Groups defend human rights following Bolsonaro election

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Multiple ESCR-Net members, human rights organizations and social movements in Brazil and beyond have raised serious concerns following the election far-right retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro to head the world’s fourth-largest democracy.

The groups cite statements made by president-elect Bolsonaro during his campaign that revealed a threatening stance towards democratic freedoms, including a promise to dismantle a series of hard-won public policies that guarantee the country’s compliance with internationally recognized human rights standards.[1]

According to Conectas Direitos Humanos, among his most troubling positions is a plan presented to the TSE (High Electoral Court) that outlined a punitive approach to public security. Bolsonaro has already encouraged increased use of firearms by civilians, and has indicated he is in favor of reducing the age for trying youth as adults, imposing harsher prison sentences and empowering the police employ deadly force with impunity. Human rights advocate argue that these policies, “have a very clear target – black youths living in underprivileged areas.”

Plans by the Bolsonaro government to abolish the Ministry of the Environment and to place that work under the Ministry for Agriculture’s jurisdiction pose profound threats to environmental protection, especially the fragile ecosystems in the Amazon region. This reconfiguration also poses a severe threat against the land rights of the country’s indigenous peoples and quilombolas. Bolsonaro has already expressed his opposition to the demarcation of indigenous peoples’ territories and plans to cancel at 129 lawsuits promoting the demarcation of indigenous lands. Contrary to provisions in the country’s constitution aimed at safeguarding the collective ownership of indigenous lands, he has indicated that he plans to allow protected areas to be mined or sold. Amidst controversy and criticism of his stances, he has repeatedly attacked members of the media.

Statements made repeatedly by Brazil’s president-elect disparaging people of African descent, LGBTI persons, migrants and women have also prompted outcry. Public statements that aim to criminalize social movements by directly stating that once elected he would, “put an end to activism in Brazil”[2] were denounced by approximately 3,000 social movements and NGOs in a letter prior to his election. The letter’s signatories celebrated the critical importance of “a vibrant civil society that is active and free to denounce abuses, celebrate victories and advance in terms of rights,” asserting that “Organisations and movements are strategic players in contributing to the formulation of public policy and in elaborating important laws in Brazil.”

In efforts to ensure that the presidential elections were based on policy debates grounded in credible information and analysis, Plataforma Dhesca (a network of organizations promoting economic, social, cultural and environmental rights) published a comparison of economic policies promoted by both major candidates for the presidency. [3] At a time when the country’s population is saddled with draconian austerity measures, leading to a rise in infant mortality and attrition from primary and secondary education, unemployment rates topping 13 million people more than one million Brazilians now living in extreme poverty, the analysis sought to sensitize and inform public opinion in the lead-up to the election. Instituto de Estudos, Formação e Assessoria em Políticas Sociais (Instituto Pólis) also issues a series of statements underlining that the country’s cities develop in ways that are just, inclusive and diverse relies on a robust demcocracy.

Following Bolsonaro’s electoral victory, social movements and non-governmental organizations in Brazil and the region have not stood by silently in the face of these grave threats to democracy and human rights. Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) shared documented videos of protest actions and pledged to sustain resistance to the dismantling of social and environmental protections in the country.

Terra de Direitos, along with other organizations, published a public defense of freedom of expression and assembly in Brazil’s public universities.[4] Public statements in defense of democracy in Brazil abound on social media and in the streets. Claiming that “civil society is more vibrant and stronger than ever before,” human rights organizations remind us that “democracy is built every day, a continuous exercise in citizenship within clear, pre-established rules.”[5]

Justiça Global also expressed concern about Bolsonaro’s political project legitimizing aggression towards minorities, undoing decades of progress and inflaming tensions that will ultimately deepen the structural inequalities of Brazilian society.[6]

Fifty two organizations, including ten ESCR-Net members[7] sent letters to the executive secretary of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, the head of elections observation of the Organizational of American States and the UN High Commissioner for Human rights denouncing the escalation of violence in the run-up to the election. [8] The letters denounced acts of physical violence perpetrated by supporters of the far right candidate, intimidation and hate-speech directed against marginalized groups, defamation and public threats against activists, among others.

Allies of Brazil’s civil society around the world have also expressed concern. In a solidarity statement by Abajlali baseMjondolo, a social movement of residents of informal settlements in South Africa, expressed their regret at the outcome of Brazil’s recent presidential elections, calling it “a disaster for democracy.” Abahlali voiced concern that, “the right will militarise the state and attack the popular movements of the left, and rule the poor with even more violence. Poor people in general, and black and gay people in particular, are at serious risk.” Pledging their solidarity with Brazil’s popular movements, trade unions and other civil society groups,  Abahlali reminded their counterparts in Brazil that the world is watching closely.

Amnesty International, FIAN International, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Witness and many other international human rights organizations have also issued public statements in in defense of Brazil’s democracy and independent civil society and have pledged to accompany their allies and members in Brazil in the period ahead.

Bolsonaro is the latest in what appears to be a global trend of authoritarian leaders seizing upon the public’s economic grievances and taking over democracies with their nationalist populist and anti-corruption discourse.



[5] Quote from Conectas


[7] Center for Justice and International Law – CEJIL, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS, Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais – CDES, Federação de Órgãos para Assistência Social e Educacional – FASE, Federação Internacional de Direitos Humanos – FIDH, FIAN Brasil, Instituto Pólis, Justiça Global, Plataforma de Direitos Humanos - Dhesca Brasil and Terra de Direitos