From: The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
SIGN-ON LETTER: Support Democracy and Due Process in Brazil
Deadline Tuesday, December 20, COB
Endorsed by: AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), United Steelworkers (USW), Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Friends of the Earth, Center for International Policy – Americas Program
On August 31, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was removed from office following a controversial impeachment trial led by political opponents immersed in corruption scandals. Since Rousseff’s impeachment – considered a coup by many Brazilians – the new, unelected
government has enacted sweeping institutional and policy changes and has begun rolling back popular social programs. The numerous protests that have been sparked by these developments have been met with violent repression and political opponents, like former
president Lula da Silva, have been the object of intense attacks and judicial repression.
In light of these troubling events, and given Brazil’s importance as a regional leader, we invite you to join us in sending the following letter to Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Luiz Alberto Figuerido Machado expressing concern regarding recent
developments in Brazil and urging Brazil’s government to protect the human rights of peaceful protesters, social movement leaders and opposition leaders. Among other things the letter notes that over the last few months:
- Brazilian social movements like the internationally-renowned Landless Workers Movement have been repressed and criminalized and peaceful protests opposing government measures have been violently repressed.
- Former president Lula da Silva—Brazil’s most popular political figure thanks to his successful social programs that lifted millions out of poverty—has been subjected to increasing persecution and violation of his due process rights (e.g., the right to presumption
of innocence, the right to an impartial tribunal, the right to protection from arbitrary arrest) have been violated.
- The Brazilian government of Michel Temer is supporting a constitutional amendment that, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, is in violation of Brazil’s human rights obligations, “will hit the poorest and most vulnerable
Brazilians the hardest, [and] will increase inequality levels in an already very unequal society.”
- The Temer government continues to be rocked by corruption scandals, leading four ministers to resign in recent months.
If you have any questions, or would like to sign on, please contact Erik Sperling in Rep. Conyers’ office by emailing
Erik.Sperling@mail.house.gov or calling 5-5126.
John Conyers, Jr.
Member of Congress
TEXT OF LETTER:
Dear Ambassador Figuereido:
We write to express our deep concern regarding the current state of democracy and human rights in Brazil. As we noted during the removal proceedings of President Dilma Rousseff, those driving that process undermined Brazil’s democratic institutions in order
to advance their own political and economic interests at the expense of protecting democracy or national interests. In the time since, it has been demonstrated that they acted to protect corrupt political figures, to impose a series of policies that would
never be supported in a national election and to harass their adversaries in social movements and opposing political parties. These revelations have sharply increased polarization in an already divided society and raised serious doubts about the current leadership’s
ability to steer a course out of the ongoing economic, political and social crisis.
Recent repression targeting peaceful protesters and social movements and violations of former President Lula da Silva’s
due process rights suggest that Brazil’s democracy has not yet turned the page on its not-so-distant authoritarian past. We are particularly concerned about the persecution of former President Lula da Silva in ways that violate international treaty obligations,
such as those stipulated under the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guaranteeing basic due process rights to all individuals.
As you know, the Lula da Silva administrations (2003-2010) greatly expanded social programs that
helped lift millions out of poverty. Lula remains one of the most popular political figures in Brazil today and, as such, is seen as a serious threat at the ballot box by his political opponents. For many months he has been the object of a campaign of
mudslinging and unsubstantiated accusations of corruption by major private media outlets largely aligned with the country’s elites.
Since the beginning of this year, Lula has been targeted by a judge – Sergio Moro – whose biased and
unwarranted actions have severely jeopardized Lula’s due process rights. For instance, Moro ordered the
arbitrary arrest of the former president simply to serve a subpoena, although there was no indication that the former president was unwilling to provide testimony. Media outlets were on site as the arrest occurred, suggesting that the primary purpose of
the detention was to create the perception that Lula was implicated in criminal activity despite the lack of charges against him at the time.
Moro has also
leaked phone intercepts to media – including illegal and unauthorized intercepts – that included conversations between Lula and his lawyers, his family and then-President Rousseff. To carry out these sorts of deliberate, tendentious leaks is a violation
of Brazilian law and of a recent ruling of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (Escher vs. Brazil).
Moro has not even feigned impartiality, as he openly participated in political events opposing Lula and the Worker’s Party,
endorsed a book declaring Lula guilty, and in late September
endorsed the charge that Lula had headed a major corruption scheme despite the absence of evidence supporting this charge.
Even following testimony against Lula obtained through plea bargains, there is not yet any credible evidence implicating Lula in criminal activity. We are concerned that the true goal behind the proceedings is to severely tarnish Lula’s image and disable
him politically by any means, as occurred with former President Rousseff. This would be a further setback for Brazil’s democracy.
Lula’s legal representatives have
filed a petition before the United Nations Human Rights Committee outlining violations of his due process rights under the ICCPR (to which Brazil is a signatory), including the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to protection
from arbitrary arrest, the right to an impartial tribunal, and the right to protection from arbitrary interference with privacy.
We are also deeply troubled by various actions taken by Brazil’s state authorities since the permanent removal of President Rousseff from office on August 31.
As we discussed in a previous letter in July 2016, that
impeachment process – which was marred by procedural irregularities and driven by politicians implicated in major corruption scandals – constituted in itself a severe threat to Brazil’s democratic institutions.
On September 21, Rousseff’s successor – Michel Temer –
publicly stated that Rousseff was removed from office due to her opposition to a severe austerity plan which he supported and which involves draconian cuts to key public services. In recent weeks, Temer’s government has pushed for implementation of this
plan through the passage of
a constitutional amendment that binds the current and future governments to drastic spending caps over the next twenty years and suspends the constitution’s minimum spending requirements for education, health and social assistance. These measures will effectively
roll back years of social and economic advances that enormously benefited poor communities that are disproportionately Afro-Brazilian.
On December 9, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston,
warned that the amendment will breach Brazil’s human rights obligations. Alston called it “a radical measure, lacking in all nuance and compassion,” and said that “it will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians the hardest, will increase inequality
levels in an already very unequal society, and definitively signals that social rights are a very low priority for Brazil for the next twenty years.”
These and other government measures – such as the
prohibition placed on political discourse at Brazil’s public schools – have sparked
widespread protests throughout the country, including in more than 1000 schools, and represent a threat to fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and association.
In addition, Brazilian social movements have been subjected to harsh repression and
are being criminalized. Members of the internationally-renowned Landless Workers Movement (MST), which advocates for agrarian land reform mandated under Brazil’s constitution, have been jailed and charged as associates of a “criminal organization” after
engaging in peaceful occupations of unproductive land plots.
As this repression unfolds, the Temer government continues to be rocked by corruption scandals which have led to the resignation of four ministers in recent months. Corruption allegations
directly implicating Temer have also led opposition members of Brazil’s congress to file for impeachment proceedings against the head of state.
These and other developments are seriously jeopardizing the social and democratic achievements that have been made in Brazil since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. As a first essential step towards reversing this situation, we urge Brazil’s
federal authorities to do everything in their power to protect the human rights of protesters, social movement leaders and opposition leaders such as former President Lula da Silva.
Rather than exacerbating the polarization in Brazil by persecuting political adversaries at the grass-roots and national leadership levels and imposing extreme policy measures directed against those who have historically been excluded by elites, those concerned
with the restoration of stable democratic institutions and a sustainable economy should recognize their tenuous hold on executive and legislative power and act to develop and agenda of national unity.
[Members of Congress]