Press Release

IACHR Concludes Visit to Brazil

November 12, 2018

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Rio de Janeiro—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made an in loco visit to Brazil from November 5 to 12, 2018, following an invitation from the Brazilian state on November 29, 2017. The IACHR and the Brazilian state agreed on the date of the visit, the objective of which was to observe the human rights situation in Brazil on the ground. The IACHR’s last in loco visit to Brazil took place in 1995.

The delegation that undertook this year’s in loco visit to Brazil was headed by the president of the IACHR, commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, and comprised the first vice-president, commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño; commissioner Francisco Eguiguren Praeli; commissioner Joel Hernández García; and commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, rapporteur for Brazil. The delegation also included the assistant executive secretary, María Claudia Pulido; the chief of staff of the executive secretary, Marisol Blanchard Vera; the special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza; the special rapporteur for economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (DESCA), Soledad García Muñoz; and experts from the IACHR’s executive secretariat.

The IACHR held meetings with Brazilian authorities such as the Ministry of Human Rights, the Federal Supreme Court, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Human Rights Council, the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic and state prosecutors, the Office of the Public Defender of the Union and state public defenders, and other authorities from different municipal and state powers. It also met with representatives from civil society organizations and social movements and collectives, human rights defenders, people of African descent, quilombolas, indigenous peoples, peasants, people living in poverty, homeless people, leaders of movements defending the rights of various groups that have suffered historical discrimination, family members of murdered police officers, leaders of the LGBTI movement, and inhabitants of favelas, among others. The IACHR also held meetings with international organizations that are part of the United Nations system and representatives of the diplomatic corps.

The IACHR also gathered hundreds of testimonies from victims of human rights violations and their families, and reviewed thousands of documents, laws, bills, and other information. The IACHR undertook observation visits to various locations in the states of Bahia, Maranhão, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Roraima, as well as the capital, Brasilia. It also visited state institutions, including detention centers; the reception and care center for migrants and refugees on the Venezuelan border; the drug-use zone known as Cracolândia, in São Paulo; and a socio-educational detention center for children and teenagers. It also visited quilombos and indigenous community lands. During the visit, the IACHR signed cooperation agreements with both the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The IACHR stresses how important autonomous bodies from the justice system can be in defending human rights. These include the public prosecutor’s offices and public defender’s offices in each state, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Federal Public Defender’s Office.

The IACHR wishes to thank the government, federal, and state authorities, and the people of Brazil for all the support and assistance they provided during its visit. It is also grateful for the information provided by the state, which led to a frank, constructive dialogue, and for the information that it received from civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and international organizations. The IACHR values and appreciates the efforts of the victims of human rights violations and their families who presented testimonies, complaints, and other information.

1. Twenty-three years ago, in 1995, when the IACHR visited Brazil for the first time, only a few years had gone by since the passing of the country’s Federal Constitution and the return to democratic rule. It was the first time that a plenary meeting of the IACHR had been held in Brazil. Since that first visit, Brazil—a diverse country whose inhabitants’ cultural, social, and economic predicaments vary enormously—has become even more complex.

2. Over the last 23 years, the IACHR has provided Brazil with continuous support in the form of document analysis, visits by rapporteurs, cases, petitions and precautionary measures, the holding of public hearings, and countless channels of communication, listening, filing reports, and building dialogue between victims, families, civil society organizations, social movements, and representatives of the state and the inter-American human rights system.

3. Returning to Brazil at this crucial time is part of a journey that does not begin or end now. We have been monitoring and will continue to monitor the future of Brazil’s institutions and society with a view to fostering the country’s comprehensive development, in which human rights play a fundamental part.

4. During this year’s week-long visit, as members of the IACHR visited different regions of Brazil, we were able to get a sense of the current state of affairs there. Brazilian observers took part in this exercise. A detailed description of our findings will be published over the next few months, and will be drafted with the collaboration of local governments, federal bodies, civil society organizations and individuals, litigants, and witnesses to suffering and struggles to overcome injustices and inequalities.

5. How does Brazil look at this point in its history? Despite some progress, we encountered a country that has been unable to provide the solutions to the structural problem of extreme inequality and discrimination, notably racial and social discrimination, that it has long owed its citizens.

6. Inequality and discrimination are of vital importance and have led to a human rights crisis in the country.

7. If these serious structural problems are to be overcome, there needs to be decisive reform and strengthening of Brazil’s legal institutions.

