UNITED NATIONS: Two South American Countries Highlighted at the Human Rights Council

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland – On September 11th, 2017, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zei Ra’ad Hussein, stated that “the world has grown darker and more dangerous.” At his inaugural speech at 36th Session of Human Rights Council, Hussein cited Venezuela and Brazil, among 40 other countries, as countries wherein human rights have been significantly violated.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on 11 September. Picture courtesy of The Guardian.

Hussein’s statements were based on a wide number of incidents, holding that those two South American countries have been suppressing human rights.

In fact, since former president Hugo Chavez arose 15 years ago, all human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the policies enacted by Venezuela’s government. Massive reports indicate that citizens’ basic rights, such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been abridged. Political imprisonment, ill-treatment of prisoners, and excessive use of force against civilians have been highlighted as well. Furthermore, the executive branch is accused of having frequently attacked public institutions, including the parliament and the supreme court, in order to suppress any kind of reaction from the opposition parties. This long period of misconduct has led the country to an unprecedented financial collapse and launched its people into misery and starvation. Although president Nicolás Maduro has denied all the foregoing charges, the evidences seem to show the reports are right.

Regarding Brazil, despite the undeniable human rights violations, the situation is somehow different. Unlike Venezuela, there are no clear signs of deliberate government attacks against democratic institutions in Brazil. However, the human rights violations are related to a wide swept corruption scheme, which was unveiled by an ongoing investigation, started in 2014, and led by the Brazilian attorney general’s office. The widespread corruption scandal undermined the country’s resources, and carried it to a serious political instability that resulted in former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, billions of dollars have been illegally diverted, and many high authorities and successful entrepreneurs have been arrested due to bribery crimes.

Even the president, Michel Temer, has been criminally indicted before the Supreme Court. It is easy to see how far the systematic corruption has gone in that country, as former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the former president of its House of Representatives, Eduardo Cunha, have been criminally convicted of bribery, the first to nine and a half years in prison, and the second to fifteen and a half years, and 4 months in prison. The ongoing government corruption has deprived Brazilians of basic human rights, such as education, health, safe and so forth.

Based on the foregoing facts, Hussein addressed his speech to UN Human Rights Council as follows:

“Last month my Office issued a report on Venezuela, highlighting excessive use of force by security officers, and multiple other human rights violations, in the context of anti-Government protests. There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the Government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices – including through criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture. Venezuela is a Member State of this Council, and as such has a particular duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in the words of Resolution 60/251. My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed, which can only be confirmed by a subsequent criminal investigation. While I support the concept of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the current mechanism is inadequate. I therefore urge that it be reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community. I also urge this Council to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.

Corruption violates the rights of millions of people across the world, by robbing them of what should be common goods and depriving them of fundamental rights such as health and education or equal access to justice. Recent scandals, including very serious allegations levelled at high-ranking officials in Brazil and Honduras, have revealed how deeply corruption is embedded in all level of governance in many countries in the Americas, often linked to organized crime and drug trafficking. This undermines democratic institutions and erodes public trust. Progress towards uncovering, and prosecuting, corruption at high levels of government is an essential step forward in ensuring respect for the people’s rights, including justice.”

To read the whole speech, please click here:

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Venezuela crisis: UN calls for investigation into possible crimes against humanity

Impunity Watch – Venezuelan President will not address UN after shocking human rights report – 11 September 2017

Noricias OUL – Cunha é condenado por Moro a 15 anos e 4 meses de prisão – 30 March 2017

ONUBR – Citando Brasil, comissário da ONU alerta para vínculo entre corrupção e perda de direitos – 11 September 2017

Globo G1 – Lula é condenado na Lava Jato a 9 anos e 6 meses de prisão no caso do triplex – 12 July 2017

Brazil Deploys Troops to Rio to Quell Crime Problem After Protest Over Police Deaths

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – After a police officer was killed in the Vidigal favela, police officers and their families began protesting the rising levels of violence. So far, approximately ninety-one police officers have been killed in the Rio state. Brazil’s government has deployed as many as 8,500 soldiers to the city, and is set to deploy up to 10,000, to help abate its crime problem.

Brail deploys 10,000 troops to deal with a surge in violent crime. Photo courtesy of Getty Images (from 2016).

Violence has been rising in the area since the end of the Olympics, and Brazil is currently experiencing the worst recession in its history. Corruption also rages rampant among government officers. An average of three people per day have been killed by stray bullets in the first six months of this year alone. This is in addition to alleged human rights abuses by the police, who caused the deaths of more than 800 people last year. In the first two months of this year alone the number of killings by Rio police were at 182, 78 percent more than at the same point last year.

The protestors, who gathered at the seafront in Copacabana complained about their loved ones trying to stem the tide of violence with few resources. They also deride the fact that the hard work of honest policemen isn’t given as much attention as alleged human rights abuses, and the officers themselves have been fighting to change the penal code to punish the killings of police officers more harshly.

A few weeks prior however, residents of Rio’s favelas packed the same area, pleading for an end to the lethal shootouts between drug traffickers and police. That protest came after a pregnant mother and her child were both seriously injured in a crossfire that took place in one of these shantytowns on the outskirts of Rio.

Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann has said that the soldiers would soon begin participating in operations against drug traffickers, a departure from their previously limited role in patrolling, manning checkpoints, and recovering weapons seized during raids. Due to President Michel Temer’s decree, the troops can remain in the city up until the end of 2018. While their efforts are focused on the city’s north side, where the violence has been more pervasive, armored vehicles also patrolled other, quieter areas in the city.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – Brazil sends troops to Rio de Janeiro to fight organized crime – 29 July, 2017

ABC News – Troops deploy in Rio de Janeiro amid increasing violence – 28 July, 2017

BBC – Rio de Janeiro begins deploying 10,000 troops to fight crime surge – 28 July, 2017

BBC – Rio de Janeiro: Police protest over rising Brazil violence – 23 July, 2017

Al Jazeera – Rio’s favela residents protest against killings – 2 July, 2017

Brazil Mobilizes Military to Quell Protests, Revokes Order a Day Later

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil – On May 24th Brazilian president Michel Temer ordered federal troops to quell the protests which had taken over the capital of his country. The protests had begun turning violent with the vandalism of several government buildings, including the agricultural ministry which was set on fire by the protestors. The next day President Temer revoked his order after a wave of criticism against it, comparing the move to the sort of actions taken during Brazil’s military dictatorship which lasted from 1964-1985. Temer still defended the decision as within his rights as the President.

Police attempt to quell a protest in Brazil. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The protests in question began as the result of a disclosed recording between President Temer and a beef tycoon, in which the tycoon, Mr. Joesley Batista, implicated himself in the bribery of several public officials as well as obstruction of justice. President Temer never revealed this information to authorities, and seemed to approve of the bribe in the recording. Separately, President Temer is also being investigated for obstruction of justice and corruption, and Mr. Batista has also claimed to have bribed him. Calls for President Temer to resign or for impeachment proceedings to begin were the main call of the protestors. However, resignation seems unlikely, since as President, Temer has a certain amount of immunity from prosecution while in that official role. Also, despite the recording, President Temer insists that he did nothing wrong.

Images have also surfaced of the Brazilian police firing weapons. As a result, many were injured. The Secretariat of Public Security said only that it would be investigating the photos.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Scandal in Brazil Raises Fear of Turmoil’s Return – 19 May, 2017

New York Times – Brazil’s President Deploys Federal Troops to Quell Protests – 24 May, 2017

New York Daily News – Troops pull out of Brazil capital; president under pressure – 25 May 2017