazil during his government. 

For 2022, Conectas has sent contributions to the UN on different topics. We provide here a summary of the reports prepared by the organization in partnership with other organizations committed to the defense of human rights in the country. 

1. Racial affirmative action

Together with the Black Coalition for Rights, Conectas looked into Brazil’s compliance with some of the key international human rights obligations on the creation and maintenance of affirmative action policies for the country’s black population. The organizations also recommended actions such as encouraging more racial affirmative action policies in the private sector, improving mechanisms to monitor and assess racial affirmative action policies, and rejecting legislative proposals that aim to revoke or weaken the Racial Quotas law. 

2. Defense of civil society

In the report prepared by Conectas and Article 19, the compliance of the Brazilian government with international human rights obligations was analyzed in order to create and maintain a safe and conducive environment for civil society. In particular, it analyzed compliance with freedom of association, assembly and expression, as well as unjustified restrictions on human rights defenders. The suggested actions include rejecting legislative proposals that toughen “anti-terrorism” laws – which serve as a pretext for the escalation of surveillance and the criminalization of social movements, and guaranteeing social participation in the PNDH (National Human Rights Program).

3. Migration and asylum

Since March 18, 2020, the Brazilian government has published a sequence of 37 decrees that place restrictions on entry into the country, under the pretext of containing the spread of covid-19. The measures demonstrate a difference in treatment in relation to countries of origin and means of transport, violating the rights of equality and non-discrimination. Moreover, these administrative rules are illegal, unconstitutional and violate both national legislation and international human rights treaties ratified by Brazil. In the report, Brazilian organizations from the Collaborative Advocacy Network (RAC) ask that the system for receiving migrants and refugees be monitored, in a transparent process, especially for Venezuelans who belong to the most vulnerable group. They also request that specific actions for indigenous migrants be included in the National Policy on Migration, Asylum and Statelessness.

Among the organizations that signed the report are Cáritas, the Center for the Treatment of Migrants, the Center for the Human Rights and Citizenship of Immigrants, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the Migrations and Human Rights Institute, the Research, Teaching and University Extension Group on Human Rights and International Human Mobility (Migraidh), Missão Paz and Conectas. 

4. Gender: Equality and non-discrimination, gender policies and sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil

With regard to gender issues, the report prepared in partnership with Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW), the Brazilian chapter of Catholics for Choice, the Human Rights and LGBT Citizenship Center of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (NUH/UFMG), the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA), the Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender Institute (Anis) and the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transexuals and Intersex People (ABGLT) analyzed compliance with government obligations to guarantee the dignity and the rights of all humans without discrimination of any kind. Among the recommended actions are the strengthening of mechanisms for reporting violations of the rights of the LGBTI population, and the creation of policies for the inclusion of sexuality and gender diversity in education.

5. Mining and affected people 

In 2015, the collapse of the Fundão tailings dam in the state of Minas Gerais, owned by the mining companies Vale and Samarco, left a trail of mud, death and destruction in what was the biggest environmental and social disaster in the Brazilian mining sector. According to the report by civil society organizations submitted to the UN, the Brazilian government has not taken the measures necessary to repair the damage that was caused, particularly with regard to actions to prevent further disasters of this type. The lack of accountability not only undermines the right to full remedy but also represents yet another violation of the rights of the victims and their families and, ultimately, of society itself. The recommendations include the guarantee of fundamental rights such as the human rights to life, health, drinking water, food, adequate housing and a healthy environment, as well as compliance with the obligations of companies under international and regional human rights treaties. 

In addition to Conectas, the other authors of the report were the Association of Families of the Victims and People Affected by the Collapse of the Córrego do Feijão Mine Dam, the Commission of People Affected by the Fundão Dam, Cáritas Brazil Minas Gerais Regional Office, the Movement for the Waters and Ranges of Minas Gerais and the Our Lady of the Rosary Episcopal Region. 