8. For example, in connection with state resources, the IACHR expresses its deep concern that the fiscal austerity measures that have recently been implemented may signal the end of social policies and reduce expectations of better living conditions for the vast majority of the population.

9. Social exclusion, lack of access to justice, and the fragility of public services all limit Brazil’s potential for development and the majority of the population’s possibilities for accessing human rights. For millions of people, this implies not being able to access fundamental, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, and less opportunities, which in many cases implies a tragic loss of life.

10. As the IACHR has recently observed, the principle of progressive realization and nonregression in relation to economic, social, and cultural rights is vital, as is established in Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

11. This principle is more than just a reminder of a precept that Brazil is legally bound to uphold. It also calls on people in Brazil and throughout the world to acknowledge that the most serious human rights violations observed in the country—such as the increase in violence in the countryside and the city, the increase in murders of human rights defenders, especially those defending the land and the environment, the growing aggressions against defenders of minority human rights, and the country’s risk of returning to the world hunger map—are tragedies that affect everyone. These violations have particularly severe, violent, and discriminatory effects on the more vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society, such as favela communities and rural workers, and groups that have been discriminated against historically, such as indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, and those deprived of their freedom. In this unequal country, this implies that the majority of the population are excluded from the possibilities that should be available to them in one of the ten largest economies in the world.

12. The IACHR wishes to draw attention to the grave human rights violations perpetrated against black women and poor young people living on the outskirts of cities and in favelas. The poor and people of African descent continue to be the main victims of human rights violations in Brazil. Tens of thousands of them are killed each year, but these crimes are not properly investigated, prosecuted, or sanctioned, nor do victims receive appropriate reparation.

13. The IACHR reminds the state of its obligation to guarantee victims of racism, racial discrimination, and related forms of intolerance their right to equal and nondiscriminatory treatment, equal access to the justice system, swift and effective trials, and comprehensive civil or criminal redress.

14. Since the IACHR’s last visit to Brazil, we have observed significant, continuous, and increasing institutional strengthening in relation to human rights. This process seeks to address the country’s shortcomings in a progressive, structured manner. Over the last 23 years, we have praised each instance of institutional progress, such as the creation of a Human Rights Secretariat in 1997, the strengthening of the role of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for Citizens’ Rights, the spread and growing autonomy of public defenders’ offices, the emergence of public prosecutor’s offices and legal units that specialize in different human rights issues, and police stations that specialize in defending minorities. In the different states and at the federal level, the IACHR has welcomed the establishment of state-level and national committees to defend different aspects of human rights, the implementation of paradigmatic social policies and, above all, the growth of spaces through which civil society can play a part in governance, thus promoting the social monitoring and oversight of the administration. We also wish to highlight cross-cutting measures that addressed other longstanding challenges, such as affirmative action policies based on racial quotas that have improved the social, economic, and ethnoracial profiles of Brazilian universities and have increased social mobility.

15. These advances in human rights matters have made Brazil’s human rights policies an international benchmark. These policies have been perfected over the course of different administrations’ terms in office as part of an ongoing institutional commitment on the part of the state that is in line with the Political Constitution. This continuity and growth are key to the country’s development.

16. In this regard, the IACHR sadly noted that that the momentum behind this process has dwindled and progressive institutional strengthening in the area of human rights has come to a halt. Unfortunately, in many cases, we observed significant setbacks in the implementation of public policies and programs and in guaranteeing financing for key areas.

17. The IACHR also notes that it is essential for civil society spaces to play a part in formulating, managing, and monitoring public programs and policies on human rights and other sensitive areas. We observed a weakening in this process, notably through the suspension of public consultation processes and participatory national conferences. The IACHR is confident that this is only temporary and will be corrected promptly. The IACHR stresses that social participation is an important tool for guaranteeing rights, strengthening democracy and public policies, and monitoring government actions. It also emphasizes that participation in government decisions is a citizen right that the state must guarantee.

