Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

11 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Brazil this morning, during which 44 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of Brazil was ROGÉRIO SOTTILI, Executive Secretary in the Special Secretariat of the Presidency of Brazil, who said it was the belief of Brazil that the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism had the capacity to strengthen human rights systems in all countries. Consultations between government and civil society led to a public hearing the Federal Senate which led to the first national report of Brazil under review. The inclusion of human rights issues in standard setting instruments was crucial to establish conditions for success. Brazil attached great importance to the human rights monitoring mechanisms in human rights and had extended standing invitations to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The country was also working closely to implement its human rights obligations adhering to international conventions and the recommendation of the United Nations’ human rights treaty bodies. The President had been working towards more economic growth placing social development as a central priority of his initiatives. Among other things the issues of gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples had been a primary focus in this regard. As a result of such initiatives, including the Zero Hunger programme, had led to reducing extreme poverty towards achieving the MDG of reducing extreme poverty by half by 2015. Extreme poverty had been reduced considerably over the last years, as well as the inequality of income. Extreme poverty dropped 28% for 16% of the population between 1990 and 2005. Between 2003 and 2005 around 10 million Brazilians went beyond the line of poverty, although some 7 million people still lived in abject poverty.

For Brazilians 2008 was a very symbolic year given the 120th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the country, the Executive Secretary added. The State was working to build a new society free of racism. Among the issues addressed towards this goals were the respect for the rights of women and children, marginalized groups. Brazil was going through a gradual process to ensure human rights compliance with international instruments. The Government held a priority goal to deal with the rights of children and adolescents. In 2008 the 11th national conference on human rights was held in the country after which a national programme on human rights was inaugurated. It was noted that in November this year the State will be hosting a conference on the exploitation of children. It was recalled that this week in Brasilia, the Government began its commemoration programmes for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and held a meeting with the United Nations country team in Brazil. The Government would be working throughout 2008 to bring human rights to the average citizen in Brazil raising there awareness to the contents of the Declaration.

Another member of the delegation, addressing the fight against extreme poverty, noted that several measures were being taken by the Government to address this problem. Brazil had been committed to achieving the MDGs through enhancing its development programmes. A number of initiatives had been taken in that regard, in particular, the Zero Hunger Programme and the Family Allowance programme. The Ministry of to Social Development and Combating Hunger was also established as a result. It was recalled that the Zero Hunger programme had been in place since 2006. Some of the results of this programme led to improved health services and education, developing social equality and to break the cycle of poverty.

Addressing the issue of violence, another member of the delegation said there had been some 40,000 homicides reported last year and there were currently 120,000 prison inmates in the country. However, there had been a drop by 20% in homicides since 2003, as well as decrease in the prison population. In an effort to reduce crime rates, the State launched last year a national programme focusing on better citizenship. Human rights training was also provided to the police force and programmes of dealing with violence against women and children were being instituted.

Another member of the delegation spoke to the measures of developing economic stability indicated that, as a result of Government policies and programmes, over the past 450,000 families have settled in specific land areas and new employment possibilities also resulted. Another member of the delegation addressed the issue of violence against women indicating that several centres and shelters for women were in place in the country and courts dealing specifically with domestic violence and violence against women. On the issue of discrimination, related polices had been set up to promote equal opportunity and to work against racial discrimination and its consequences. A special secretariat had been set up to address this issue. Brazil endeavored to contribute to the full success of the Durban Review Conference on Racism and it was noted that a preparatory conference would be held in June this year, in this regard.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included steps to combat violence against women and efforts to combat domestic violence; the creation of the special secretariats of women’s rights, racial equality and combating poverty; the State’s success in poverty reduction and its Zero Hunger programme; cooperation between civil society on human rights matters; the State’s family allowance programme; State laws on combating racism, protecting children and adolescent and prosecuting police for acts of torture; the establishment of a commission on the right to truth; efforts to combat HIV/AIDS; efforts to combat slave labor; the State’s education, food and health policies; the creation of a national committee for the prevention and control of torture in 2006; and the progress achieved towards the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to concrete stop to stop discrimination against women based on ethnic origin; efforts to counter the low number of financial support; measures taken to ensure a gender perspective in the report; details on steps taken to combat violence against women; areas in the health system which were in need of improvement; further steps envisaged to reduce gender inequality; the results of the commission on the right to truth; the experiences of the State in combating HIV/AIDS; achieving universal education, in particular in rural areas; steps to improve the participation of women in government positions; the State’s Education Development Plan; specific steps to address the issues of domestic violence; practical measures to combat acts of torture and whether a programme had been established in this regard; indigenous rights; the discussions on lowering the age of criminal responsibility; actions taken or to be taken to set up a legal framework to address the issue of concentrated media ownership and to speed up the issue of licensing to media and combating acts of violence against members of the media; and views in support of national human rights institutions.

Others raised issues related to the steps being taken by the State to address cases of extrajudicial killings by the police, excessive use of force by the police, and measures to prosecute those responsible, in particular in the favelas; efforts taken to improve the situation of torture in adult and juvenile penal systems, given related allegations; and the practical implementation of measures to reduce urban crimes. Several delegations sought additional information on the steps to taken to address prison conditions and overcrowded prisons. One delegation asked what the intention of the State was to implement to recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who noted the need to initiate a profound reform of the penal judiciary system.

