The increased presence of the international community, represented by figures such as UN Special Rapporteurs and treaty monitoring bodies, with the support of a dynamic civil society, has undoubtedly contributed to a wider recognition and discussion of human rights throughout the country. Today in Brazil, cases of torture and of summary executions by law enforcement officials are regularly covered in Brazil’s media and there exists a recognition by government that such crimes are not acceptable.
Nevertheless, these advances have consistently been undermined by the fact that a large proportion of the population continues to suffer systematic human rights violations at the hands of state officials, predominantly law enforcement officers. While some slow progress has been made towards investigating these crimes and bringing to justice those responsible, the vast majority of perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. Of great concern has been the consistent reluctance by both federal and state governments to invest effective political will and financial support in long term strategies for ending human rights violations and punishing those responsible.
In 2005, two emblematic cases have highlighted national and international concern at the extent of violations and underlined the reactive nature of governmental responses. Firstly, the killing of the Catholic nun, Sister Dorothy Stang, on 12 February in Pará; followed by the killing of 29 residents of socially excluded communities in the Baixada Fluminense district on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, in April 2005, which clearly indicated the continued and active presence of police “death squads” in Brazil’s urban centres.
In the wake of both these atrocities, federal and state governments publicly condemned the killings, promising to bring those responsible to justice. However, both cases occurred in areas with long patterns of similar crimes and in the context of persistent impunity and inaction by federal and state authorities in the face of systematic human rights violations. As such, human rights organizations and those close to the victims have not expressed much confidence in federal and state government pronouncements.
Amnesty International’s concerns, expressed in its submission of 1996, that the Brazilian government lacked an apparent strategy, timetable and oversight mechanisms for the introduction and implementation of proposed human rights reforms, especially the national human rights program, have proven to be right. Promises by all federal governments since that time to address human rights issues have been predominantly limited to publicity orientated campaigns, which are rarely effective in combating levels of human rights violations.
While the federal government has launched a number of human rights campaigns, such as the 2001 anti-torture campaign and the more recent human rights defenders campaign, these have largely failed to offer effective solutions to serious human rights related problems in the country, focussing on proposals such as brief television and radio campaigns, the publication of leaflets or telephone hotlines, as opposed to properly supported strategic plans and political reforms.
As such, it is of particular concern that the space which was gained for human rights at federal level has been diminishing. The widely reported decisions to cut the budget of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights shortly after the government came to power and, more recently, to withdraw its ministerial status, have reduced government intervention into this area. This has underlined the sporadic and inconsistent nature with which human rights concerns continue to be addressed at both federal and state government levels.
Time and again, governments have failed to invest political or financial capital into human rights reforms preferring to concentrate on short term political and economic goals which are often seen to be contrary to these. This has been symbolised by the consistent way federal government has avoided addressing the profound problems facing the country’s public security systems, central to the systemic violation of human rights, but widely seen as a sensitive issue with electorates. As such, the federal government’s reform package, set out in the National Public Security Plan, appears to have been effectively abandoned given, for example, the government’s publicly announced decision to cut the National Public Security Fund’s budget from R$412 million to R$170 million in April 2005, among other things.
Article 1 – The Right to Natural Wealth And Resources (Paragraphs 11-14 of the state report)
Indigenous Peoples (Paragraph 14)
Despite the clear constitutional obligations the Brazilian state has towards indigenous peoples, they remain among the most vulnerable groups in Brazilian society. Overall, in spite of some advances, such as the April 2005 ratification of the Raposa Serra do Sol territory in Roraima state, the process of demarcation of indigenous land has proved slow and subject to continuous judicial challenges.