18. The IACHR would like to draw attention to certain urgent situations that urgently require the attention of national authorities and society such that solutions can be reached:

a. Repeated violations of the rights of indigenous people, who are frequently the targets of violence and are often overlooked by public services. They are also facing growing obstacles to the demarcation of their lands and other difficulties relating to the legal argument that the country’s indigenous people have no right to land they were not occupying when the current constitution came into effect.
The IACHR particularly condemns the circumstances to which the Guaraní-Kaiowá Community in Mato Grosso do Sul is being subjected. The community is enduring ongoing violence on the part of armed militias and violations of their right to their traditional lands, and there have been complaints of indigenous mothers being separated from their children. The Muratu indigenous community in Paquiçamba, Pará, are suffering the environmental impact of the construction of the Belo Monte Power Plant. The indigenous community in Açaizal in Santarém, Pará, are subjected to coercion, threats, and attempts to intimidate them as they exercise their right to defend their rights. The IACHR wishes to go on public record that not only did it receive complaints about these practices, it was itself the direct target of harassment in the area. A similar situation was also observed in Roraima, which is sunk in a complex state of affairs that involves indigenous peoples such as the Warao, who are originally from Venezuela, and in which forced migration is aggravated by homelessness.

b. The violence suffered by the quilombola population, the attacks on their right to land, ethnoracial prejudice, and fragile access to citizenship rights.
The IACHR reports that three communities in the Alcantara quilombo, in Maranhão, have been affected by land expropriation due to the nonrecognition of their traditional lands. In Bahia, people from the Rio dos Macacos quilombo face restrictions around access to water, are living in extremely precarious, unsanitary conditions, and are often victims of murder and sexual violence. The community of the Pitanga de Palmares quilombo informed us of acts of violence and discrimination, including the murder of the community’s leader, which remains unsanctioned.

c. Violence in the countryside affecting peasants fighting for their right to land, and the conditions in which many of these rural workers are forced to work, which are often exhausting and border on slavery. We are also particularly concerned about the effects on these communities of the indiscriminate use of chemicals such as agrochemicals and pesticides without proper protection, which may affect their health and may even pose mortal danger.
In Marabá, Pará, the IACHR found a settlement of rural workers who had been affected by police violence land eviction processes. This week, in Minas Gerais, there is an imminent risk of the 450 families who have been living in the Campo Grande quilombo for over 20 years being evicted, with no comprehensive plan to ensure they are protected.

d. The social exclusion of the homeless and those who are living on the streets. These groups suffer stigmatization within urban areas, and public policies fall short of attending to their needs.
The IACHR visited Vila Nova Palestina in São Paulo, an informal settlement that is fighting for legal recognition. The movement’s claims are discredited and stigmatized and it is constantly in danger of losing the hard-won ground it has gained. The community also reported that when homeless people are taken off the street, there are no strategies or alternatives to ensure they can access housing, which is one of their rights. In Coroadinho, Maranhão, the IACHR visited one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, which is ostracized by society and whose basic needs are neglected by the state. The IACHR wishes to acknowledge the role of women from this community who are attempting to prevent this situation from becoming worse. In São Paulo, the IACHR received complaints from homeless communities that are extremely vulnerable, suffer police abuse, and have no prospects of a life of dignity, given their minimal access to basic public services. The dehumanizing environment in which the residents of Cracolândia in São Paulo are living should be a priority for the state and demands a special response from authorities.
During the visit, the IACHR was able to meet with civil society organizations, social movements, and homeless people at the CISARTE cultural center (Center for Inclusion through Art, Culture, Work, and Education). The IACHR wishes to highlight the importance of this center as a space for people living on the streets to develop culturally, socially, and professionally, and it encourages authorities to move toward transferring the space to the movement.

e. The prison population, who in addition to being deprived of their freedom are also deprived of their rights, such as access to healthcare, dignified sanitary conditions, and receiving private visits in appropriate locations.
An alarming number of violent deaths took place at the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex in Maranhão. Following this tragedy, state authorities took decisive action. We welcome the fact that only days after the IACHR’s visit and following its recommendations, the penitentiary authorities began to demolish an isolation gallery that was in a very poor state of repair. In Rio de Janeiro, within the Bangu Penitentiary Complex, the Plácido Carvalho, Nelson Hungría, and Jorge Santana prisons all need attention. The latter is operating in conditions that the IACHR has described as being among the worst in all prisons in the Americas. At the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary Center in Roraima, the IACHR came across prisoners who had been held for four days without food and who were suffering from serious illnesses. The Don Bosco Socio-Educational Center in Rio de Janeiro operates in a way that is entirely incompatible with its supposed aim: it offers no socio-educational activities and instead functions like a traditional prison.

