• English
  • Português
  • Español
Direito e Cidadania para todos

Human rights

With Lula and Dilma, social inclusion and human rights began walking side-by-side

Lula: "Human rights is also the right to dream"/Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/Lula Institute

Over the course of the past 12 years, millions of Brazilians, who had previously had nothing to eat, achieved food security by securing formal jobs. They also enjoyed wage increases above inflation, access to education, improved health care, decent housing, urban mobility, and greater respect for diversity.

Women, Afro-Brazilians, children and adolescents, the elderly, people with disabilities, the LGBT population (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), as well as victims of exclusion, discrimination, abuse, and violence in general, gained visibility. Society's most vulnerable sectors benefitted from inclusion, protection, and opportunities.

Brazil has advanced as never before in human rights, with the creation of two key departments, both with ministerial status – the Department of Policies for Women and the Department for the Promotion of Racial Equality. At the same time, the former National Department for Human Rights, now the Presidential Office on Human Rights, was raised to ministerial status and was granted more power to take action on matters under its purview.

With Lula and Dilma, Brazil gained the right to the truth about its years under a military dictatorship (1964-1985) were finally revealed; signifying a fundamental step forward in the establishment of a more just future, with greater respect for diversity, dignity, and human rights. With Lula and Dilma, we have won the human right to dream.


Rights for all

• Approval of the third version of the National Human Rights Program (PNDH-3), despite fierce opposition from the more conservative sectors of society.

• Approval of the Maria da Penha Law on Domestic and Family Violence, a landmark in the struggle of women against domestic abuse.

• Creation of the Truth Commission to investigate and make public human rights violations that occurred between 1946 and 1988.

• Approval of Brazilian Law 12,711/2012, which implemented social and racial quotas for federal universities and institutes.

• Creation of the National Council for Combating Discrimination/LGBT.

• Creation of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), which includes broad participation from civil society.

• Holding the 1st National LGBT Conference.

• Approval of an amendment to the federal constitution on slave labor, which empowers the Brazilian government to confiscate rural and urban properties where slave-like working conditions exist.

• Establishment of a toll-free hotline (Dial 180) to receive complaints related to violence against women.

• In Brazil's northernmost and least populated state, Roraima, establishment of legal boundaries around the Serra Raposa do Sol indigenous reserve, one of the largest such areas in the nation, the scene of a violent land rights dispute between native peoples and farmers.

• Introduction of the National Plan for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Living Without Limits.

• Expansion of a toll-free hotline (Dial 100), which receives complaints of human rights violations being committed against any citizen(s), especially vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents, LGBT individuals, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and the homeless.

• Enactment of Brazilian Law 10,639/2003, which mandates the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in schools across the country.

• Creation and publication of the Report on Homophobic Violence in Brazil.

• Enactment of Brazilian Law 12,990/2014, which establishes a 20% set aside for Afro-Brazilians of all civil service positions offered through nationwide competitive examinations.

• Approval of Brazilian Law 12,978/2014, which classifies sexual abuse of children and adolescents as a heinous crime.

• Approval of the Anti-Spanking Law, which establishes the right of children and adolescents be educated without the use of corporal punishment.

• Creation of the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, which sets forth the means to monitor, supervise and control legal establishments and facilities where persons are deprived of their freedom, and promotes protection of the rights and interests of these individuals.

• Signing of the National Commitment to Active Aging, which seeks to value, promote and defend the rights of the elderly, with activities involving 17 ministries, as well as the governments of Brazil's several states, the federal district and municipalities.

• Establishment of the Special National Office on Indigenous Health, which came about in response to a historic demand from indigenous movements.

PNDH-3: Government defeats conservatives to create the National Truth Commission

One of the signature human rights policy achievements of the Lula administration was the publication of the third edition of the National Human Rights Program (PNDH-3), which was the result of extensive coordination between 31 ministries and the active participation of civil society.

