Brazilians´rights at risk by new bills under review in Congress
On 31st July 2017, Amnesty International launched a campaign to defend human rights in Brazil. The ‘Human Rights Are Not For Sale’ campaign aims to “fight back against a raft of changes currently being discussed by Congress which could reduce legal protections for marginalized groups”. The proposed changes include legislation regarding land demarcation and entitlement that would curtail the rights of indigenous people and land defenders. In addition, changes in the anti-terrorism law could potentially undermine freedom of expression and assembly.
Regarding this legislation, Amnesty International declared that:
“Instead of imposing draconian new legislation, the authorities should focus on regulating the use of force by police during protests and demonstrations which has been a recurring, and often lethal, problem across the country”.
According to a report by the Comitê Brasileiro de Defensoras e Defensores de Direitos Humanos (Brazilian Committee for Human Rights Defenders), violence against human rights activists in Brazil has been growing in recent years, particularly since President Temer took office. The report states that in 2016, 66 activists were killed. Since the beginning of 2017, 37 murders have been recorded, a trend which the Committee's land rights coordinator said was growing “exponentially”.
On 21st July 2017, civil society organisations Artigo 19 and the Rede de Justiça Criminal (Criminal Justice Network) launched their “Projetos de Lei sobre Protestos”, an online tool designed to monitor legislation on issues related to the right to peaceful assembly that are under discussion in the National Congress. To date, the site includes 59 proposed laws that limit or criminalise demonstrations, social movements or activists. The drafts bills are listed in 15 different areas according to what they aim to regulate. Most of the proposed bills listed impose some kind of restriction on demonstrations, while only a small portion is oriented towards guaranteeing freedom of peaceful assembly.
One recent example of restrictive legislation is draft bill 361/2017, which proposes that activists, groups or movements should be held responsible for damage caused during demonstrations. The bill also proposes fines to demonstrators blocking streets when authorities were not previously notified. Article 19 Brazil argues that this could draft bill could be considered unconstitutional. According to item XVI of article 5 in the constitution as it reads at the time of writing, demonstrators are only required to notify the authorities about a demonstration taking place, and are not required to give the exact route of the demonstration.
On 7th August 2017, Secretaria de Assistência e Desenvolvimento Social (Assistance and Social Development Division) of the local government of Sao Paulo, issued a communique with new institutional rules. From now on, any information given by civil servants to journalists must be previously authorised, thus limiting civil servants´ freedom to express their opinion on issues or criticise the authorities.
Similar regulations, known as 'Gag Laws' exist in other states and local governments in Brazil. They have been strongly criticised by civil society because they limit freedom of expression and violate society´s right to information. The case mentioned above causes concern because it restricts the expression of opinion on several social initiatives in the city Sao Paulo that have recently been under debate, such as a programme for homeless individuals in the neighbourhood of Cracolândia.