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Brazil: “Minorities urge that promises of equality be fulfilled” – UN rights expert

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BRASILIA (24 September 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, today warned that “minority groups in Brazil have not seen the promises of equality fulfilled despite the myriad of laws, policies and affirmative action programs designed to overcome the challenges of the most vulnerable communities.”

“I do believe that Brazil is on the right track in terms of developing laws and policies to tackle discrimination, racism and injustice,” Ms. Izsák said* at the end of her first official visit to the country to identify and assess the main issues facing ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.

“However,” she stressed, “many of these legislative developments, whilst having impact in the long term, do not meet the urgent demands that disadvantaged minorities often want and need.”

She urged the Brazilian authorities to introduce immediate measures to overcome serious structural challenges. “Impunity cannot prevail in any democratic society,” she said. “Inclusive governance must be established, and the concentration of economic, political and media power in just a few hands must be challenged.”

“Continued dialogue and trust-building among the different actors of society must be ensured and the most vulnerable listened to and assisted. Otherwise, Brazil might fail to capitalize on the advancements made thus far, and damage its already delicate social fabric,” Ms. Izsák said stated.

The human rights expert noted that poverty, injustice, discrimination and violence are everyday life experiences of black communities, who although constitute a numerical majority, identify themselves as a political minority.

“The high murder rates, at a shocking rate of 56,000 victims every year, has to come to an end. This particularly affects Afro-Brazilians as they constitute 75% of all victims. There is a need to abolish the military police, remove the mechanism of auto de resistencia and treat all deaths as homicide cases, prosecute the perpetrators and provide psycho-social support for the families of the victims, especially the mothers who lost their children,” she said.

“I am also particularly worried about young people and families in favelas who seem to have few dreams or life perspectives. Community spaces and services need to be provided to prevent youth from engaging into crime and violence and to motivate them to finish their education,” the expert urged.

Ms. Izsák called on the Brazilian Government to speed up the process of land demarcation and entitlement of the Quilombo communities, ensuring they are kept free from political influence, especially in the light of a current Supreme Court procedure challenging the constitutionality of the relevant decree for land demarcation.

“Schools in Quilombo areas also must be accessible and provide quality education,” the expert stated. “All development projects taking place on Quilombo lands must seek free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities.”

The Special Rapporteur drew particular attention to and consulted with members of the Roma (Cigano) community who seemed to be highly invisible in Brazil, despite their estimated number of 800,000. “They are still largely stereotyped and misportrayed as thieves, beggars or fortune tellers,” she noted.

“I welcome several new Government initiatives designed to learn more about their situation and to address their vulnerable position in the society, including mapping their communities, raising awareness on available social benefits, and the current draft Bill pending before the Senate to create a dedicated policy for them,” she said. 

The human rights expert congratulated Brazil for its harmonious inter-religious relations, which widely prevails across the country, but cautioned that Afro-Brazilian traditional temples have been undergoing serious attacks, threats and violence, and even killings of their leaders.

“It must be understood that Candomblé and Umbanda are not cultural manifestations only. They are not folklore or theatre. These are religions that must enjoy the same protection as all others,” she stressed. “Afro-religious identity, such as religious titles, traditional dress, and observation of religious holidays must be protected. Perpetrators of violence must be held accountable.”

During her eleven-day mission, Ms. Izsák visited Brasilia and several cities in the States of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Bahia, where she met with Government and UN officials, various minority communities, and a wide range of civil society and human rights organizations and other non-State actors, including those working in the field of minority issues, social inclusion, and on the promotion of equality and non-discrimination.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report containing her findings and recommendations to the Government and to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16493&LangID=E

ENDS

Ms. Rita Izsák (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur on minority issues in March 2014. She is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.  Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/SRminorityissuesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Jacqui Zalcberg (jzalcberg@ohchr.org /+41 22 917 9271) or write to  minorityissues@ohchr.org.

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