From Wed May 24 18:49:20 2000
Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 22:54:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Mary Robinson Collects Fat Packet of Complaints
Article: 96500
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Mary Robinson Collects Fat Packet of Complaints

By Mario Osava, IPS, 18 May 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 (IPS)—United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has collected a fat packet of complaints of human rights violations that have gone unpunished, to take back with her Thursday after a four-day visit to Brazil.

Robinson was given a report on violence in the countryside in Sao Paulo Wednesday, documenting the murders of 1,167 rural workers in the past 10 years in Brazil. Of that total, just 86 cases went to trial, and only seven people were convicted in connection with the murders.

The document also points out that not one person has been brought to justice for the April 1997 massacre of 19 peasant activists shot and killed by police during a protest in Eldorado de Caraj s in northern Brazil.

The report drawn up by the Landless Movement (MST), the Centre for Global Justice and the Catholic Church Pastoral Commission on Land also details the repression unleashed this month by the government of the southern state of Paran , in which one person was killed and dozens were arrested.

The MST is a powerful national movement well-known for its occupations of land left idle on rural estates and of government offices in the struggle for broader, more effective agrarian reform. Many MST activists figure among the victims of the violence that has long been monitored and documented by the Catholic Church Pastoral Commission.

In meetings with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Brasilia, the capital, on Monday and Tuesday, Robinson also heard reports of human rights abuses and infringements of international standards.

The rights of women, for example, are in a critical situation in Brazil, said Guacira de Oliveira, coordinator of the Women's Research and Advising Centre (CFEMEA), due to their low level of participation in government, continued gender discrimination supported by outdated laws, and incompliance with the international commitments assumed in conventions signed by Brasilia.

De Oliveira termed Robinson's visit very timely, and said it could bring positive results, because pressure framed in the English language has greater repercussions than our denunciations in Portuguese.

In her meeting with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Robinson supported the women's movement's longstanding demand that a woman be named to the Supreme Court. Brazil's highest court is still comprised solely of male judges.

The UN official also criticised human rights violations in Brazil at a special meeting of the National Council on the Rights of Human Beings, which comes under the ministry of justice.

Despite the advances made, Brazil's human rights record is still tarnished by numerous reports of police brutality, torture, death squads and violence against children, Blacks, Indians and landless activists, said Robinson.

The NGOs pointed out that women accounted for a mere six percent of the members of parliament, and just 13 percent of high- level posts in the public administration, although they made up 44 percent of the total number of public employees.

The penal code, reforms of which have been blocked for over a decade, is obsolete with respect to women's rights, said De Oliveira. For example, it lets off those who commit violence against indecent women.

Furthermore, the National Council on Women's Rights, created in 1997 to promote gender equality, operates with scant funding.

We want a solution before June, when the Beijing plus 5 meeting takes place in New York to assess the results of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 in the Chinese capital, said De Oliveira.

Brazil has also failed to comply with its commitment to submit periodic reports to the United Nations on the situation of human rights here, Robinson pointed out in her meetings with authorities in Brasilia.

The government still owes reports on Brazil's progress towards compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women since 1984, when it ratified the document.

Also pending since 1984 are regular reports on economic, social and cultural rights, to be submitted to the UN committee in charge of studying those questions.

A delegation of NGOs, parliamentarians and prosecutors from Brazil presented its own follow-up report in Geneva in April, without the government having done so—unprecedented in the history of the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights.

Representatives of the Black movement complained to Robinson of continuing discrimination in Brazil, and criticised the government's decision to withdraw its offer to hold the inter- American conference on racism in Brazil.

The regional meeting, preparatory to the September 2001 World Conference Against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa, must be organised this year, pointed out Sergio Martins, the coordinator of the Zumbi dos Palmares National Office, an organisation that advocates and defends the rights of Blacks.

The Cardoso administration said it withdrew its offer to hold the inter-American meeting due to a scarcity of funds, also given as the excuse for failing to organise the national meeting it was to hold.

But Robinson and the Inter-American Institute on Human Rights had offered to help cover the costs of the regional conference, said Martins, who added that there must have been other reasons underlying the government's decision.

Robinson's visit came at a time when the Brazilian government is in the international spotlight for its human rights record.

The 500th anniversary of the arrival of the first Portuguese to the territory known today as Brazil was celebrated on Apr 22 amidst a violent police crackdown on indigenous, Black and peasant demonstrators protesting their exclusion from the events commemorating the discovery of Brazil.

In the days following the commemoration of the 500th anniversary, an MST member was killed in Paran  by a police bullet, and a number of activists were taken into custody, and some of them charged with violating the National Security Law, a holdover from the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

While Robinson was visiting Brazil, 'Operation Condor', the coordinated repression of opponents by the dictatorships ruling the Southern Cone of the Americas in the 1970s and 1980s, shot back into the headlines in Brazil.

The latest denunciations related to Operation Condor, implicating Brazilian military intelligence services in the regional repressive scheme, were triggered by a Supreme Court authorisation for Argentina to investigate in Brazil the forced disappearance of three Argentine nationals in this country in 1980.

Against that backdrop, Robinson collected her packet of complaints and reports in Latin America's giant, notorious for its enormous social inequalities, reports of street children killed by death squads, and soaring levels of violence in its large cities.