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1998 | 50th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights

Brazilian Government has not complied with International Treaties on Human 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 which it has already ratified, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on the 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 recount that the government of Brazil has still not fully complied with these treaties.

In December 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States published the “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Brazil.” The 1,667-page report pinpoints the State of Brazil as being responsible for the situation of human rights violations in the country. According to the report Brazil is held responsible for the violations because it does not offer the guarantees to its marginalized population which would eliminate the social, political and economic inequalities preventing them from gaining full participation in society. Our paper will provide examples of non-compliance with treaties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights taken especially from the situation in the Brazilian countryside.


ARTICLE 6. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.

The activity of the Brazilian State in what concerns the defense of life is a far cry from acceptable norms. During President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s period alone, 132 rural workers who were involved in land disputes were assassinated. During this administration the worst massacres in Brazilian recent history have been recorded:

1995 – 9 August, in Corumbiara, Rondonia State, 11 persons were assassinated by the Military Police during an operation authorized by the Judge of the Colorado do Oeste County, Mr. Clodner Luiz Paalleto.

1996 – 17 April, in Eldorado dos Carajás, Pará State, 19 people were assassinated by the Military Police in one operation to open a highway (State Highway –PA135) obstructed by landless workers.

These facts simply illustrate the serious scenes of violence and impunity in the Brazilian countryside, which have been dragging along for some years. According to statistics of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Catholic Church, in 1985 there were 7.843 social conflicts in the country, with 4.866 of these conflicts occurring because of land problems. In the period 1985 – 1997, CPT registered 1003 assassinations of rural workers, lawyers, technicians, union leaders and religious connected with the struggle for land. In the period from 1985 to 1996 there were documented 33 massacres with a total of 195 deaths. Since 1995, 140 rural workers have been assassinated in agrarian conflicts, and not one person responsible has been punished. In 1995, there were 41 deaths, in 1996 – 54, in 1997 – 30, and until May of 1998 – 15 more. Also, since 1995 violence continues against indigenous peoples with 46 Indians assassinated.

ARTICLE 8. No one shall be held in slavery; slavery and the slave trade in all their forms shall be prohibited / No one shall be held in servitude.

The Report, “Conflicts in the Brazilian Countryside – 1995”, issued by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), indicates that in 1995 there were 21 cases of slave labor involving 26.047 persons.

In 1996, the same annual report of the CPT indicated a decrease in the incidents of slave labor. Yet, 50 years after the adoption of 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 statistics of the CPT, in 1996 there were 19 cases of slavery involving 2.487 persons.

ARTICLE 14. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

On 10 June 1997 in Pedro Canario, Espírito Santo State, the rural worker and member of the Landless Movement (MST), José Rainha Junior, was condemned to a prison sentence of 26 years and six months for supposedly participating in an occupation of land. The conflict, which resulted in a criminal process against José Rainha Junior, occurred on 5 June 1989. Based on declarations obtained under torture, the inquest of the Military Police reached its conclusion and started a criminal process ending with the condemnation of José Rainha Junior on 10 June 1997. Brazilian legislation requires that in cases in which a penalty exceeds 20 years every accused person shall have the right to a new trial.

After an intensive judicial battle, the lawyers for the defense succeeded in getting a transfer for the trial to the State Capital of Vitória. However, until the present moment, there is no definite decision about where the second trial will take place, since the decision will remain for the State of Espirito Santo to determine this transfer to the Capital City of Vitória.

Amnesty International made a public statement in August 1997 concerning the imprisonment of members of the MST. In that statement, the organization affirmed that it would consider José Rainha Junior a prisoner of conscience in case a guilty verdict was maintained by the second trial under similar circumstances, or if the accuser did not present objective proofs in respect to the accusations in question. If José Rainha Junior is imprisoned, Amnesty International will insist on his immediate and unconditional release.


ARTICLE 11. 1. The States Parties to the present Convenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.

2. The States Parties to the present Convenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programs, which are needed:

  • To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;
  • Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.

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 32 million people are starving.

In the Brazilian Northeast, the drought that was predicted by many analysts did not receive the attention of the Brazilian Government, since it did not believe that the predicted proportions would be reached. For this reason, the government did not prepare for it. Estimates of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) have registered that, today, the drought has reached about 10 million persons.

In some villages, each family has rights to only two buckets of water each month. Many families have been forced to eat palms (a type of cactus), one of the few foods that are left for cattle. The drought also affects a good part of the landless camps and settlements of the agrarian reform. In certain areas the entire crop has been lost. About 30 thousand families of settlers are connected to the Landless Movement.

The situation of the landless workers in the camps is grave. The basic food allowance provided by the Federal Government to these families – which consists of a monthly allotment of foods indispensable to the human person, such as: beans, rice, wheat flour, salt, etc. – has been cut off by the Federal Government. Right now in Brazil, there are 57.301 families who live in 299 camps. Of these 250 thousand people, 150 thousand are under 14 years of age.

We also add the fact that the Brazilian Government until now has not presented the United Nations its report on the situation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Brazil, as is its obligation (Cf. Articles 17 and 18, ICESCR).


ARTICLE 17. 1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

According to the statistics of the Federal Government of Brazil (ATLAS FUNDUIÁRIO 1992), one percent (1%) of the Brazilian population retains forty-three percent (43%) of the agricultural lands. According to the FAO, Brazil is the second- worst country in the world with regard to the distribution of land, losing only to Paraguay. The index used by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) – the index of GINI, which varies from 0,000 to 1,000 in order to determine the concentration of lands – indicates a concentration in the range of 0.8278. In 1997, statistics showed that 477.105 people were directly involved in land conflicts.

The Brazilian government has declared that, at the end of this four-year administration, 300 thousand landless families would be settled. In Brazil, there are 4 million families struggling for land. This means that, if the demand continues the same, it will take 53 years to settle all these families.


Franciscans International and the Dominicans support the work and petitions of the Landless Movement of Brazil and urge the Brazilian Government:

  1. to strengthen the implementation of the Brazilian National Program on Human Rights, giving priorities to the changes regarding impunity;
  2. to take effective measures to ensure that the Judiciary concludes, without delay, the numerous pending legal proceedings concerning the assassinations of rural workers and persons linked to them;
  3. to promote the immediate settlement of all landless rural workers and their families;
  4. to carry out an ample, massive and immediate agrarian reform;
  5. to maintain and support “grupo movel” of the Labor Fiscalization Secretary (SEFIT) on its work against slave labor, giving more resources and coordination – coordinating also the actions of the State’s “Delegacias Regionais do Trabalho;”
  6. to take effective measures to ensure that the Legislative Power approve the law on slave labor;
  7. to improve a protection system for witnesses;
  8. to defend the rights of the indigenous peoples;
  9. to implement the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regarding landless workers and indigenous peoples.
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