Call on EU and Brazil to address the criminalisation of the social protest and violations of labor, economic and social rights in the run up to the World Cup

On the occasion of the 25 April 2014 Brazil-European Union Human Rights Dialogue, FIDH and its member organization, Justica Global, express their concern over the worsening of social tensions caused by the organization of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, especially the increased repression and criminalization of social protest and the violation of labor, economic and social rights resulting from the organization of this mega-event.

The number of demonstrations by different citizen groups has multiplied in recent month in protest over the contradiction of the money spent by the State in the organization of the FIFA Cup, and demand greater respect for their economic and social rights. The numerous demonstrations share a common cause in denouncing the investments made by the Brazilian government in infrastructure and organization of the world soccer event in detriment to the critical social and economic needs of the Brazilian population. To this are added the tensions caused by the construction work for the event, such as, for example, deaths of workers involved in stadium construction as well as reported cases of eviction in neighborhoods bordering on the soccer stadiums.

The numerous ongoing demonstrations have been met by disproportionate repression by the security forces. Since 20 June 2013, 21 people have died as a result of confrontation with security forces. On 22 April 2014, Edilson da Silva Santos aged 27, died after being shot by police which repressed the protest, initiated after death of another young by the police. Similarly, dozens more have suffered permanent physical injuries, such as the case of journalist Sérgio Silva, who was left half-blind after being hit by a rubber bullet during a demonstration in Sao Paulo on 13 June 2013.

The government’s strategy is not limited to repression but extends to a set of legal measures aimed at criminalizing social protest. Decree no. 3461 of the Ministry of Defense in December 2013, in addition to granting more police powers to the army, insinuates that social organizations and movements are considered to be opponents of government forces. These insinuations, together with merging civilian police functions with functions specific to military forces, have contributed to serious violations of human rights that result in arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions.

In sum, legislative definitions are being incorporated into the national judicial system for the sole purpose of criminalizing social protest. These include 17 legislative bills in Congress that that would criminalize people exercising their right to peaceful protests. A similar approach is being taken by the Secretary of State for Public Safety in Rio de Janeiro: the wording of the legislative bill he has put forward is based on vague, ambiguous and expanded definitions of what could constitute “disorderly conduct” and “incitement to disorderly conduct” thereby making it possible to criminalize nearly any demonstration.

The Brazilian government has asserted that it intends to make some rules effectives prior to the FIFA World Cup.

The organization of major sporting events, such as a world soccer cup, should not have this type of impact on the political rights of people, nor cause so many popular uprisings or social tensions and FIDH has called on both the authorities and the FIFA to take every measure to ensure respect for human rights.

In this context, we are concerned about the criminalization and threats posed to defenders of human rights, in which arrests, arbitrary detention and legal procedures that criminalize social movements are becoming a standard. In the city of Sao Paulo, 260 people were taken to the police station in a single day with the clear intention of hindering their right to demonstrate. During the protest of 15 October 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, 83 demonstrators were arrested for merely sitting on the town hall steps. Actions like this are evidence of how legislative measures now underway, targeting the FIFA World Cup, aggravate the criminalization of demonstrations.

In this context we ask the European Union to appeal to the government of Brazil to give priority to dialogue over repression and to:

  • Listen to, attend and respond to the social demands of the Brazilian people,
  • Stop repression and abusive use of force during demonstrations,
  • Put a stop to current legislative proposals that will criminalize legitimate social protest and the action of human rights defenders.

Finally, we appeal to the European Union to call on the FIFA to ensure the FIFA and its business partners uphold their responsibility to conduct due diligence and to take every measure to prevent, mitigate and remediate to human rights abuses that could be caused by – or that could contribute to – human rights abuses in the context of the World Cup preparation.

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