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Brazil: The National Program for Human Rights – Part 1

The recently released third edition of the National Program for Human Rights (PNDH-3) has met with a storm of criticism from many different sectors of society, and even from members of the president's own cabinet. The project comprises reform in amnesty law, abortion, same-sex civil union, media regulation and land reform, in addition to a call for a truth commission to investigate torture, killings and disappearances during military rule (1964 to 1985), similar to that of Argentina and Chile.

The agribusiness sector has opposed the proposed new approach to the question of land ownership. The subject of freedom of the press is dealt with in ways that many in the mainstream media disapprove of. The program's liberal positions on abortion and same-sex union have faced demands for amendments from the Catholic Church and other groups. To top it all, the PNDH-3 had touched on, at first, the possibility of creating a military abuses inquiry, a deep-seated taboo. Because of this, the truth commission may no longer come into being after military chiefs strongly opposed the proposal.

In favor of the document are human rights and grassroots organizations, NGOs and many bloggers. Over the past weeks, Twitter users have worn a twibbon in support of the program and mobilized online and offline the resistance PNDH-3 has encountered. Conversa de Bar [pt] explains to its audience the reason for the creation of the National Human Rights Program, back during the term in office of former president Fernado Henrique Cardoso, in the first place:

O PNDH é o resultado de um compromisso assumido pelo Brasil no Tratado de Viena  durante a  Conferência Mundial Sobre Direitos Humanos de 1993. Trata-se de um programa plurianual elaborado por amplos setores da Sociedade Civil (movimentos sociais e entidades de classe) e setores governamentais que propõe diretrizes e metas a serem implementadas por políticas públicas voltadas para a consolidação dos direitos humanos. O programa em si não é auto-executável, como a mídia faz parecer. Para que cada uma das propostas entre em vigor é necessária a aprovação pelo Congresso Nacional.

[The] PNDH is the result of Brazil's commitment to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. It is a multi-year program devised by many civil organisations (grassroots movements and professional associations) and governmental sectors proposing guidelines and goals to be set through public policies aiming at consolidating human rights. The program, itself, is not self-enforceable in the way that the mainstream media pictures it. For the changes to be adopted, the National Congress needs to approve each one of them.

Not only has the government's initiative attracted opposition attention, but it has also harvested criticism at home, with the country’s defence minister Nelson Jobim and the heads of the three armed forces all threatening to resign in protest, which has made President Lula retreat. Raphael Neves, from the Politika etc blog, summarizes the three groups in uproar [pt]:

Quem está contra o programa, em resumo, são: a) Militares, que não querem nem ouvir falar em Comissão da Verdade; b) Mídia, que é contra debate sobre regulamentação dos meios de comunicação (vide Confecom); c) Produtores rurais, que são contrários à proposta de se alterar a mediação de conflitos no campo.
[...]
De fato, o programa inova em relação à questão da anistia, pois pretende instituir uma Comissão de Verdade. Mas, de resto, ruralistas e oposição pegam carona para atacar o PNDH como um todo.

Those against the program are, in short: a) The Military, which will not even hear about the truth commission, b)  The media, which is against the debate on regulation of the media (check out the National Communication Conference) c) Farmers, who are against the proposed  mediation of land conflicts in the countryside.
[...]
In fact, the program is innovative when it comes to amnesty, because it aims to establish a truth commission. But, moreover, landowners and the opposition to the government have piggybacked to attack the PNDH as a whole.

The controversy has grown even within the Catholic Church, often a government ally on human rights issues. On one hand, the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) issued a declaration [pt] “reaffirming its position, manifested many times, in defense of life and the family, and against the decriminalization of abortion, against marriage between people of the same sex and the right of adoption of children by homosexual couples”. On the other hand, some pro-choice catholic groups and followers have welcomed and endorsed the policy, considering provisions for same-sex union and adoption as a milestone. Leonardo Sakamoto [pt] goes further, criticizing the Church's stance against the program, adding sarcastically:

Com tanta atitude arbitrária e antidemocrática do governo Lula para ser criticada (tantas mesmo), a igreja foi pinçar logo o PNDH, que é um exemplo de construção coletiva e um alento de civilização em nosso país de mentalidade tão tacanha. Traduzindo a fala do bispo: “Vemos essas iniciativas como uma forma do Estado ter independência e não seguir as regras que ajudamos a construir ao longo de centenas de anos”. Imagine só, onde já se viu duas pessoas do mesmo sexo desejarem ter os mesmos direitos dos heterossexuais? E as mulheres pobres que fazem aborto, então! Querem se ver livres da cadeia! E o pior de tudo: tirar os crucifixos e as santinhas de estabelecimentos públicas. O que esse país pensa que é? Laico?!
[...]
Em suma, se todo lançamento de PNDH gerar um debate nacional sobre os direitos humanos em um país que tem vergonha de defender direitos humanos, proponho que não esperemos mais sete anos e que, em 2010, tenhamos mais um. No mínimo, fará com o padre, o delegado e o coronel se manifestem novamente, lembrando ao Brasil que ele é brasil.