A number of delegations expressed interesting in receiving information on Brazil’s successes and experiences in combating poverty and, in particular the State’s Zero Hunger programme. Other issues pertained to the measures to ensure that children did not drop out of schools and measures which led to successful school attendance rate; the main challenges arising out of the national children and adolescent plans; the situation of street children; efforts to respect cultural diversity and bilingual teaching; the review of human rights policies in the absence of data collection policies; how the Family Allowance Programme was being implemented; the conclusion of the debate held last year to promote a national system of human rights indicators; information on steps taken to promote and protect human rights defenders in light of the recommendation made by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders; and steps taken to achieve the national programme on agrarian reform.

Among the other issues raised were those related to the sexual exploitation of children; efforts of the State to counter the effects of slavery, in particular racial discrimination against people of African descent; and guarantees to exercise religion freely. One delegation asked whether technical assistance was required in terms of implementing its development strategies in terms of achieving social equality.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To ensure that congress adopted the law on access to public information; appropriate assistance to address weaknesses and inequalities in the country in the areas of gender, income distribution and opportunities for African descendants; to extend the policies on the production of biofuels in light of the right to food; for the Government to invest more rigor in evaluating the outcome of planned activities in the areas of combating impunity, extrajudicial killings, and overcrowded prisons, among other issues; to intensify efforts for the security of human rights defenders and to reinforce debate with all stakeholders in that regard, including with the Brazilian police; to pursue public polices to improve the life of African descendents, indigenous persons and other minorities; to consider bringing up to date its report to the Convention against Torture; to take measures to enhance access to justice and strengthen the judicial system; and more efforts to transform certain prisons into rehabilitation centres.

The delegation of the Brazil provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. As to the commission on the right to truth, the delegation noted that in 1995 the State, through an enacted law, began to recognize the deaths that took place under the previous dictatorship and efforts were undertaken to resolve cases of political prisoners and those who disappeared. This had resulted in 339 cases, of which 321 received compensation. A report was produced summing up all processes and events of each case and was shared with the Presidency. In 2007, the special secretariat on human rights and the commission on the disappeared set up a DNA bank so family members could identify those who disappeared; the data bank was still operational.

On issues of violence against women, comprehensive action was being taken together with State governments and municipalities. Various measures had also been taken in the fight against sexual exploitation, trafficking of women and respecting reproductive rights. Responding to another question, while noting that there had been a large increase in the prison population given the revision of the State’s penal laws, said the State had been giving due attention to this problem at all levels. Regarding street children, the situation of children in prisons was being addressed; in 2007 a number of meetings took place addressing the some 15,000 attacks against street children and to encourage further measures. Moreover, as from 2004, through the special secretariat on human rights, a special programme was created to address with the population affected by sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

On the question of torture, it was recalled that a decree was issued in 2003 by the President to combat torture and related acts; in this regard a national day for victims of torture. Efforts were being made in cooperation with the police and other bodies to eliminate such acts. The Government was of the view that there was a need to set up more prevention mechanisms and to include more inspection of prisons. On the issue of human rights defenders, the delegation said an initiative was launched in 2004 aimed to protect human rights defenders to protect them and policies were also being implemented to police and prosecute those who attacked these defenders. Important progress had been made last year through the creation of three centres providing police protection for human rights defenders.

Concerning the State’s Zero Hunger programme, the delegation noted that the programme was an inter-ministry strategy involving municipalities and civil society. Part of the Government’s efforts in this regard led to the creation of the Ministry of Development and Combat to Hunger; another special secretariat on food supply was set up to fight hunger and the State had enacted legislation, with the involvement of civil society, as a result of the programme. In all, there were several initiatives dealing with this problem. Food was being provided in schools and for marginalized populations. Efforts were being centralized to reduce extreme poverty and to address cases of inequality and new opportunities were being created to enhance social inclusion. Efforts were being undertaken to come up with forms of renewable energy in an effort to fight hunger.

Another issue concerned agrarian reform to which the delegation expressed the hope of the Government that through agrarian reform the level of violence in the country would be reduced. As to instances of racial discrimination and minorities, the State had prioritized the subject of Africa in the school system in an effort to make the society more awareness of the origins of the country. Some 120,000 persons of African descent and indigenous communities had also benefited from affirmative action education programmes.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Slovenia, China, Azerbaijan, Peru, India, Malaysia, Ghana, Cuba, Pakistan, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, France, Norway, the Russian Federation, Senegal, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Angola, Bangladesh, Egypt, South Africa, Jordan, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Colombia, Syria, Australia, Algeria, the United Status, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Palestine, Belgium, Mauritania, Nigeria and Morocco.

The 16-person delegation of Brazil consisted of representatives of the Special Secretariat of the Special Secretariat of the Presidency on the Promotion of Racial Equality, Special Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic on Human Rights, the Ministry of External Relations, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Social Development and Combat to Hunger, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform and the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Brazil are Gabon, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Brazil can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Brazil on Tuesday, 15 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Philippines after which it is scheduled to adopt the reports of Indonesia and Finland.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp