Unacceptable setbacks

In addition to bringing in an all-white male cabinet, Brazilian interim president Michel Temer has made his priorities clear as he downgrades the importance of human rights and looks to end constitutional spending requirements on health and education.


Conectas Human Rights reiterates its concern over Brazil’s political crisis, the consequences of which have been profound and negative impacts on democratic institutions and human rights. The ouster of a head of state is a serious matter and, as such, justifiable only in extremely exceptional circumstances. We conclude, therefore, that the political legitimacy and legal conformity of the process that charged President Dilma Rousseff with breaking budget laws is questionable.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether Rousseff is definitively removed from office, it is indisputable that, starting today, the forces that have rallied to support the interim government have already announced measures that, on the pretext of combating the economic crisis, in fact constitute a direct assault on the civil, political and social rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution of 1988.

It is true that the country is still a long way from achieving the goals set out in the Constitution, such as eradicating poverty and reducing social inequalities. But it is also true that progress has been made along the way, since redemocratization. This is why it is necessary to steadfastly defend the recent–and, as such, fragile–victories and to announce that any measure that results in setbacks will be met with a profound resistance and condemnation by human rights movements.

Conectas condemns the downgraded importance of human rights in the agenda of this interim government, through institutional changes such as the announced incorporation of the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights by the new Ministry of Justice and Citizenship. The declared intentions of the party of interim president Michel Temer, to put an end to the constitutional requirements for spending on health and education, also indicate a political choice that threatens social guarantees in Brazil.

The alignment of conservative forces in Congress has produced some deeply disturbing initiatives. These include legislative bills that threaten the principle of secularism of the Brazilian State. There is also a long list of proposals pending in the National Congress that aim to restrict sexual and reproductive rights, such as the Family Act and amendments to the Criminal Code that criminalize women and health professionals who provide assistance to victims of sexual violence. Conectas further condemns the decision by interim president Michel Temer to form a provisional government consisting only of men. This is a clear indication of disregard for gender equality.

Another wave of setbacks in the country has been occurring in the field of criminal justice. The imminent risk of the age of criminal responsibility being lowered and prison sentences being lengthened is a clear example of solutions that are underpinned by irrationality and punitivism, since global data demonstrate that harsher punishments do not lead to a reduction in crime. The choice of Alexandre de Moraes to head the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship is particularly worrisome, since it indicates that the interim president has an appreciation for criminal policy that disrespects human rights and rejects dialogue, such as the one implemented in the state of São Paulo, where the new minister served as public security secretary until shortly before taking office.

The economic crisis through which the country is passing requires a balanced approach by the interim government, so human rights do not become political currency in either the domestic or foreign policy of Brazil. Regrettably, public statements by the interim president and his Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) have signaled a serious risk that private interests will prevail over the public interest.

Labor rights are clearly vulnerable, since a bill has already been introduced by the PMDB that would allow collective bargaining agreements negotiated between employees and employers to prevail over labor laws, even when this results in losses for workers. Conectas is also concerned about the weakening standards of corporate environmental and social responsibility and of environmental licensing for large-scale projects. There are some alarming bills pending in Congress, such as a constitutional amendment that would slacken environmental licensing requirements and the approval of the new Mining Code without the necessary adjustments to prevent environmental disasters such as the one in Mariana/Rio Doce or to guarantee the protection of human rights in affected communities. The same pattern of prioritizing private interests at the expense of human rights can be observed in the threats against the rights of Brazil’s indigenous and traditional peoples, for example, by not permitting the demarcation of their lands.

There are also warning signs that Brazilian foreign policy could be reduced merely to an instrument for promoting the country’s trade. The Federal Constitution states that the international relations of Brazil must give prevalence to human rights. In resistance to any attempts to dismantle the Constitution, Conectas will keep a close watch for any non-compliance of this constitutional obligation, for example, when signing trade deals. Of particular concern is the role that the national arms industry could have in this effort to promote Brazilian trade around the world. Albeit with some ambiguities, Brazil has played an important role on the international stage with regard to global issues such as reviewing the world’s drug policy and offering alternatives to the current migration crisis through its policy of humanitarian visas for Syrians and Haitians. Initiatives such as these need to remain in place.

Conectas reiterates its commitment to continue working in the defense and promotion of human rights to build a free, fair and dynamic society.


This article originally appeared on the Conectas website, where it is also available in Portuguese.

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