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Good practices and challenges on social participation in Brazil

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

FNI concludes a new input to the United Nations on social participation in public affairs, with information on torture, gender-based violence, housing, racial discrimination, land rights and LGBTI rights

Hands up in a demonstration. Source: Unsplash / Chris Slupski.

In 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 39/11, on “Equal participation in political and public affairs”.

The Resolution requested the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a follow-up report on social participation in consultation with States and other relevant stakeholders,

In 2021, following such request, the OHCHR released a call for written contributions. In response, FNI's Global Human Rights Observatory concluded a new report: “Good Practices and Challenges on Participation: input to the UN regarding Brazil”.

FNI's report draws from a variety of sources, including legislation and executive orders, other governmental sources and documents from international organizations – particularly the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Topics of concern include a reported retraction of institutions that are instrumental to social participation and information concerning how social participation relates to different issues of public security; prevention of torture; gender-based violence and women defenders in public life; access to housing; racial discrimination against Afro-Brazilians; the informed consent of Quilombola communities vis-à-vis development projects and interferences in their land; and the rights of LGBTI persons.

Reported retraction of institutions that are vital for social participation

According, v.g., to the IACHR, since its redemocratization Brazil has made significant progresses in social participation. The democratic Constitution of 1988, the adoption of various international and domestic human rights-based legislation and the strengthening of democracy, with the realization of periodic elections, represented great advances for social participation in the State.

However, there has been a recent retraction of institutions that are vital for a participatory democracy, especially Councils, Committees, and Commissions which threaten the social participation of historically excluded groups and their allies in Brazil.

Public security

The IACHR took notice of State’s efforts to fill a longstanding gap in social participation vis-à-vis public security governance. These efforts included, in 2009, the First National Public Security Conference (I CONSEG); and the installation of the first tripartite board of the National Public Security Council (CONASP), made up of government representatives, public security workers and civil society.

The Commission voiced its concern, on the other hand, with noted backsliding with regard to social participation in security governance. Setbacks in participation included the elimination of the Public Security Council.

Prevention of torture

The national context in Brazil is one of widespread practices of torture and ill-treatment, especially against afro-descendants and the poor.

Brazil is a Federation of 27 States. Among them, only six have laws establishing a state-level mechanism to prevent torture, and only two effectively implement a mechanism of the sort. In addition to them, a National Mechanism was established at the federal government level.

However, recent measures weakened the National Mechanism. Part of the Mechanism's staff have been dismissed, there were virtually no resources to enable them to do their work in an effective manner.

Gender-based violence

The IACHR acknowledged efforts made by the State to stop the intentional violent deaths of women, including the adoption of the Maria da Penha law.

Nevertheless, the Commission noted it continues to receive information of violence against women and varied hurdles that women face in their attempts to gain access to justice.

Women human rights defenders still contend with gender stereotypes that reject their participation in public life.

Access to housing

Millions of families are still unable to access adequate housing in the country. Participatory rights are important for this situation to change, as the lack of adequate housing is clearly linked with both economic and socio-political exclusion.

Racial discrimination against Afro-Brazilians

Persons of African descent have historically been impacted by structural discrimination and institutional racism in Brazil.

There have been past efforts to promote racial equality – v.g., the work done by the National Secretariat for Policies Promoting Racial Equality (SNPPIR) (created in 2003); and the important role of the National Council for the Promotion of Racial Equality (CNPIR), linked to the SNPIR, which guarantees the participation of civil society in the development of policies aimed at racial equality.

Yet, Afro-Brazilians remained under-represented among elected officials at all levels and branches, despite being a demographic majority. In the corporate sector, an even smaller fraction of high-level executive and managerial positions are held by persons of African descent.

Participation and the rights of LGBTI persons

Brazil has seen advances in the protection of the basic rights of LGBTI persons, including their right to marry and use a social name. There had been an increase in the political participation of LGBTI persons, with a record number of LGBTI candidates in the 2018 elections. Nevertheless, the country still lives with extraordinarily high rates of violence against LGBTI persons.

Land rights of traditional Quilombola communities

One important component of participation is to be found in the right of traditional communities to take part of the decisions which affect them.

In 2021, the IACHR highlighted the importance for the State “to conduct bone fide, culturally appropriate, prior, free, and informed consent consultations” of the Quilombola communities of Alcântara, Maranhão, where a military rocket launching base was installed and is now with expansion plans deriving from an Agreement between Brazil and the United States.


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