UN Universal Periodic Review: 10 points of the report by Brazil on human rights
The actions highlighted by the State in the field of human rights do not reflect the threats and setbacks that have occurred in recent years; see the analysis by Conectas
Sala do Conselho de Direitos Humanos da ONU
In November 2022, Brazil will undergo the 4th Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Mechanism, which occurs at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a review to which all 193 United Nations Member States are subject every four and a half years, approximately, and which serves as a form of accountability in the field of human rights.
In this review, 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 the country.
In May, the government released the Report by the Brazilian State, prepared by the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, which compiled the actions developed by the State on the subject of human rights in response to the recommendations made in the third cycle.
At the end of August, Brazil underwent a pre-session at the UN within the scope of the UPR and released its updated report. After analyzing the government document, the UPR Group – made up of 30 Brazilian organizations that are monitoring the review process – said in a statement that the Brazilian report “is a very long way from reflecting the sad current reality of setbacks and dismantling of human rights that have occurred in the country in recent years”.
Before this, Brazilian civil society had also presented several reports to the UPR mechanism in which it reveals the real human rights situation in the country and suggests some courses of action.
See below the analysis by Conectas of the 10 issues addressed by the government.
What the government says about democracy
The report by the Brazilian State uses the word democracy when referencing the country’s reelection to the UN Human Rights Council. According to the document, the government is committed to the promotion and protection of the highest standards of human rights and to the defense of democracy and the proper functioning of the rule of law.
From attacks on the press to discourses that create an atmosphere of undemocratic disruption, offensives against the rule of law have become all too common in Brazil. The attacks on the Brazilian electoral system – casting doubt on the efficiency of electronic voting machines – and on high court justices, for example, were the target of complaints from civil society both inside and outside Brazil. Social participation, essential to the rule of law, has also been attacked by the current government from the outset, in 2019. Decrees, executive measures, ministerial orders and legislative bills have attempted to bar, surveil, undermine or even criminalize civil society. The use of the now-extinct National Security Law, revoked in September 2021, to harass opponents, the offensives to approve an agenda of proposals to expand “anti-terrorism” legislation, as well as the attempts to contract spyware systems used by authoritarian governments and the development of surveillance tools used illegally reveal that the current administration is not committed to democratic values.
What the government says about combating racism
The document highlights the importance of combating racism and refers to the enactment of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance as an integral part of the Brazilian legal system with a hierarchical status equivalent to a Constitutional Amendment. Among other examples, it also points to its social dialogue actions, such as the launch of courses, campaigns, forums and applications, as well as investments in the prevention of violence against women, children and adolescents.
The report reveals that, in practice, the Brazilian State is tackling structural racism with online courses on the subject, an extremely limited action given the challenge of combating racial discrimination. Brazil received more than 50 recommendations related to public safety in the last review cycle. In spite of this, it does not mention any efforts to reduce police lethality or mass incarceration, which mainly affect the black population. Neither is there any mention of the classification as a crime of the practice of enforced disappearances committed by government agents.
Police violence against black people is not addressed, despite being a serious problem: in 2021, whereas white people died 31% less, black people died 5.8% more frequently in cases of death caused by law enforcement officers, according to the Annual Report on Brazilian Public Security, published by the Brazilian Public Security Forum. The killings that have occurred in Rio de Janeiro in recent years, in spite of rulings given by the Supreme Court as part of the ADPF Favelas Case, the murder of Genivaldo de Jesus Santos by the Federal Highway Police in Sergipe and the killing of Beto Freitas by security guards at a Carrefour store in Rio Grande do Sul are some examples of the consequences of the State’s lack of commitment to antiracist policies.
What the government says about migration and asylum
The government report says that Brazil has already received more than 345,000 people from Venezuela, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. In this respect, the government highlighted the Operation Welcome program as the basis of the Brazilian response to the Venezuelan migration problem. Moreover, the report states that Brazil “has granted humanitarian visas to Syrians, Afghans and Ukrainians who come to the country fleeing conflicts in their countries of origin” and generically lists other actions that are in progress, such as the creation of an integrated digital information system on human trafficking.
