Brazil: new president, old problems

“Dilma Rousseff sworn in as Brazil’s new president.” This statement was headlining the most important newspapers in the first of January 2011. This post is a brief analysis of the challenges that the new president will face regarding human rights in Brazil.


Lula did well in 8 years of presidency. He had just basic education and many scholars said he would be a terrible president. He proved that they were wrong. Brazil barely felt the recent global financial crisis and during his mandate, Lula led 30 million Brazilians from poverty to the middle class. Internationally Brazil was more expressive than it has ever been. In the last 4 years Brazil donated around 2 billion dollars for humanitarian help. Lula left the presidency with an 87 per cent approval rating, which is more than what Mandela had in South Africa. Dilma Rousseff is the first woman president in Brazil; she is a technocrat who has never occupied elective office. She is not sympathetic and became president mainly due to Lula’s success. One of her biggest challenges is to tackle violence while respecting human rights.


The media did cover well the inauguration of the President of Brazil, nonetheless it did not explore so much the issue of human rights in Brazil. Brazil plays a big role in the United Nations; however, this is due mainly to the economic growth and not based on the situation of human rights in the country. Lula was very outspoken against human rights violations of other countries but was silent on his country. This “do as I say, not as I do” attitude helped Brazil to cover its own flaws, but did not solve domestic problems.


So what are the causes of human rights violations in Brazil? The answer is quite simple: inequality. Barry Ames from Pittsburgh University said: “Inequality is Brazil’s major problem. Inequality weakens economic growth, leads to high levels of crime and personal insecurity, and forces the nation to spend scarce resources on police and prisons.” How unfair is the distribution of wealth in Brazil? Nathalie Beghin explains it on the article Notes on inequality and poverty in Brazil:

“Brazil is one of the most unequal nations in the world, although it is one of the wealthiest. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), income inequalities as measured by the GINI index are higher only than those of some very poor African countries such as Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Lesotho or Namibia. However, the World Bank ranks the Brazilian economy among the 10 richest in the world, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $1.7 trillion PPP, similar to the Italian GDP. Considering that the country has a population of 187 million, its per capita GDP is in the order of $ 9,000 PPP. The country’s high income concentration is revealed in figures: the richest one per cent of the population – less than 2 million people – have 13 per cent of all household income. This percentage is similar to that of the poorest 50 per cent – about 80 million Brazilians. This inequality results in poverty levels that are inconsistent with an economy the size of that of Brazil.”


Inequality is the cause of most violations of human rights in Brazil. It is well known that Brazil is a violent country. Violence however, takes place mainly in the poorest areas of Brazil, where the unemployment rates are high and the education level is extremely low. In order to combat violence the government usually just act on the consequences, which usually means to hire more policemen. Police forces in Brazil don’t earn much money and in general don’t have good training. Most policemen work hard but there are also many that become corrupted (as one can see in Brazilian movies such as City of God and Tropa de Elite or Elite Squad). The result of a police force that is poorly paid, that does not have proper training and that sometimes is corrupted is obvious: violations of human rights.


Extrajudicial killings are a clear violation of Articles 6, 7, 9 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Brazil has ratified without any reservation. Rio and São Paulo police together kill more than 1,000 people every year in alleged confrontations.(1)(2) The situation of prisons in Brazil are also terrible as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston stated: “The situation for inmates in Brazil is dire and requires immediate intervention”. (3)


Torture is also common in Brazil but it seems that things can change regarding this issue. Ms Dilma was tortured while in jail in the early 1970s for her participation in the armed resistance against the dictatorship in Brazil. She experienced the brutality of the police herself and she promised that she will not compromise in the defence of human rights.


Ms. Dilma seems to be more progressive towards human rights and less worried about becoming an international pop star. In my opinion that is a very positive change in comparison to Lula’s government. Nevertheless, another change that is urgent is the population understanding of human rights and this is directly connected of them having a better education. The school system inBrazil reflects the inequality that was discussed above. There are few excellent schools but most of the population attend public schools where the education is very poor (Brazil ranked 53 in the last PISA evaluation). The consequence of that is that people tend to learn more from TV news, which are generally conservative. The news usually portrait human rights defenders as those to protect the “evil ones”, killers, robbers, rapists and thieves. Human rights are rarely taught in universities and it is not hard to find university students that are against human rights. Therefore, the population in general does not support human rights and they end up supporting the perpetrators of human rights violations.


Unless the education changes in Brazil, violation of human rights will continually take place endorsed by the media, by populist politicians and by the population. We conclude with the statement of Salil Shetty from Amnesty International about human rights in Brazil that: “only by addressing impunity for torture, ill-treatment and summary execution by state official will Brazil begin to resolve its public security crisis.”


(1) Brazil: Curb Police Violence in Rio, São Paulo by Human Rights Watch at

(2) For more information check the HRW report on extrajudicial killings at

(3) For more information check the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at:

One Response to “Brazil: new president, old problems”
  1. xoyocwb says:

    Great text old friend! ^^

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