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Statement by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Brazil, 3- 13 December 2013

Geneva, 10 January 2014. The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent wishes to thank the Government of Brazil for its invitation to visit the country to study the situation of the Afro-Brazilians and for its cooperation. We wish to stress that the views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary. Our findings and recommendations will be developed more fully when we report on our visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

During the course of this official visit, between 3 and 13 December, we had the opportunity to meet with numerous representatives of the government at the federal, state and municipal levels, and to engage with the black community from Brasilia, Pernambuco, Bahia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Our visit allowed us a unique opportunity to understand the human rights situation of Afro-Brazilians. 

Over the last 10 years, Brazil has shown a political will to overcome racism and address issues of racial equality faced by Afro-Brazilians.  It has developed a number of initiatives enshrined in the Constitution, constitutional legislation and public policies for racial equality, most evident in affirmative action. 

  • The adoption of law 10,639 in 2003 on teaching African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in education institutions, is an important step in recognising of the contribution of all Afro-Brazilians to the construction of Brazilian society. 
  • Decree no. 4887 in 2003 and subsequent decrees recognising and defining the process for land titles for Quilombola communities aims to address the socio-economic inequality and land rights for some of Brazil’s most marginalised. 
  • The adoption of Statute on Racial Equality in 2010 is a crucial step in promoting non-discrimination and equality for Afro-Brazilians. 
  • The Supreme Court ruling in 2012 on the constitutionality of racial quotas for accessing higher education and the current discussions in congress on quotas for public posts are also important measures for redressing the historic inequalities based on trade slave, enslavement and colonialism that have prevented Afro-Brazilians from accessing such spaces.   

We are aware that in order to overcome these historic violations, Brazil faces challenges of considerable magnitude.  The historic injustices continue to deeply affect the lives of millions of Afro-Brazilians and are present at all levels of society.  Black people in the country still face structural, institutional and interpersonal racism. 

Despite commitments by the government, the comprehensive legal framework and a wide body of public policies, the dismantling of racial discrimination remains slow.  The laws and policies are still not sufficiently effective to promote substantive change in the lives of Afro-Brazilians.  Further, we found that some sections of society still believe that Brazil is a racial democracy.

Afro-Brazilians make up more than half of the population, yet they are underrepresented and invisible within the major power structures, in the media and in the private sector. This situation has its origins in structural discrimination which is based on historic mechanisms of exclusion and negative stereotypes, reinforced by poverty and political, economic, social and cultural marginalisation.

Institutional racism often takes the form of unequal distribution of public expenditure. It is manifest inter alia, in the low socio-economic indicators and the low level of participation in public administration and representation in political life. Afro-Brazilians benefit proportionately less from educational and health facilities, the administration of justice, public and private investment, basic infrastructure and other services.  We express concern at the situation of homeless and landless people; we are also equally concerned by the lack of housing and insufficient housing policies which negatively impact on Afro-Brazilians, particularly in favelas and Quilombos.  

Multiple discrimination affects women and girls of African descent as well as LGBT individuals, manifesting in inequalities in access to employment in both public and private sectors and in health conditions, including high rates of maternal mortality.  Members of civil society denounced the feminisation of poverty, the high proportion of Afro-Brazilian women working in precarious conditions, particularly domestic service.        

It is important to highlight that institutional racism and discrimination continues to permeate security and justice systems at all levels.  This impedes equal access to justice for people of African descent when they are victims of violations.  Further it manifests in racial profiling, disproportionate numbers of arrests and overrepresentation in the prison population. 

We note with great concern the high level of violence and criminality that affects Brazilian society.  We were informed about grave violations of human rights perpetuated by security forces in particular the Military and Civil Police against young black people.  Many of these violations enjoy impunity.  Governmental officials denounced the devastating violence and killings, yet from meetings with civil society we learned that this continues to be a widespread practice.  We must reassert that one of the central pillars of human rights is the respect for the right to life and physical integrity. We recall that human rights norms prohibit States from committing summary, extrajudicial or arbitrary executions.

We would like to congratulate the Government’s work to recognise land titles for Quilombos and consider this an important step towards securing their rights.  However we remain concerned by the severe delays that some communities face in securing landing titles. Though visits to communities as well as meetings with governments we learnt about the grave lack of access to traditional lands, extreme poverty and related social ills, which include acts of aggression and persecution against Quilombola human rights defenders.  Quilombola communities also denounce the environmental racism and negative impact of extractive industries and agribusiness.   

Interpersonal discrimination has been extensively documented; it takes the form of attitudes of rejection and exclusion vis-à-vis Afro-Brazilians.  We are particularly concerned about racism suffered by children in schools and the respective psychological impact.  Discrimination against people of African descent is reinforced by negative stereotypes and prejudices that are disseminated by the mass media.  

We are also concerned about the racism, the persecution and violations of cultural rights and the right to religious freedom suffered by religious communities of African origin, such as Candomblé and Umbunda.

As mentioned, we welcome the legislative and policy efforts that the Brazilian government has made to address these issues.  We hope that Brazil will continue on the path initiated during the Lula administration and followed by the Government of President Dilma Rousseff. 

The fight against racism should involve all of Brazilian society.  Sensitisation, intercultural dialogue and education are essential to deconstruct the ideology of racial hierarchies.  Concrete actions and effective implementation of laws and public policies for racial equality is essential to effect real change and positive impact for Afro-Brazilians.

The end of racial inequality, racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance will benefit not only black Brazilians but the entire Brazilian population.  It will reinforce democracy, the rule of law and social and economic development.  Further, we hope that the progress made in combating racism in Brazil will have a profound and lasting impact on all countries of Latin America that share a similar legacy of racism.

We also welcome the government’s openness and transparent and objective attitude concerning the situation of black communities and remaining challenges.  We would like to thank Itamaraty, the SEPPIR, the government at the Federal, State and Municipal levels, the Brazilian Congress, the Federal Supreme Tribunal, civil society, the many Afro-Brazilians, and finally the United Nations System in Brazil their support in this mission.

The United Nation Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent