Fernando Henrique Cardoso
President, Federal Republic of Brazil
Palacio do Planalto
VIA FAX: 5561-224-0289
Dear President Cardoso:
On behalf of Human Rights Watch, it is an honor to address myself to you on the occasion of the third anniversary of the release of the National Human Rights Program, a comprehensive blueprint for action in the defense of fundamental rights, to which our organization had the privilege of contributing.
Human Rights Watch, the largest non-governmental human rights organization based in the United States, monitors respect for human rights in more than seventy countries around the world. Human Rights Watch addresses country specific issues through our regional divisions: Africa; Americas; Asia; Middle East; and Europe and Central Asia. The Americas division, formerly Americas Watch, was founded in 1981 and has been monitoring human rights conditions in Brazil since 1987, the year in which we published Police Abuse in Brazil: Summary Executions and Torture in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In 1994, we established an office in Rio de Janeiro.
In March 1995, shortly after you began your first term as President of Brazil, we wrote to present our vision of the challenges facing your administration in the area of human rights. Human Rights Watch identified seven areas of human rights abuse plaguing Brazil: police brutality, including off-duty official violence, particularly that directed against adolescents; abysmal prison conditions including massacres in detention centers; rural violence including the targeted killing of agrarian leaders; forced labor and debt bondage; violence against indigenous peoples; violence against women, including forced prostitution; and finally, the lack of justice in cases of "disappearances" and political assassinations committed during the military dictatorship.
These seven themes represent the principal areas in which Human Rights Watch has documented abuses in Brazil during the past twelve years. Because of their prevalence, these abuses provide a relevant framework for assessing the current administration's actions in the realm of human rights and proposing measures for the next four years.
While the letter we sent at the beginning of your first term focused on the substantive human rights problems facing Brazil, this correspondence evaluates the measures implemented during your tenure as president and those that still may be adopted. In large part, the change in focus is a result of your administration's welcome recognition of the existence of the problems noted above. Indeed, the historic drafting and release of the National Human Rights Program (Programa Nacional de Direitos Humanos, PNDH) on May 13, 1996, whose anniversary we celebrate today, represents the federal government's acknowledgment of the scope and gravity of human rights abuses facing Brazil. The broad participation of human rights organizations in the drafting of the PNDH demonstrated your administration's commitment to open, productive relations with domestic and international civil society.
As I explain below, we have been encouraged by several critical developments at the federal level in the past four years both to recognize and address the human rights problems cited above. For example, Human Rights Watch welcomed the process of consultation with domestic and international civil society that led to the National Human Rights Program, as well as the creation of the National Secretariat for Human Rights, in part, to assist in the implementation of the PNDH. While acknowledging the important measures undertaken by this past administration, we believe that in several areas, critical steps must be taken if Brazil is to meet its international human rights obligations.
The document that follows addresses our principal areas of concern, focusing on what we believe to be the most critically needed measures at the federal level. I hope that you will afford this correspondence your serious attention and that, in your second term, you will place compliance with Brazil's international human rights obligations among the very highest priorities of your administration.
Dr. José Miguel Vivanco