6. Deforestation, environment and indigenous peoples

Brazil has not done enough either to implement the National Policy on Climate Change with regard to reducing deforestation in the Amazon region or to protect Indigenous Lands (on the contrary, there has been a drastic reduction in state action in the Amazon). This is the conclusion reached in the document prepared by Conectas in partnership with ISA (Socioenvironmental Institute), the Climate Observatory, APIB (Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) and WWF-Brazil. Among the various actions recommended by the document, it requests that all deforestation in the Amazon be banned for at least five years, with exceptions for subsistence activities and traditional populations, and the immediate resumption of actions to curb illegal deforestation.

7. Combating slave labor

The mechanisms to combat slave labor in Brazil caused the country to become a reference in these public policies, which contributed to the rescue of more than 57,000 people between 1995 and 2021. However, a series of threats and setbacks put the work developed over the past few decades at risk. The report prepared by Conectas in partnership with Adere/MG (Agricultural Workers Alliance of Minas Gerais), the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Oxfam Brasil indicate that the government has used the economic crisis as an excuse to reduce rights and stop investing in social policies. According to the document, given the crisis aggravated by the pandemic, Brazil needs to take action to prevent more people from being recruited and becoming victims of this crime and to rescue those who are already having their human rights violated.

8. Combating torture 

Despite the recommendations received from international bodies, Brazil has not yet managed to eradicate torture in the country. The report prepared by Conectas, the National Decarceration Agenda, Justiça Global, Pastoral Carcerária (the Catholic Church’s prisoner outreach service) and the World Organization Against Torture draws on previous documents containing recommendations intended to end torture in Brazil and presents new proposals such as the creation of a database of all the allegations of torture made at pre-trial custody hearings and the banning of the use of lethal weapons inside prison facilities.

9. Military Justice

After the military dictatorship, the jurisdiction of the Military Justice system and the legal definition of what constitutes a military crime were expanded in Brazil. As a result, the document prepared by Conectas, IDDD (Defense of the Right to a Defense Institute), GENI/UFF (Study Group of New Illegalisms of the Fluminense Federal University), the Right to Memory and Racial Justice Initiative, the Institute for the Defense of the Black Population and Justiça Global calls for effective measures from the Brazilian government to respect the constitutional bounds of courts run by the Armed Forces. According to the organizations, the Military Justice system should not be used, for example, to judge civilians or military personnel who commit crimes against civilians. 

10. Police lethality 

In 2020, the ADPF Favelas Case in the Supreme Court asked the government of Rio de Janeiro to explain the increase in police lethality in the state. However, police violence is not exclusive to Rio de Janeiro, but is rather a national problem. In search of concrete actions to reduce police lethality, the report from civil society submitted to the UN states that a number of measures can save lives: a ban on firing guns from police helicopters and their use as instruments of terror; a suspension of the secrecy of all police action protocols; and external oversight of the police, with the possibility of broad participation by social movements and civil society organizations. The document was signed by Conectas, GENI/UFF (Study Group of New Illegalisms of the Fluminense Federal University), the Right to Memory and Racial Justice Initiative, the Institute for the Defense of the Black Population and Justiça Global. 

11. Right to vote 

The right to vote in Brazil has undergone changes over time. After the promulgation of the Constitution of 1988, the right to vote was extended to people aged 16, people who are illiterate and those over the age of 70. On the other hand, there is one specific group whose right to vote is suspended: the prison population. Persons deprived of liberty are prevented from voting, which means that more than 820,000 people do not have their political rights guaranteed. In a document sent to the UPR process, Conectas and the Pro Bono Institute recommend that Brazil adopt effective measures to ensure the full rights of citizenship for prisoners, including the right to vote.

12. Homeless people

The growing number of people living on the streets in the country was the focus of this report. According to the signatory organizations, this situation violates several international rights, in particular those related to the fight against poverty, the promotion of social equality and the right to good health and adequate food. The document points out that the situation has become even more serious due to the covid-19 pandemic. It also addresses the problems of removing homeless people and their belongings from the streets by state agents. 

The report is signed by Conectas, the Public Defender’s Offices of the states of São Paulo and Paraná, the Citizenship and Human Rights Center, the National Institute for the Human Rights of Homeless People and the Citizenship and Human Rights Center. 

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