Pagina Principal

English Report

An estimated 50 million Brazilians live below the poverty line. The country also continues to experience widespread human rights violations without practical mechanisms for monitoring the daily accomplishment of rights. These facts alone justify the call for six national reports on Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights (ESCHR)-for the rights to Food, Water and Land, the Environment, Health, Adequate Housing, Education, and to Employment. The mandate of these reports includes common elements: the receipt of urgent communications, visits and missions to the states, periodic working group meetings, and annual financial reports.

The National Reports Project for Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights

Jayme Benvenuto Lima Jr.*

Brazil is a country known for its enormous wealth of natural resources, culture and technology, and is currently the 10th largest economy in the world. Despite these attributes, it also exhibits an enormous material debt with respect to human rights, and in particular for economic, social, and cultural rights. An estimated 50 million Brazilians live below the poverty line. Officially, the Brazilian constitution is one of the most advanced in the world, with laws that are extremely favorable to human rights. Brazil has two national human rights programs: the first, dating from 1996, is directed towards civil and political rights; the second, from 2002, deals with economic, social, and cultural rights. The principal instruments of international protection for human rights were ratified, including the recent ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. However, widespread human rights violations continue to occur. Even more importantly, mechanisms do not exist to monitor the effective practical realization of rights.

This fact alone justifies the call for Six National Investigations on Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights made by the Brazilian Platform for Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights (ESCHR), with support and cooperation from the United Nations Volunteer Program (UNV) and the Special Secretary for Human Rights. These six investigations include the rights to Food, Water and Rural Land, the Environment, Health, Adequate Housing, and Education and Employment. The first national reports projects were begun in Brazil in October of 2002, and initial investigations were carried out starting in November of the same year. Preliminary results were presented in April of 2003 before the United Nations, and in May of 2003 the results were presented to Brazilian civil society in an associated event preceding the annual National Conference on Human Rights in Brasilia.

The appointment of specialists by the Brazilian Platform of Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights is clearly inspired by the experience of the United Nations in naming special investigators in cases where human rights are disrespected. As with the United Nations in relation to all the world's countries, national investigators intend to help the country -state and society-to evaluate the capacity to implement ESCHR and to present proposals on how to overcome existing problems. Their objective is to "contribute to helping Brazil adopt a model of respect for economic, social, and cultural human rights, based on national commitments to the Brazilian Constitution and the National Program for Human Rights and the ratification of international treaties for the protection of human rights."

The Brazilian investigators are appointed by the Appointment Council for National Human Rights (ESCHR) Investigators, and are called to receive communications and complaints regarding human rights violations in their particular areas of expertise. The investigators also carry out missions to the states to examine human rights situations and to produce annual reports on each location.

The specialists have been challenged to provide models for monitoring national human rights situations, which has required a deep understanding of the problems related to their mandate. They must also identify and cooperate with diverse social sectors to seek resolutions for encountered problems, and present viable solutions through public policy and new laws that improve the quality of life of the Brazilian population.

The mandates of the national investigators for ESCHR contain the following common elements:

1. Receipt of urgent communications
Communication models were developed and made available to Brazilian civil society and social groups to improve their access to the reporting investigators. Grievances received are to be directed to the appropriate public agencies, especially to the Human Rights Councils and Commissions, which will seek solutions to each particular case. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Brazilian ESCHR Platform and the Federal Prosecutor for Citizen Rights facilitates the joint processing of cases related to ESCHR and seeks to increase opportunities for the practical exercise of justice at the national level.

2. Visits/missions to the states:
In practice, public audiences in each of the states, with the participation of government representatives, social groups, and victims of human rights violations will serve as a mechanism to promote the development of ESCHR. The teams have conducted visits and missions to localities where exceptional situations have occurred (in terms of violations or of effective problem solving), in addition to conducting interviews with victims and perpetrators of human rights violations in various national regions.

3. Periodic working group meetings
Working group meetings facilitate the exchange of experiences between investigators and evaluators, and also serve to create a space to refine working methodologies.

4. Annual financial reports:
The annual reports will be presented before groups including: the National Conferences for Human Rights, carried out annually by the Commission of Human Rights of the Federal Câmera; the Defense Council for the Rights of the Human Person (or its successor); the sectoral councils (if present); as well as other venues related to the topics covered by the reports. At the international level, presentations will be made to the Human Rights Commissions of the UN and of the OAS. These reports should have a practical component that allows organized civil society to appropriate and use their content in their work defending and promoting human rights. The reports should address race and ethnicity, gender, and regional features of national human rights problems and reflect the precision and accuracy of the information and quality of sources.

The Brazilian Platform for Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights expects not only quality mission and grievance reports from this work. Fundamentally, this initiative should help to improve the capacity of Brazilian society to monitor economic, social, and cultural human rights by practically demonstrating that such rights have the same worth as civil and political human rights. The National Reports Project for ESCHR will have achieved its objective if we can clearly demonstrate that violations of economic, social, and cultural human rights in Brazil are as grave as summary executions, torture, and illegal imprisonment, to the extent that such violations also kill millions of people each day, and that there are solutions to both sets of problems. We don't yet have all the solutions, but we are becoming aware of several, such as those demonstrated by the initial work of the national investigators in ESCHR. We will continue to search for others. This is our biggest challenge.

*Attorney and Journalist. Received a Masters Degree in Law from the Federal University of Pernambuco, and Doctorate in International Law from the University of São Paulo. Coordinator of the National Reports Project for the Brazilian Platform for Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights