Human rights for some in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil

. Jan 16, 2020
Despite fears from activists, human rights was the most popular issue in bills approved by Brazilian lawmakers last year Photo: Andre Batz/Flickr

Once the results came in and Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018, human rights defenders around the country feared the worst. Mr. Bolsonaro’s far-right platform takes a skewed view of the very concept of “human rights,” with many of his supporters understanding the term as synonymous with protecting criminals.

Concerns were raised higher when Mr. Bolsonaro appointed lawyer and Evangelical pastor Damares Alves to head the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights. Ms. Alves gained notoriety for her ultra-conservative comments on gender issues, declaring at her inauguration that Brazil was “entering a new era, where boys wear blue and girls wear pink.”

</p> <p>Ms. Alves also railed against what she saw as indoctrination in the Disney animated film <em>Frozen</em> claiming the lead character ended up alone &#8220;because she&#8217;s a lesbian,&#8221; and that she will &#8220;wake up Sleeping Beauty with a <a href="">gay kiss</a>.&#8221;</p> <p>Several political pundits identified Damares Alves&#8217; appointment as an evasive move by the government, with her prominent role allowing her to speak out on controversial social issues and divert attention away from scandal and crisis closer to the president. Jair Bolsonaro himself admitted that Ms. Alves&#8217; department is &#8220;not very important,&#8221; furthering the fears of those who expected human rights in Brazil to backslide under the current government.</p> <h2>Human rights in the spotlight</h2> <p>However, according to a <a href="">survey</a> carried out by news website <em>Poder360</em>, of the 73 bills passed by the House of Representatives in 2019, the most common theme was &#8220;human rights and minorities.&#8221; Some 15 laws ostensibly related to human rights were approved last year, making 2019 the first time since Brazil&#8217;s democratization that the topic was the most common on the lower house&#8217;s agenda.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1243908"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Yes to women, no to indigenous</h2> <p>Seven of the 15 bills concern women&#8217;s rights, with several providing tweaks to the Maria da Penha Law, a crucial piece of legislation from 2006 that toughened punishment for violence against women.</p> <p>One bill, proposed by a member of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s former Social Liberal Party (PSL), concerns the payment of damages to victims of <a href="">domestic violence</a>; another, from the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), orders aggressors to pay for the healthcare costs of domestic violence victims, while a third offers priority to the children of women who have suffered violence in the application for pre-school vacancies.</p> <p>There are many aspects of human rights, however, which have been ignored completely. This week, international NGO Human Rights Watch <a href="">issued tough criticism</a> of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s first year in power, saying that the president inaugurated an &#8220;anti-rights agenda,&#8221; particularly in the face of the wave of Amazon rainforest fires in mid-2019.</p> <p>&#8220;One of the most concerning areas that the democratic institutions were unable to block was the environment,&#8221; said Maria Laura Canineu, the director of Human Rights Watch in Brazil. &#8220;The destruction [in the Amazon] is carried out by criminal networks that profit from the extraction of trees, invade lands, and corrupt public agents.&#8221;</p> <p>The organization also cites the absence of the state on important matters such as land conflict and violence against indigenous communities in the Amazon. Researcher César Muñoz called the situation in the Amazon an &#8220;environmental and human disaster&#8221; because the &#8220;people who live there are having their rights violated.&#8221;</p> <p>In December, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> covered <a href="">one particular land conflict</a> in the northeastern state of Maranhão, where a number of members of the Guajajara indigenous tribe had been murdered by illegal loggers. Just this week, the police issued their report on the killing of Paulo Paulino Guajajara, making no mention of land conflict as a motive for the murder, to which indigenous groups have responded with ire.</p> <h2>No time for celebration yet</h2> <p>Granted, the survey has its limitations. Congress&#8217; main focus in 2019 was the economic agenda, a project that revolved largely around the successfully approved pension reform. When taking the categories Public Finances and Budget, Pensions and Social Welfare, and Economy as one, 19 bills were approved by the House—outstripping the 15 connected to human rights.</p> <p>There is also the matter of criteria, with <em>Poder360</em> including the <a href="">Doctors For Brazil</a> decree as a human rights-related matter, and not one connected to health. The program was introduced this year to replace More Doctors, a white coat diplomacy initiative to bring foreign doctors to work in remote areas of Brazil.</p> <p>However, the study serves as a useful panorama of legislation in Brazil. For instance, between 2002 and 2018, the report shows that bills on public administration and commemorative holidays were consistently the most common.

Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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