Human rights ahead

brasilobserver - Dec 19 2014
Photo: Igor Leite

(Leia em Português)

From the high number of homicides in the country to the protection of indigenous peoples, Brazil has several unresolved issues

By Maurício Santoro, Advisor at Amnesty International

What are the expectations for human rights in Brazil in 2015? The social movements seen in the previous years and the most recent election campaign raised several unresolved issues – which are at the heart of everyday life of the country.

Brazil is the country with the largest number of homicides in the world: more than 50,000 a year. More than half of the victims are young people aged between 15 and 29 and of these, 77% are black. Given this picture, Amnesty International launched a campaign to draw the attention of Brazilian society to the seriousness of the issue and demand answers from the authorities to solve it.

This debate, indeed, is inseparable from other: the reform of the security forces, which act with extreme violence. In five years, police were responsible for killing at least 11,000 people – this is more than the total killed by police in the US over three decades. Police are accused of most of the killings that occurred in Brazil, like those committed at the Complexo da Maré favela in Rio de Janeiro in June 2013. Part of the solution must be is to overcome the tradition of impunity, as proposed by the law project number 4471, aimed at ending the “acts of resistance” term, which classify victims of police killings as having resisted the authority, hindering investigations.

The episodes of police violence in security operations and also in the crackdown on protests in recent years strengthened the mobilisations for the extinction of the states’ military police, as put forward in the proposed constitutional amendment 51, currently under discussion in the National Congress. The militarisation reinforces the logic of war, especially against the poorest and most vulnerable social groups. Ending it has been a demand of social movements and also the UN reporters, having been recommended to the Brazilian government by members of Human Rights Council of the international organisation.

Another important step: in December 2014, the National Truth Commission, which spent almost three years investigating the crimes committed by Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964-1985, published its long-awaited final report. In the coming months there will be mobilisations for the federal government to fulfil its 29 recommendations, such as prosecutions of state agents accused of committing crimes against humanity and reform curricula of civil and military schools to better handle the issue of dictatorship.

In 2015, one hundred other truth committees in Brazil (within states, municipalities, universities, trade unions) will present their conclusions. This information will help people understand the scope of human rights violations by the military regime and motivate the pursuit of justice against those who committed crimes.

Sexual and reproductive rights have also driven many debates in Brazil over the last year, with important achievements, like the right to same sex marriage. However, there are still many cases of homophobic violence, including killings which the Gay Group of Bahia estimate to stand at 200 per year.

The disastrous effects of treating abortion as a crime, rather than a public health issue, are exemplified by stories like Jandira dos Santos Cruz and Elizângela Barbosa, who died after abortions in clandestine clinics in Rio de Janeiro. Their bodies were hidden by employees of these “facilities”. Brazilian religious and political leaders often support restrictions and violations of sexual and reproductive rights, threatening any achievements in this area.

Indigenous peoples and other traditional populations also remain in constant danger in Brazil. Despite the fact that their fundamental rights are written in the 1988 Constitution, there is great difficulty in protecting them. Conflicts over natural resources often end with activists murdered in a general framework characterised by impunity.

There are projects under discussion in Congress that jeopardise the legal framework of protection to those rights, as the new Mining Code and the PEC 215 – that transfers from the Executive to the Legislature, with its strong rural lobby, the responsibility for demarcating land for indigenous peoples. The impacts of major infrastructure projects such as power plants, are also serious, particularly the absence of a law regulating the right to prior consultation, free and informed as provided in diplomatic treaties such as the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation.

Faced with challenges and threats, it is essential to address human rights as the key point of the 2015 political agenda.

Read more: Brasil Observer #23