f. Institutional violence and impunity remain a problem in Brazil.
Mothers who have lost their children to social violence have reported that there is a pattern of murders that targeted black youth in peripheral neighborhoods. According to the testimonies of victims received by the IACHR, the prevailing pattern of action among security forces has systematically led to extrajudicial executions among poor black young people in Brazil.
The IACHR wishes to note the occupational hazards facing security professionals such as police officers and prison wardens, which should be a priority for Brazilian authorities. The IACHR also reminds the state of its duty to protect and care for the families of police officers who are killed during violent conflicts throughout Brazil. The IACHR arranged a special meeting with the mothers and relatives of police officers who died in Rio de Janeiro. These family members reported violations of their rights to justice, comprehensive reparation, investigations into the deaths, and the punishment of those responsible. Human rights apply to everyone.
We also wish to note the severe impunity affecting the rights of the Mães de Maio movement in São Paulo, who have not yet received a satisfactory response to their request for investigation into the mass murder of hundreds of people in May 2006.
Given the scale and impact of the Mariana mining disaster, it cannot continue to go uninvestigated, especially as this is preventing those affected by it from receiving the care and reparation they deserve. Nor has there been a satisfactory response determining who was responsible for the tragedy that led to the death of 242 young people and a further 600 being injured at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul. The Cabula massacre in Salvador, Bahia, cannot be left without an official response, either.
Nor is it going too far to remind authorities that Brazil has yet to fully comply with the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the Gomes Lund and Herzog cases, which are connected to serious crimes during Brazil’s last dictatorship. The recent repeal of the ruling that established sanctions for those responsible for the Carandiru massacre, which is still pending review, is a serious setback in the fight against impunity over grave human rights violations in Brazil. Not all victims and their families have received compensation in relation to this.

g. There is widespread, recurring prejudice targeting the trans population within families, schools, healthcare institutions, workplaces, and the church, among others. We wish to draw particular attention to the repressive discourse used to attack trans people’s flags and those of the entire LGBTI community, affecting their rights and roles as citizens.

h. The constant attacks on human rights defenders going about their work and the risks this poses to related structures and programs. The killings of councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes clearly demonstrate this structural challenge, exposing resistance to historically marginalized people being included in structures of political and social participation. The IACHR believes it is imperative to conclude these investigations, punish those responsible, and thus bring their impunity to any end. Additionally, to guarantee full reparation for this crime, the IACHR believes that Marielle Franco’s memory and her family be respected in accordance with the values she herself defended.

i. Violations of rights and hate speech affecting international migrants and refugees in regions of Brazil that have received large inflows of migrants in recent years, sometimes in a particularly concentrated fashion. The IACHR visited groups of Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers in Roraima and noted the presence of risk factors and violations of fundamental rights, especially those of homeless migrants, which complicates and prevents greater social inclusion and is constantly being aggravated by episodes of xenophobia in the region.

j. Attacks on freedom of expression, which affect the press, academics, and social organizations.

19. The outlook that these cases reveal should not cast a shadow on the positive steps that Brazil has taken. We therefore wish to note the good practices and progress the Brazilian state has made on different human rights issues in recent years:

a. We wish to note the implementation and consolidation of custody hearings that articulate the executive and the judiciary at the federal and state levels, which thus comply with a fundamental guarantee set out in the American Convention on Human Rights.

b. Brazil’s New Migration Law (Law 13.445) modernized the migration and nationality regime, established innovative mechanisms to reduce statelessness, and provided a formal legal framework for good practices in relation to the humanitarian reception of migrants in Brazil.

c. The IACHR was informed by the Ministry of Human Rights that the Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has received additional federal funding through to the end of 2019, and the budgets of the program’s networks in each state have been tripled.

d. The use of house arrest for pregnant women, mothers or women with children or disabled dependents, or women in pretrial detention.

e. Given the current context of fierce debate around civil liberty in Brazil, we welcome the Federal Supreme Court’s recent ruling guaranteeing freedom of demonstration and opinion, which is the foundation for academic freedom within Brazilian universities.

20. We have listed these good practices in the hope that they will signpost possible ways forward and potential responses to the challenges facing Brazilian society and the state.

