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COVID-19: Brazil’s irresponsible economic and social policies put millions of lives at risk, UN experts say

29 April 2020

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GENEVA (29 April 2020) – Two UN human rights experts said Brazil should immediately drop misguided austerity policies that are endangering lives and increase spending to combat inequality and poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 outbreak had magnified the adverse impacts of a 2016 constitutional amendment that capped public expenditure in Brazil for 20 years,” said the Independent Expert on human rights and foreign debt, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. “The effects are now dramatically visible in the current crisis.”

The experts noted that, for instance, only 10 percent of Brazilian municipalities have intensive care beds and the Unified Health System does not even have half the number of hospital beds recommended by the World Health Organization.

“Government funding cutbacks have violated international human rights standards, including in education, housing, food, water and sanitation and gender equality,” they said.

“The weakened health system is not coping and is failing to protect the rights to life
and health of millions of Brazilians who are seriously at risk. It is high time to repeal Constitutional Amendment 95 and other austerity measures contrary to international human rights law.”

UN human rights experts had repeatedly expressed concerns that Brazil’s policy was prioritising the economy over people’s lives.

“In 2018, we urged Brazil to reconsider its economic austerity programme and put human rights at the centre of its economic policies,” they said. “We also expressed specific concerns about the hardest hit, particularly women and children living in poverty, Brazilians of African descent, rural populations, and people living in informal settlements.”

The experts condemned the policy of putting ‘economy before lives’, despite human rights and World Health Organization recommendations. “Economy for whom?” they asked. “It is not permissible to endanger the health and lives of peoples, including health workers, for the financial interests of a few,” they stressed. “Who will be held accountable when people die because of policy decisions going against science and expert medical advice?”

Brazil has made various commendable efforts, they noted. “The emergency basic income, as well as the implementation of social distancing directives subnational authorities, are life saving measures that are welcomed. Yet, more needs to be done.”

In a recent statement and letter to Governments and international financial institutions, the Independent Expert on human rights and foreign debt provided concrete economic, fiscal and tax recommendations.

“The COVID-19 crisis must be an opportunity for States to rethink their priorities, for instance by introducing and improving universal health and social protection systems, as well as implementing progressive tax reforms, the UN experts said.

“States all around the world should build a better future for their populations, not mass graves.”

The experts’ statement has been endorsed by Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Ms. Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Ms. Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girlsMs. Meskerem Geset Techane (Chair), Ms. Elizabeth Broderick (Vice Chair), Ms. Alda FacioMs. Ivana Radačić, and Ms. Melissa Upreti.


Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014.

Mr. Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014.

The Independent Experts, Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Brazil

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms Frédérique Bourque ([email protected]) or Mr. Bahram Ghazi ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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