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A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her ballot in the municipal election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. © AP Photo/Nelson Antoine

(São Paulo) – Candidates running for president, Congress, state legislature, and governor in the October 2022 Brazil elections should put forward proposals to address the country’s serious human rights problems. The issues should include police abuse, violence against women and forest defenders, the impact of environmental destruction, and the rights of people with disabilities.

“Millions of Brazilians are hurting because of serious human rights problems, from structural racism to violence against girls and women, and threats and attacks against forest defenders,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “During the electoral campaign, candidates should lay out plans to improve the protection of basic rights and strengthen the rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch highlighted Brazil’s key human rights challenges and recommendations in its submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place in November. Under the UPR process, each country’s human rights record is subject to a comprehensive review by other countries every five years. Human Rights Watch and other civil society organizations have sent submissions as input for the review.

In its submission, Human Rights Watch said that Brazilian authorities should strengthen the democratic system and the rule of law by respecting judicial independence and upholding the right to vote, as well as holding accountable those responsible for grave human rights abuses committed during the country’s dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Brazil should also enhance freedom of expression and of the media, and revoke criminal defamation provisions in the penal code, Human Rights Watch said.

Candidates should address the very harmful effects of police abuse, which endangers the lives of both civilians and police, and undermines public security. In 2021, police killed more than 6,100 people, according to state data collected by the Brazilian Public Security Forum. Eighty-four percent of the those killed in 2021 were Black.

In its submission, Human Rights Watch said that the authorities should develop a plan to curb police killings nationwide, adopt protocols to investigate police abuse that comply with international standards, and have independent prosecutors investigate cases, instead of having police investigate themselves. On July 7, UN experts also called on Brazil to ensure effective, independent, and prompt investigations into police abuses, adopt comprehensive reforms to put an end to police violence, and address systemic racism and racial discrimination.

Environmental destruction in the Amazon continues at a dangerous pace that is increasingly pushing Brazil’s rainforest, which is critical to global protection of the environment, toward an irreversible tipping point. Deforestation is driven largely by criminal groups that threaten and attack anyone who stands in their way.

Between August 2020 and July 2021, the latest official yearly data, 13,038 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest were clear-cut, the largest area since 2006. Multiple investigations have shown that cattle and soy grown on illegally deforested areas of the Amazon frequently make their way into the global supply chains of major multinational corporations operating in Brazil.

Candidates should commit to dramatically reduce deforestation, fund and empower environmental authorities, protect forest defenders, and tackle the role of corporations sourcing agricultural commodities from deforested protected areas. They should also commit to resuming demarcation of Indigenous territories and protecting them from encroachment by wildcat miners, loggers, and land-grabbers, Human Rights Watch said.

Gender-based violence is a widespread problem in Brazil. In addition, the country’s abortion laws are incompatible with its human rights obligations, permitting the procedure only in limited situations that restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Candidates should put forward proposals to improve women and girls’ access to justice and protection from violence, and they should support the decriminalization of abortion, Human Rights Watch said.

In its submission, Human Rights Watch also addressed the situation of thousands of children and adults with disabilities who live in institutions, where they are isolated from society, lack any meaningful control over their lives, can face abuses, and be denied access to education. Candidates should develop plans to phase out the use of institutions and develop community-based services for people with disabilities, as well as support inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said.

Candidates for the presidency should also put forward foreign policy proposals that defend human rights consistently worldwide, regardless of the ideology of the government in question, Human Rights Watch said. For instance, they should condemn the abuses committed by the governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution committed by Israeli authorities against millions of Palestinians. They should also support thorough and independent investigations into possible war crimes in Ukraine.

All candidates should campaign in a rights-respecting way, especially in a highly polarized context, and vigorously condemn any intimidation, threats, or political violence in the run-up to the elections. On July 9, a member of the Workers’ Party was shot dead at his birthday party in Paraná state, where the organizers were expressing support for the presidential candidacy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, by a man who, media reports said, shouted support for President Jair Bolsonaro. In a democracy, Brazilians should engage in electoral debates without fear of retaliation for their political views.

“Brazilian voters deserve peaceful elections and a substantive debate about issues that affect them, particularly the protection of their basic rights and freedoms,” Taraciuk Broner said. “Candidates should commit to reforms to improve Brazil’s human rights policies and practices.”

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