The report does not present any actions taken in relation to the implementation of the Migration Law (Law 13,445/2017), the resettlement policies for refugees or the preparation of a National Integration Plan, as recommended by some countries in the previous UPR cycle. Despite mentioning Operation Welcome, the federal government adopted a discriminatory position with regard to Venezuelan migrants trying to enter Brazil during the covid-19 pandemic. Through more than 30 inter-ministerial orders, the country permitted, among other things, the immediate deportation of people, even though they are legally entitled to asylum. Instead of adopting health measures to stop the spread of the virus on the land borders, the Brazilian State put the lives of these people at risk, as shown by several civil society organizations. Even though Anvisa (National Health Regulatory Agency) has told Conectas that there was no guidance from the agency to put segregated bans on the entry of people to Brazil from border countries, the government maintained its restrictions for more than a year, prompting legal challenges.
What the government says about the protection of indigenous peoples and quilombola communities
The Brazilian State highlights in the report that it funded the purchase and distribution of more than 400,000 food baskets to indigenous and quilombola families between 2020 and 2021 and that, since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, it has been committed to protecting the most vulnerable groups, especially indigenous peoples.
In the 3rd Cycle of the UPR, the country received 34 recommendations that directly and indirectly addressed concerns about the situation facing indigenous peoples and the environment. These recommendations identified the need for Brazil to make more progress on the promotion and respect of indigenous rights, the demarcation of indigenous lands, the prevention of racism, the obligation to stage prior consultations and other topics. However, ignoring the real situation, the report from Brazil does not mention the main issues affecting native and traditional peoples (such as quilombola communities), such as the right to land and respect for their way of life. In practice, attacks on these rights in Brazil have intensified in recent years, with a series of proposed legislation that violates the rights of native and traditional peoples – the so-called Package of Destruction. The neglect from the government and the anti-indigenous agenda in the National Congress threatens the very existence of these peoples. During the pandemic, indigenous and quilombola organizations appealed to the Supreme Court in search of protection not only to combat covid-19 but also to remove intruders who were illegally using their lands for unlawful economic activities such as wildcat mining, land grabbing and the illegal sale of wood and cattle.
What the government says about the covid-19 pandemic
The government report vaguely mentions several actions taken during the covid-19 pandemic to protect the health of the Brazilian population, particularly the most vulnerable groups. It also cites the positive impact of the emergency income support on the country’s economy.
The covid-19 pandemic is a good example of how the Brazilian State is not committed to the right to life of the population. As demonstrated by the Covid Inquiry Commission in the Senate – based on documents, testimonies and studies such as the 10th issue of the Rights in the Pandemic Bulletin, an initiative of Cepedisa (Center for Studies and Research on Health Law of the University of São Paulo) in partnership with Conectas – the federal government systematically blocked measures to contain the spread of the virus, while defending so-called herd immunity and early treatment with drugs that are ineffective against the disease. One of the most emblematic cases was the oxygen shortages in hospitals in the city of Manaus, in the state of Amazonas.
What the government says about reparations for people affected by the collapse of tailings dams
With regard to the collapse of the tailings dams owned by Samarco, in 2015, and by Vale, in 2019, for example, the government report states that it adopted all the appropriate judicial and extrajudicial measures to support the affected families and communities in the towns of Mariana and Brumadinho. The document also states that preventive measures have been taken and public hearings held with representatives of academia, civil society and public authorities to establish technical provisions.
As shown in the report submitted to the UPR mechanism by the affected communities, with the support of Conectas, the committees were not created with the effective participation of the communities, nor were they involved in a series of legal discussions and out-of-court settlements that have caused confusion among the affected people. Overall, Conectas judges that the measures presented by the government are unsatisfactory, those responsible remain unpunished, there is no respect for the principle of the centrality of victims, nor any participation or transparency in the settlements. As such, access to justice continues to be violated as the affected people are still waiting for their right to compensation and reparations, and still calling for measures so these tragedies are not repeated. Furthermore, it should be noted that, with regard to the intersection between human rights and environmental rights, the damage caused to nature has not been satisfactorily restored, as entire regions are still covered by mud and waste from the disasters.