Drawn from the results of the 11th National Conference on Human Rights (CNDH), which directly involved the participation of 14,000 people and the representation of all Brazilian states and the federal district, the PNDH-3 consolidates 519 initiatives, divided along six guiding axes, which focus on the following commitments:

• Democratic Interaction between the State and Civil Society

• Human Rights and Development

• Right to Memory and Truth

The launch of the program has generated intense debate that was triggered by institutions and societal segments, with support from the national press, which are opposed to specific aspects of its contents. Much of the criticism distorted the actual content of the program and ignored the democratic process that led to its formulation.

The principle objection was to the creation of the National Truth Commission, which was established to examine human rights violations that occurred between 1964 and 1985, the years of Brazil's military dictatorship. Additional criticisms focused other issues, such as abortion, same-sex civil unions and adoptions, as well as a new regulatory framework for the media.

After many discussions between the government and representatives of groups critical to the program, the PNDH-3 was approved with amendments made to nine points in the document. Ultimately, among the major victories that were won by human rights defenders was the establishment of the National Truth Commission – one of the program's initiatives that were most opposed by conservative elements in society – and the Draft Law [to End] Corporal Against Children and Adolescents.

Unceasing efforts to combat slave labor rescues over 40,000 Brazilians

With Lula and Dilma, Brazil has become a global reference point in the fight against slave labor. Between 2003 and 2013, over 40,000 workers were rescued from slave-like situations. This was the result of a relentless war that has fought since the earliest days of the Lula administration, when it established the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (CONATRAE).

A collegial body composed of government representatives, workers, employers and civil society, CONATRAE's mission is to track and coordinate initiatives set forth in the 1st and 2nd National Plans for the Eradication of Slave Labor (PNETE) – which were implemented in 2003 and 2008, respectively, by the Lula administration – as well as monitor the processing of bills in Congress and technical cooperation projects signed between the Brazilian government and international organizations.

As a result of guidelines set forth in the Plans for the Eradication of Slave Labor and CONATRAE proposals, actions have been taken to prevent the workers from becoming ensnared in slave labor, step up enforcement initiatives and implement a service program for workers who have been freed from slave-like labor.

One of the highlights of these efforts has been the creation of the "Lista Suja," which is a database available to the general public that lists the names of "dirty" employers that have been convicted at the administrative level for using slave labor. Those on the list are restricted from accessing credit at official banks. The list, which is updated every six months, can be accessed here.

In June 2014, Brazil's Congress approved Constitutional Amendment 81, known as the Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) on Slave Labor, which provides for the confiscation of rural and urban properties on which workers have been subjected to slave-like conditions. Confiscated properties are then repurposed for agrarian reform initiative or public housing programs. Specific regulations pertaining to this PEC must now be drafted.

Brazil advances in protecting the rights of children and adolescents

During the past 12 years, Brazil has advanced as never before in defending the rights of children and adolescents. A bulwark of these efforts has been the mainstreaming of governmental activities with the release, in 2007, of the Social Agenda for Children and Adolescents. Involving 47 initiatives and 14 ministries, the agenda has become the largest intersectoral plan ever deployed in the country to combat violence against children and adolescents.

Among the highlights of public policies implemented since 2003 is the Program for the Protection of Children and Adolescents Threatened with Death (PPCAAM). Created by the Lula administration, PPCAAM provides direct assistance to at-risk individuals and their families, removing them from the site of threat and relocating them to new housing and living environments. Additionally, the program provides opportunities to those under protection, including educational support, such as involving them in cultural projects and professionalization programs, among others.

With Lula and Dilma, Brazil also moved forward consistently in the fight against sexual exploitation. Isolated initiatives and less effective activities gave way to integrated government intervention and the wide ranging mobilization of society, such as the National Hotline to Report Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children and Adolescents (Dial 100).

