Brazil: Covid-19 deaths of human rights defenders due to dismantling of social policies and government neglect

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© Paulo Desana/Dabakuri/Amazônia Real

Paris-Geneva-Rio de Janeiro — The Covid-19 pandemic is massively affecting human rights defenders in Brazil, reveals a report published today by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and Justiça Global. The organisations denounce the impact of the dismantling of social policies and hold the Brazilian state responsible for the grim, rising death toll.

Brazil is approaching 250,000 deaths from Covid-19 – a consequence of chronic underinvestment in the Single Health System (SUS) and the absence of an effective policy to contain the pandemic. The disease has deepened socioeconomic inequalities in the country and has mainly affected the lives of vulnerable populations, such as the impoverished Black population, traditional communities, indigenous peoples, women, the LGBTIQ+ community and favela and periphery residents. Many of those affected are leaders in their communities and human rights defenders.

“The dismantling and attacks on the SUS aggravate the Covid-19 situation in Brazil and have a direct impact on the actions of human rights defenders.”

Daniele Duarte, Justiça Global researcher

Cuts to health budget despite pandemic crisis

The report, entitled "The Impact of Covid-19 on the Defence of Human Rights in Brazil," denounces measures taken by the Brazilian government, especially the executive branch, to restrict transparency in the management of the pandemic, for example through changes in the Access to Information Law (LAI). In addition, in the midst of the crisis, the government proposed a reduction in Ministry of Health’s 2021 budget. According to data from the National Health Council, there is a projected cut of R$35 billion (approximately 5 billion euros) in the budget for the SUS. 

Similarly, Constitutional Amendment 95 of 2016 has seriously undermined the realization of rights to social assistance, education and health. The emergency relief fund established by the authorities in response to the pandemic has been insufficient, consisting only of a limited monthly check for informal workers, the unemployed and vulnerable family members. The report also highlights the failure of President Jair Bolsonaro and other authorities to respect social distancing in public appearances, as well as discourse and statements that constantly minimize the effects of the disease.

FIDH and Justiça Global had already spoken out about this situation last year. [1]

Indigenous people are the most affected by the Brazilian government’s systematic violations in (mis)managing the pandemic

Indigenous populations lack immunity to many pathogens, rendering them more prone to Covid-19-related complications, and generally live in remote regions of the Amazon that lack hospital infrastructure and basic sanitation.

As of January, some 50,000 indigenous people of more than 160 ethnic groups had been infected with the disease, with over 1,000 having died from it, according to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB). Among them are human rights defenders and internationally recognized leaders, such as the chiefs Aritana Yawalapiti and Paulinho Paiakan, the Guarani shaman Gregório Venega, the elders WariniSurui, Acelino Dace, Artemínio Antônio Kaingáng, Elizer Tolentino Puruborá, Puraké Assuniri and João Sõzê Xerente. The report includes a list of 92 human rights defenders who lost their lives due to Covid-19 between March and August 2020.

" The lack of support and total inertia of government bodies has led to multiple deaths of Brazilian human rights defenders. We urge the authorities to take measures to offer specific and special protection to human rights defenders who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, such as indigenous peoples, quilombolas, LGBTIQ+ population, rural encampments of the landless movement, and all those considered groups at risk ", the Observatory concluded.

Read the full report on the websites of FIDH, OMCT and Justiça Global

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was established in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT). The aim of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union’s Human Rights Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

Justiça Global is a Brazilian non-governmental human rights organization working to protect and promote human rights and strengthen civil society and democracy. As such, our actions aim at denouncing human rights violations, focusing on the processes of formulation of public policies based on fundamental rights, promoting the strengthening of democratic institutions, and demanding the guarantee of rights for those who are excluded and victims of human rights violations.

Press contacts:
FIDH: José Carlos Thissen, + 51 95 41 31 650
OMCT: Iolanda Jaquemet, +41 79 539 41 06
Justiça Global: Camila Fiuza +55 71 98242 97 74

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