What the government says about gender policies
The report states that the Brazilian government signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family as an important step in the defense of the human rights of women. Emergency Income Support is also mentioned as a fundamental policy in guaranteeing women’s rights. The government also said that it is working on behalf of the LGBTI+ population.
The so-called Geneva Consensus is an anti-abortion alliance that stands against the human rights of women and girls formed by just 36 countries. It was created in 2020 by the United States in Geneva (Switzerland) during the Trump era, with the full support of Brazil. With the election of Joe Biden to the White House, the US left the group and Brazil took the leadership, with the primary mission of including new countries, as happened with Russia – which is known for its conservativism in gender policies. Ignoring international commitments and in contravention of the constitutional definition of the right to life, the Brazilian State, through the Geneva Consensus, reaffirms an ultra-conservative position on the matter. More recently, Colombia also left the Consensus. Brazilian organizations that are accompanying the UPR submitted a report to the United Nations recommending 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. Regarding LGBTI+ persons, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights reduced spending on public policies for this population.
What the government says about combating slave labor
The report from the government states that Brazil has staged campaigns against slave labor and organized the national program for the practical training of Labor Inspectors to combat domestic slave labor. Another action mentioned in the report is a support service for victims of slave labor.
The mechanisms to combat slave labor in Brazil have made the country a reference in public policies on slave labor inspection and victim support, contributing to the rescue of more than 57,000 people between 1995 and 2021. However, a series of threats and setbacks put the work developed by these mechanisms over the past few decades at risk. A report prepared by Conectas in partnership with Adere-MG (Agricultural Workers Alliance of Minas Gerais), the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Oxfam Brasil indicates 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. In addition, given the reduction of the budget to combat slave labor and the shortage of inspectors, the effectiveness of the fight against slave labor has become increasingly compromised.
What the government says about combating torture
The Brazilian government said in its report that it has published decrees, manuals and guidelines to combat the practice of torture in the country. Ironically, the document also cites a 2022 ruling by the Supreme Court, which ordered the reestablishment of remuneration for the experts who serve on the National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture, which was created in 2013. It is worth noting that it was the federal government that abolished the remuneration of these experts for their work.
Despite the recommendations received from international bodies, Brazil has not yet managed to eradicate torture in the country. On the contrary, in recent years, the fight against torture has been the target of attacks by government actions, such as a 2019 decree that dismissed eleven experts serving on the MNPCT (National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture), the body of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights that is responsible for investigating torture and mistreatment in detention facilities. In addition to the dismissal of the experts, the decree also determined that the work performed by the body will be considered a “relevant public service, unpaid”.
Conectas, the National Decarceration Agenda, Justiça Global, Pastoral Carcerária (the Catholic Church’s prisoner outreach service) and the World Organization Against Torture, in a report submitted to the UPR, draw on previous documents containing recommendations intended to end torture in Brazil and present 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.
What the government says about the Justice and Public Security System
In its report, the government cites anti-terrorism laws enacted in 2019 as a way of adapting domestic legislation to international standards on the prevention and repression of conduct defined as terrorism. In a footnote, the government refers to the delivery of the report on compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, also in 2019. These are the only measures, even though they are unsatisfactory, allegedly geared towards the field of public security that bind the Brazilian justice system to the best practices recommended by the international community. There is no mention of the actions of the Military Justice system.
The superficiality with which it treats issues of public security and the justice system is symptomatic of the current government’s lack of consistency and commitment to both. Whereas the report makes a point of emphasizing the alleged efforts to bring domestic legislation in line with international standards, there is no mention of the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Military Justice system that began in the first year of the new universal review cycle (Law No. 13,491/2017) or of the fact that trials of civilians by Military Courts, permitted by current domestic legislation, have already been identified as unconstitutional and incompatible with good international standards (see ADPF Case No. 289). Although the government expressly mentions its compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, it says nothing about adapting Brazilian legislation with regard to the criminalization of enforced disappearance, as determined by the Convention itself. This measure is especially important for the State to be held accountable for crimes committed by its agents or for failure to investigate and protect the victims of this crime.