CESE encourages reflections about 2014 on International Human Rights Day

Wishes or human rights?

2014: 50 years since the military coup. Without doubt, throughout the year, this was the slogan that defined many activities of those who were historically on the frontline of resistance in defence of human rights under the dictatorship, as well as for the students, historians and activists who aligned themselves around Memory, Truth and Justice Network. The barbaric height of the regime was between 1969, immediately following Institutional Act Number Five (Ato Institucional Número Cinco: AI-5), and 1975, when Vladmir Herzog was assassinated. The ecumenical movement was very active, and CESE’s office in Salvador had been in operation for one year, when it decided to produce a booklet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, interspersed with biblical quotes and doctrinal declarations from the churches, giving clear sign of its witness and encouraging communities and movements to democratize the country.

Symbolically, the National Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade: CNV), is due to deliver its official report on the 10th of December, the Universal Day of Human Rights. It will be disappointing if this does not contain a record of the hundreds of peasants killed during the dictatorship as well as over the wider period that covers the mandate for the CNV investigations, between the 1946 and 1988 Constitutions. Gilney Viana’s study and publication, made with support from the government itself, which reports the murders of 1,200 peasants, could function as a guiding reference and the Peasants Truth Commission has demanded its inclusion. If not official recognition, it is expected that this will, at least, be mentioned and included as an appendix to the main document.

The same goes for the crimes committed during this period in violations and killings of a large number of the indigenous from different peoples, according to the large-scale legal dispute principally led by Marcelo Zelic (based on notes from the Figueiredo Report) and research coordinated by the indigenous missionary Egídio Schwade, pioneering founder of the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Missionário Indigenista: CIMI), who handed in an extensive dossier to the CNV in mid-2012. This concerns collective identities, persecuted and killed for political reasons. It is vital to draw attention to these traditional populations, since serious violations continue, even under democracy, which is now under pressure from neo-developmentalism. See, for example the violations suffered by the Guarani-Kaiowá in Mato Grosso do Sul and the Tupinambá in the South of Bahia, or the dozens of quilombola communities confronting mining projects.

Following the CNV mandate, there is an expectation for the creation of a permanent board at federal level to continue to attend to the pending litigation, clarifications, and judgements. Despite the courage and efforts of the commissioners and although much has been done in relation to Memory, little has occurred that relates to Truth and even less for Justice. This is because of the prevailing impunity for criminals shielded by the Amnesty Law, the low level of collaboration by the military authorities and the non-localization of the bodies of the politically disappeared, whose families (in constant suffering) claim the ancestral and inalienable right to perform the ritual of bidding farewell to their loves ones. The struggle continues, because it will certainly take a long time to turn this page, which from time to time divides us again.

Another noteworthy event regarding Human Rights in 2014 is that finally, after 20 years, the new National Council of Human Rights (Conselho Nacional de Direitos Humanos) has been formalized, a joint body composed of representatives from federal ministries and civil society organizations and networks. The event was attended by the Human Rights secretary, Ideli Salvati, and the council is expected to expedite efforts to clarify and punish the most serious cases of violations, particularly the terrible massacres of the most vulnerable populations that occurred in both the countryside and the cities. The final composition of the new civil society chairs is highly representative, with the nomination of leading organizations and networks. These are: the National Human Rights Movement (Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos: MNDH); the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (Plataforma Brasileira de Direitos Humanos, Econômicos, Sociais, Culturais e Ambientais: DHESCA); the CIMI; the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transsexual Association (Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis e Transexuais: ABGLT); the National Collective of Black Youth (Coletivo Nacional de Juventude Negra); the National Movement of the Homeless Population (Movimento Nacional de População de Rua: MNPR); the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights (Rede Nacional Feminista de Saúde, Direitos Sexuais e Direitos Reprodutivos); Intervozes-Brazil Social Communication Collective (Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social); and the Federal Council of Psychology (Conselho Federal de Psicologia).

Despite such a worthy initiative, this was not a year to commemorate human rights. The occurrence of more than 56 thousand homicides and 30,000 deaths due to traffic accidents reveals a country defined by extreme violence, particularly in the large cities. The issue of public (in)security is one of the main challenges for recently elected officials. Regrettably, central-left governments continue to maintain an authoritarian view that prioritizes technology and weapons in confronting the ills of drug trafficking, contributing to the worsening and lethal violence, which is a particular burden of black youth. A culture of public security is here reinforced by repressive immediacy. The challenge is to address other citizenship values with police forces, through intelligence and by reinforcing the work of ombudsmen, decriminalizing soft drugs, while coming down heavily on arms trafficking. To reassess the Police Pacification Units (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora: UPP) and invest heavily in social and cultural projects in city peripheries. This includes addressing the themes of urban mobility, housing with basic sanitation and living spaces, which constitute basic rights, particularly for women, who often have the least rights in the city.

Finally, one inescapable commentary about the elections, we should always remember that we are living in the longest period of our nascent democracy. And that what is witnessed in the commercial media and even more in the social networks, is an increase in intolerance and other nods to the culture of fascism. It is also no news that corruption, despite its epidemic severity, is historically related to attempted coups. This is why Political Reform is so urgent, highlighting the end of the corporate financing of election campaigns, which is inseparable from the struggle for greater democracy and improved human rights for the Brazilian people (By José Carlos Zannetti, CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor).

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