21. In addition to structural violations of rights and unsettled historical debts, these challenges include the context in which the visit took place, which we feel bound to reflect on. We observed that the current human rights context entails possible trends and risks that merit the attention of the national, regional, and international community:

a. We observed an alarming growth in discourses that distort, discredit, and stigmatize the role and function of human rights for society. We also repeatedly noted intolerant discourse and hate speech that jeopardize the freedoms of expression, demonstration, assembly, and association of LGBTI communities, women, people of African descent, African-derived religions, indigenous peoples, rural workers, workers’ and homeless social movements, independent journalists, and the university and academic community among others. The IACHR is concerned that the gender perspective is pejoratively referred to as “gender ideology.” State authorities should set an example in this matter: it is their duty to implement promotional human rights campaigns that break down demagogic messages that suggest that human rights exist merely to punish those that violate them or that they are part of ideologically driven or partisan agendas. We must never lose sight of the fact that human rights were born to defend individual and collective public freedoms and are the result of longstanding social struggles. Human rights belong to and are addressed to all people, without distinction. Denying their existence or alleging they are in the interests of a given sector of the population rather than that of all people is a ploy to legitimize violations.

b. In particular, the discourse around zero tolerance or heavy-handedness in the fight against crime, including organized crime, may strengthen the notion that the ends justify the means in matters of public safety, which is incompatible with international standards. Adequate citizen security standards require that any abuse of police power be reported, prosecuted, and sanctioned. Experience shows that the rise of such discourses increases the risk of greater numbers of extrajudicial executions. During the week of the IACHR’s visit to Brazil, we identified an incident that needs to be rigorously investigated by the authorities, namely the death of 11 members of a criminal group who took part in an assault on a bank in Santana do Ipanema at the hands of the Alagoas police force. No police officers were injured. The IACHR asks authorities to be alert to signs of extrajudicial execution and hopes that these circumstances will be clarified swiftly. It recommended that the Brazilian state expand the mechanisms it uses to monitor police activity to ensure that they act within a framework of respect for the proportional use of force.

c. We also warn against the possibility and risk of criminalizing social movements by expanding the definition of crimes included in the Antiterrorist Law. The IACHR has informed several countries in the region that antiterrorist laws should not be used to criminalize the right to demonstration and association.

d. In recent years, the number of murders of human rights defenders has increased. Statistics show that the absolute number of human rights defenders that are killed because of the work they do increases every year. Preventing these deaths must be made a priority for the Brazilian government. In this regard, the IACHR recommended strengthening the National Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights, the units of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for Citizens’ Rights, and the Public Defender’s Office.

22. Due to these factors, the events recorded over the course of the IACHR’s entire visit reflect longstanding structural issues and the current climate in Brazil. The message from social leaders, intellectuals, academics, and some officials was unanimous and expressed well-founded concern over the future of the human rights agenda in Brazil.

23. In recent years, the international community has paid close attention to the struggle waged by Brazilian society as a whole against impunity around corruption, which underlines the fact that the quest for an ethical society must entail the full realization of human rights. The IACHR expressed its views on the relationship between corruption and human rights in February 2018 year through Resolution 01/18, which was based on the understanding that every act of corruption is a human rights violation. The IACHR hopes that the impetus from within institutions and the sense of social indignation that allowed Brazil to take action against impunity over acts of corruption will motivate and spill over into greater institutional capacity for overcoming impunity around the serious human rights violations in the country.

24. We would like to speak directly to all human rights defenders working in Brazil, social movements, the media, journalists, teachers, peasants, and every individual who is fighting to further citizenship, guarantees, freedoms, and rights in the country: the fight for human rights is at the core of the debate around quality of life and well-being for people around the world. The intensification of this struggle of late has affected people all over the country, leading to casualties and ever-greater numbers and new types of threats. All over Brazil, attempts have been made to silence newspapers, prevent cultural and artistic practices, destroy temples and places of worship, engage in corruption and bribery, hinder due process, separate citizens from the benefits of the democratic rule of law, and attack the country’s very social fabric using fear, terror, and violence.

25. The only way to overcome these challenges is through the progressive advancement of human rights, respect for diversity, and support for social inclusion. Our visit is, therefore, signals the continuity of the strengthening the IACHR’s relationship with Brazilian society and the country’s institutions. We are keeping a close eye on every step in Brazil’s human rights journey due to its critical importance within the region, the country’s positive track record, and the potential hazards facing democratic institutions around the world This report and the other documents we have presented in connection with this year’s visit are another step on this journey, through which we are inviting these institutions and individuals to pledge their commitment to continued action and constructive dialogue over the next few years.

26. In conclusion, we wish to express our deep concern about the current and future human rights situation in Brazil. The Inter-American Commission will make monitoring this a priority in the coming months. Observing and defending human rights is part of the IACHR’s mandate, as established in the American Declaration and Convention on Human Rights. Brazil ratified this international legal system and is thus obliged to implement the decisions and recommendations of the Inter-American Human Rights System.


A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 230/18