With so many crazy, arbitrary and antidemocratic deeds of Lula's government to criticise (really, there are so many), the church singled out specifically the PNDH, which is an example of collective construction and a breath of civilisation in our so narrow minded country. Translating the bishop's speech: “We see these initiatives as a way of the State gaining independence and not following the rules that we helped to build over hundreds of years”. Imagine that, two people of the same sex wishing  to have the same rights as heterosexuals? And the poor women who abort, too! They only want to be freed from jail! And the worst of all: to take crucifixes and the little saints down from public offices. What does this country think it is? Secular?!
[...]
In short, if every time a PNDH is released it generates a national debate on human rights in a country that is ashamed of advocating human rights, I propose that we do not wait for seven more years and do it again in 2010. At least, it will make the priests and sheriffs and colonels cry out again, reminding Brazil that it is Brazil.

Nevertheless, some bloggers support the opposition stance and argue that PNDH-3 is, in fact, the beginning of a coup d'état. Among these bloggers, Devaneios Cotidianos [pt] embraces some points of view on human rights made popular by the media:

Programa Nacional dos Direitos Humanos?
Ou seria apenas um meio sutil de um governo de esquerda controlar algumas liberdades alheias?
Tenho percebido que os “políticos” de esquerda da América Latina deixaram a violência de lado e estão utilizando agora de um outro meio para atingir seus objetivos totalitários: o sistema democrático.
Querem a todo custo legitimar a ditadura da esquerda.
E o povo ignorante ainda permite, graças as esmolas populistas que recebem.
E a vida segue.

National Program of Human Rights?
Or is it just a subtle way for this leftist government to control the freedoms of some?
I have noticed that the Latin American left-wing “politicians” have left violence aside and are now using another approach to achieve their totalitarian goals: the democratic system.
They want, at all costs, to legitimize the left-wing dictatorship.
And the ignorant still allow this to happen, thanks to the populist handouts they get.
And life goes on.

The right-wing blog União Nacional Republicana [pt] adds insult to injury presenting a hoax that even Rio de Janeiro's famous landmark Christ the Redeemer is at risk:

Acredite quem quiser mas uma análise atenta da M … gestada pelo Vannuchi, apoiada pelo Tarso e desejada pelo Lula tem entre seus objetivos a demolição da estátua do Cristo Redentor – no meio de centenas de itens proíbe que símbolos religiosos sejam usados em locais públicos de forma destacada e o Cristo Redentor foi eleito recentemente uma das maravilhas do mundo moderno.

Believe me or not but a careful analysis of this S*** devised by [the Minister of the Special Secretariat of Human Rights] Vannuchi, supported by [the Minister of Justice] Tarso and desired by [President] Lula, its goals include the demolition of the statue of Christ the Redeemer – among hundreds of others because of a ban on displaying religious symbols prominently in public places, even if Christ the Redeemer was recently elected one of the wonders of the modern world.

Antônio Arles suggests on the Arlesophia blog [pt] that people need not feel intimidated by such arguments:

Não vamos deixar que meia duzia de golpistas que não representam ninguém ganhem no grito. Recuar neste momento pode estimular os “instintos golpistas” desses seres. Temos direito à verdade, à justiça, à memória!!! Vamos fortalecer nossa democracia, o que passa necessariamente pela abertura dos arquivos da ditadura e pela punição daqueles que cometeram crimes hediondos contra à humanidade, manchando a imagem de instituições sérias e criando um clima de medo e esquecimento!

We shall not let half a dozen scammers who do not represent anyone win this fight by screaming loudest. Stepping back now may excite these people's “coup instincts”. We have the right to the truth, to justice, and to memory! We shall strengthen our democracy, by opening the archives of the dictatorship and punishing those who committed vile crimes against humanity, staining the image of serious institutions and creating a climate of fear and oblivion!

Mônica Filomena sums the conversation up on Nosso Direito with an insightful argument looking at the full picture. She says [pt]:

Em que pese o posicionamento político, não podemos esquecer que o Brasil hoje faz parte do cenário internacional.

Incumbe saber; se o Brasil irá efetivamente assumir que é um País cujo regime é de direito e democrático; fazendo cumprir seus compromissos internacionais, ou, se calará; sucumbindo literalmente diante de interesses de algumas minorias.

Despite the political stance, we must not forget that nowadays Brazil is on the international stage.
It is wise to know whether Brazil will effectively become a country whose regime is democratic and ruled by law, enforcing its international agreements; or whether it will, rather, silence itself, literally succumbing in the face of a few minorities.

The second edition of the National Program for Human Rights [pt] was implemented in Brazil in 2002. The first PNDH had been launched in 1996. PNDH-3 is a government program to be executed under a future government. The second edition of the PNDH repeats the first, with minor changes, while PNDH-3 confirms, updates and expands on the first two editions, both designed during former president Fernado Henrique Cardoso‘s term in office.

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