UN agency to investigate racial discrimination during visit to Brazil

From 27 November to 8 December, experts will visit Brasília, Salvador, Fortaleza, São Paulo, and Rio to observe respect of the human rights of the black population and various traditional communities in the country

Pessoas participam de uma manifestação contra o racismo durante a comemoração do Dia da Consciência Negra em São Paulo, Brasil, em 20 de novembro de 2023. (Foto de Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP) Pessoas participam de uma manifestação contra o racismo durante a comemoração do Dia da Consciência Negra em São Paulo, Brasil, em 20 de novembro de 2023. (Foto de Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP)

Independent experts from the UN (United Nations) are in Brazil to analyse the use of force by law enforcement officers against the black population and to observe the alignment of the legal system with international human rights standards. Another focus of the visit is access to accountability and redress for the excessive use of force against this segment of the population.

The experts are members of Emler, which stands for Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement. The itinerary of the visit, which will take place from 27 November to 8 December, includes Brasília, Salvador, Fortaleza, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Prior to the trip an extensive investigation was conducted which included requests for voluntary, confidential contributions by people and organizations interested in providing information on research, policies and situations of concern that should be seen by Emler.

In a statement at the UN, Juan Mendez, a member of the Expert Mechanism said that the expectation was to see “first hand” what happens to people of Afro-descendancy living in Brazil. 

What to expect from their visit to Brazil

During their two-week visit to five Brazilian capitals, the experts have meetings scheduled with government authorities and representatives of the police forces and law enforcement officers. Meetings with civil society representatives and affected individuals and communities are also expected, as well as prison inspections.

The group are expected to present their recommendations to the government (whether federal, state or municipal) in order to support actions to combat systemic racism, to oppose the excessive use of force and ensure accountability and justice.

At the end of the mission the recommendations will be announced in a press conference, on 8 December at the Information Centre of the United Nations for Brazil (Unic Rio) in the Itamaraty Palace in Rio de Janeiro.

What is Emler

The Mechanism was established in July 2021 by the UN Human Rights Council. It resulted from a significant effort to acknowledge state responsibility for the murder of George Floyd and numerous cases like it worldwide and it provides recommendations on necessary measures to ensure access to justice, accountability, and reparations for Africans and Afro-descendants affected by excessive use of force.

The Human Rights Council appointed three independent experts to join the Mechanism: Dr Tracie Keesee (United States); Professor Juan Méndez (Argentina) and the judge, Yvonne Mokgoro (South Africa).

Keesee previously served as the Deputy Commissioner of Training and Equity and Inclusion in the New York Police Department after a 25-year tenure in the Denver Police Department. She is currently a co-founder of the Centre For Policing Equity, an organization that advocates for police transparency and accountability.

Méndez is a professor of Human Rights in Washington and a member of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. He served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment from 2010 to 2016 and has worked with Human Rights Watch.

Mkgoro is the President of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. She is a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and, among other activities, has taught in the United Kingdom, United States, and the Netherlands, as well as at the universities of Bophuthatswana, Pretoria, and Western Cape.

Racism in Brazil

The 2023 Brazilian Public Security Yearbook presents data that illustrates some aspects the members of Emler are expected to encounter in the country.

For intentional violent deaths – a category that includes intentional homicide, robbery followed by death, bodily injury followed by death, and deaths resulting from police interventions – 76.5% of the victims were black people. “Black people are the main group who fall victim of violence, regardless of the type of incident, but they make up 83.1% of the victims of police interventions,” it states in the text which was signed by Samira Bueno, Executive Director of the Brazilian Public Security Forum, and Renato Sérgio de Lima, President-Director of the Forum and professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).

The publication emphasizes that “the judiciary plays a significant role in endorsing the annihilation of black bodies.”

The data indicates that the majority of people incarcerated are black people (68.2%), living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. “The Brazilian prison system exposes structural racism. Whilst there was a 215% growth in the incarcerated white population between 2005 and 2022, a decrease from 39.8% to 30.4% in the most recent year on record, there was a 381.3% growth in the black population. In 2005, 58.4% of the total prison population was black, in 2022, this percentage was 68.2%, the highest on record. In other words, the prison system is increasingly revealing the predominance of racism in Brazil. In other words, as stated in the text by the researchers from the Forum, Juliana Brandão, a Ph.D. in Human Rights at USP, and Amanda Lagreca, a Master’s student in Public Administration and Government at FGV, ‘penal selectivity has a colour”.

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