Skip to main content

Countdown to Human Rights Day

Get inspired by dancer Ahamad Joudeh as he unites refugees in their quest for peace

Learn more

Press releases Special Procedures

Dismantling discrimination against Afro-Brazilians remains slow despite official commitment

13 December 2013

GENEVA (16 December 2013) – The dismantling of racial discrimination remains slow in Brazil despite commitments by the government, a comprehensive legal framework and numerous public policies, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said at the end of its first official visit* to the country.

“The laws and policies are still not sufficiently effective to promote substantive change in the lives of Afro-Brazilians, and discrimination and inequality still persist,” noted human rights expert Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, a member of the Group’s visiting delegation. “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, the expert noted. “This situation has its origin in structural racism historically rooted in slave trade, enslavement and colonialism, as well as negative stereotypes, reinforced by poverty and political, economic, social and cultural exclusion.

“We are aware that in order to overcome the legacy of slavery and colonialism, Brazil faces challenges of considerable magnitude,” rights expert Maya Sahli, the other member of visiting delegation, added. “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.” 

The experts drew special attention to grave violations of human rights by security forces against young black people. “Many of these violations enjoy impunity,” they said, stressing that one of the central pillars of human rights is the respect for the right to life and physical integrity. “Human rights norms prohibit States from committing summary, extrajudicial or arbitrary executions.”

In their preliminary assessment, the Working Group welcomed Brazil’s political will to overcome racism and address issues of racial equality faced by Afro-Brazilians, over the last 10 years. The country, they said, has developed a number of initiatives enshrined in the Constitution, constitutional legislation and public policies for racial equality, most evident in affirmative action.  

The experts highlighted the 2012 Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of racial quotas for accessing higher education, and the current discussions in congress on quotas for public posts as important measures for redressing the historic inequality that has prevented Afro-Brazilians from accessing such spaces.
They acknowledged the Government’s work to recognise land titles for Quilombos, describing it as “an important step towards securing their rights,” but expressed concern by the severe delays that some communities face in securing landing titles.

They also noted the grave lack of access to traditional lands, extreme poverty and related social ills, including acts of aggression and persecution against Quilombola human rights defenders which were reported to them during visits to communities and meetings with governments. “Quilombola communities also denounce the environmental racism and negative impact of extractive industries and agribusiness,” they said.

“The fight against racism should involve all of Brazilian society,” the Working Group underscored. “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, as well as addressing the unequal distribution of public expenditure are 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,” they said. “It will reinforce democracy, the rule of law, social and economic development.” 

“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 and prevalence of racism,” the experts concluded.

During its eleven-day (3-13 December 2013), Ms. Fanon-Mendes-France and Ms. Sahli met with numerous representatives of the government at the federal, state and municipal levels, and engage with civil society and black communities in Brasilia, Pernambuco, Bahia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, including in Quilombos, terreiros and favelas.

The Working Group will present a report containing its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. The UN expert body, among other activities, conducts country visits at the invitation of Governments in order to facilitate in-depth understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions of the world and focus on promoting full and effective access to health, education and justice by people of African descent.
The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Verene SHEPHERD (Jamaica), Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Monorama BISWAS (Bangladesh); Ms. Mireille FANON-MENDES-FRANCE (France); Ms. Mirjana NAJCEVSKA (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Ms. Maya SAHLI (Algeria). Learn more, visit:

UN Human Rights, Country page – Brazil:
For further information and media requests, please contact Sandra Aragon-Parriaux (+41 22 928 9393 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])  

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:

Watch Navi Pillay’s Human Rights Day message: