Item 4: Question of the realization of Economic, social and cultural rights

August 3 - 28, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International and the Dominicans wish to express their grave concern about the Government of Brazil’s non-compliance with international human rights treaties that it has already ratified, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In January 1995, Fernando Henrique Cardoso became the President of Brazil and swore that he would respect the Constitution of Brazil and all the treaties ratified by the State. Three-and-half years later, we consider that the government of Brazil has still not fully complied with these treaties.

The activity of the Brazilian State in terms of the defense of life is a far cry from acceptable norms. Since the beginning of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency, 132 rural workers involved in land disputes were assassinated. Moreover, during his administration, the worst massacres in Brazilian recent history were recorded.

These examples illustrate the seriousness of the violence and the ongoing impunity in the Brazilian countryside. The statistics of the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) of the Roman Catholic Church, in the period 1985� recorded 1.003 assassinations. The assassinated persons consisted of rural workers, lawyers, technicians, union leaders and religious, all of whom were connected with the struggle for land.

Those responsible for the assassinations of landless workers are still free and have not yet been tried nor punished. A large percentage of the killings was promoted by state military police. We denounce the existence of paramilitary groups who are hired by organizations of landlords to kill landless rural workers or those linked to them.

The Report, “Conflicts in the Brazilian Countryside – 1995,” issued by the Land Pastoral Commission, indicated that in 1995 there were 21 cases of slave labor involving 26,047 persons.

In 1996, the same annual report indicated a decrease in the incidents of slave labor. Yet, 50 years following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the existence of slave labor in the territory of Brazil still offends the conscience of humanity. According to the CPT statistics, in 1996 there were 19 cases of slavery involving 2,487 persons.

Of the total population of Brazil, twenty percent (20%) of the highest income bracket received 32 times more than the lowest twenty percent (20%) during the period 1981-1993. In Brazil, it is estimated that twenty two percent (22%) of the population or thirty-two million people are starving.

Many analysts had predicted a serious drought in the Brazilian Northeast that would affect millions of people. However, the government did not respond on time disregarding the prediction and consequently did not prepare for it. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) estimated that the drought has affected about ten million people.

The drought has reached a large part of the landless camps and settlements of the agrarian reform. In certain areas, the entire crop has been lost. About thirty thousand of the landless families are suffering additionally because of the lack of Government policy.

The situation of the landless workers in the camps is serious. The basic food allowance provided by the Federal Government for these families - which consists of a monthly allotment of indispensable food for survival, such as: beans, rice, wheat flour, salt, etc. - has been cut off by the Federal Government.

The Government declared that, at the end of their four-year administration, they would settle 300,000 landless families. At that rate, it would take 53 years to settle the four million families still struggling for land.

By delaying the agrarian reform, the Brazilian Government has forced the landless families to live in camps under plastic tents, on the side of the roads. In addition to hunger, the presence of paramilitary groups threaten and kill the landless workers, control roads and cause panic. The fifty-seven thousand families who are in the camps are living as internal refugees.

The situation in Brazil is a clear example of the interdependence and interconnectedness between civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights. In recent years, billions of dollars from outside have been invested in Brazil bringing in new technology. This has enriched a very small portion of the Brazilian population to the detriment of the majority. We are now witnessing a peculiar form of globalization: the globalization of misery. This makes the so-called developed countries co-responsible with the Brazilian Government for the human rights violations in Brazil.

Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 


UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: Fiftieth session
Meeting Name: 
UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: Fiftieth session