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English Report


Despite society's expectations for political changes, Brazil still presents a sad picture of fundamental rights violation. With the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for president, people's movements strengthened their organizations looking for answers to historical demands, such as land reform, legalization of Indigenous territories, access to education, housing, healthcare, work and social justice.

In 2003, we saw a raise in the number of murders of rural workers and Indigenous leaders. From January to October 2003, the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Indigenous Missionary Council, CIMI) recorded 22 murders and one missing Indigenous leader. This was the highest number in the last 10 years. In 2002, seven indigenous people were murdered. The Indigenous movement expects the government to deal with land conflicts, and the revocation of Decree 4.412/2002, which allows the installation of military and police units inside Indigenous lands.

The year 2003 will be remembered for the strong violence against landless workers. According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (Pastoral Land Commission, CPT), 61 peasants were murdered between January and November-35 of them in the State of Pará. In 2001, 29 murders of rural workers occurred, and in 2002, this number raised to 43. These communities live under permanent threat of aggressions by the police or private militia groups.

Impunity is one of the main causes of this violence. Between 1985 and 2002, 1.280 murders were registered among rural workers, lawyers, technicians, religious and worker's organizations leaders who were engaged in the legal fight for land. From this number of 1.280, only 121 had a trial. Only 14 of the people responsible for the murders were judged, and only seven were found guilty.

Another kind of aggression against MST (Landless Workers Movement) is arbitrary imprisonment. Between August 2002 and November 2003, judge Átis de Araújo Oliveira, from the City of Teodoro Sampaio, in Pontal do Paranapanema, signed 12 prison decrees involving 46 members of the movement. All these decisions were annulled by superior courts.

Minister Paulo Medina, from the Supreme Court of Justice, freed Valmir Rodrigues Chaves and Mário Barreto, members of MST in Pontal do Paranapanema, and declared that "these rural members of the MST fight and sacrifice themselves for more reasonable means of living, where social dignity may only be restored when the real, necessary and essential land reform is done in Brazil".

Another concern of rural workers is the guarantee of food sovereignity. The possible monopoly of seeds by big multinational corporations like Monsanto, through the legalization of GMOs, would have a negative effect for farmers and for the population in general. According to Flavia Londres, from the Campanha por um Brasil Livre de Transgênicos (Campaign for a GMO-free Brazil), the government should fight the "omission to perform the control on the smuggling, sowing and illegal commerce of genetically modified seeds".

In 2003, grassroots organizations strongly criticized Lula's government for bending towards big businesses interests and liberate the illegal genetically modified soy crops. The government ignored its previous commitment of observing the "precaution principle", which means demanding the confirmation that the GMOs do not cause any harm to human health or the environment.

Big landowners are still very powerful. Brazil has one of the highest levels of land concentrations in the world. Nearly 1% of landowners hold 46% of all arable lands. From the 400 million hectares registered as private property, only 60 million are used to grow crops. Data from Incra (Agrarian Reform Institute) show that nearly 100 million hectares are unproductive.

In urban centers, the main focus of violence is also concentrated among low-income communities that suffer from police violence and actions by death squads. According to Fermino Fechio, ex-police investigation officer in São Paulo, "suspicious of participation of police officers in executions of teenagers in the State of São Paulo are not new".

From January to May 2003, Military Police of the State of São Paulo killed 435 people - an average of 3 homicides per day. This number reveals a raise of 51% compared to the same period last year.

The causes of violation of civil and political rights are related to the non-compliance with economical, social and cultural rights. "Social exclusion has increased 11% in Brazil between 1980 and 2000. In these two decades, the number of people below the poverty line raised from 51 million (42.6% of a population of 120 million inhabitants) to 80 million (47.3% of a population of 170 million), says Marcio Pochmann, Secretary of Development and Labor of the City of São Paulo.

More than 42 million Brazilians over 10 years old are not able to read and write. This means 31.4% of the population of this age. A research carried out in 53 slums in Rio de Janeiro reveals that 62% of youth did not complete first grade education, and only 1% had 12 years of study. Data from IBGE show that illiteracy reaches 20% of the black population and 8.3% of the white population.

The housing deficit in Brazil is over 6 million homes. In the City of São Paulo, the number of people living in slums raised from 1.2 million in 1990 to nearly 2 million in 2000. According to the Centro de Estudo da Metrópole (Metropolis Study Center), the city sees the birth of a new shantytown every week. From 1991 to 2000, 464 new shantytowns were built. This means an average of 74 people becoming a slum resident each day.

The population living in the streets of São Paulo is estimated in 15 thousand people. On the other hand, the Movimento Sem Teto do Centro (Homeless Movement from the Center) counted more than 400 buildings and closed landsites in downtown.

Unemployment is one of the main concerns, especially reaching women and black people. In August 2003, DIEESE registered an unemployment rate of 23.6% for women, and 16.5% for men in São Paulo. Since the beginning of 2003, 300 thousand women left the job market. Differences in wages were found in all sectors. Women with up to 3 years of study received amounts equivalent to 61% of a man's salary. Those with 11 years of study or more received 57.1% of a man's income.

Data on slave labor in 2003 are alarming. In the first 9.5 months of the year, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) registered 229 cases involving 7623 workers in the states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Maranhão. During the same period of 2002, the CPT documented 127 cases involving 5089 workers. "Rescue of workers made till the end of September represented almost twice of the total in 2002, though insufficient considering the number of requests", explains Fr. Xavier Plassat, Coordinator of the CPT's Campaign against Slave Labor. According to the Organização Internacional do Trabalho (International Labor Organization) there are more than 40 thousand slave workers in Brazil.

The government created programs to assist the rescued workers, includeing professional training and payment of unemployment assistance wages. The Public Ministry of Labor and Employment has been playing an important role by imposing large fines to companies that use slave labor. One of the most important measures of Lula administration was the elaboration of a comprehensive project for slave labor eradication, including expropriation of land and suspension of public financing where slave labor is used. However, these measures have not been implemented yet.

Brazil is in the sixth position among the countries with the highest levels of income inequality. That is why it is not enough to denounce violations of civil and political rights. Compliance with international human rights treaties as well as with the Brazilian legislation will only be possible after structural changes that can ensure economical and social justice. The defense of basic human rights depends on a policy to end inequalities.