From 2003 to 2010, the Department of Human Rights fielded over 2.5 million Dial 100 calls Dial 100, and referred more than 142,000 complaints from 4,885 municipalities and each of Brazil's 27 states. In December 2010, the service was integrated into Dial Human Rights hotline, which receives and forwards complaints of violence against other vulnerable segments of society, such as the elderly, LGBT individuals, disabled persons, and homeless people.

Capping its leadership activities, in 2008, Brazil hosted the World Congress III Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. The largest global event of its kind to date, the event brought together delegations from 160 countries, with 3,500 participants, including nearly 300 adolescents from five continents.

The homeless come to the Palácio

President Lula took great pride in making Brazil's presidential office building, the Palácio do Planalto, the home of the Brazilian people, opening its doors even to those who had no place to live. The palace, which is aacustomed to receiving kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, bankers and business leaders, also began to receive indigenous peoples, those afflicted with leprosy, recyclable materials collectors (trash pickers), and homeless persons.

Lula, who celebrates Christmas every year with trash pickers and the homeless, held two national conferences aimed at this segment. Beginning with his administration, one-off initiatives of the past, which were disconnected and frequently featured repressive actions, were swept aside in favor of effective efforts aimed at the inclusion of these populations.

In 2009, the government established the National Policy on the Homeless. Through its integration within public policies on health, education, labor, social security, social assistance, cash transfers, housing, security, culture, sports, and leisure, one of its objectives is to ensure that these individuals will have broad access to services and programs.

Right to a name, surname, citizenship, and a future

In 2002, in the final days of the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 20.9% of children born in Brazil were unregistered. Without this first document – a birth certificate – all of those young Brazilians were destined to face future difficulties in accessing rights, such as education, employment, social assistance, and social security.

The Lula administration understood that the high percentage of unregistered citizens was an obstacle to its strategy to expand social programs. It also believed that a birth certificate is a human right to a name and surname. Thus, a series of initiatives were launched to change the existing situation.

In Brazil's Northeast and the 9-state, Amazon basin section of the country known as Amazônia Legal – the two regions with the highest rates of under-registration – almost 3,000 joint initiatives were led to issue birth certificates and other basic documents to persons residing, predominantly, in rural areas. Among those who benefitted from these efforts were indigenous and riverside communities, as well as those living in quilombos, which are settlements originally founded by people of African origin, mostly escaped slaves.

These and other efforts have paid off. In 2013, the rate of births that went unregistered in vital records offices dropped to only 5.1%, the lowest level in Brazilian history.

Mental health and human rights

With Lula and Dilma, mental health found a place on the human rights agenda. The interface between these two themes became efective with the re-establishment of the Executive Committee of the Brazilian Center for Mental Health and Human Rights, whose members include representatives from Brazil's Ministry of Health, the Presidential Office on Human Rights, Fluminense Federal University (UFF), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), and the University of São Paulo's Center for the Study of Violence (NEV/USP).

The work of the Brazilian Center for Mental Health and Human Rights includes monitoring complaints about mental health treatment facilities, training managers on policies related to this area, and knowledge production. In 2010, the center held a seminar in Buenos Aires, in partnership with Argentina's Ministry of Justice, on mental health and victims of dictatorships and violence carried out by state agents.

Uniting topics such as human rights and mental health asserts an essential conviction that it is not possible to guarantee the dignity of a human being unless that person's mental state is taken into consideration and, in the case of a patient, without accepting that treatment is an integral component in the guarantee of that individual's fundamental rights. Human rights, when viewed from this point of view help to prevent violations and psychological distress.

Human rights are also taught in schools

In the 12 years since Brazil's Worker's Party (PT) has led the government, the country has joined a select group of nations that have institutionalized human rights education and the teaching of the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This commitment was crowned with the approval, in 2012, of National Human Rights Education Guidelines, which came about following a broad and participatory process involving educators, experts, civil society, and international organizations.

With the approval of these guidelines, Brazilian educators gained reference points regarding the promotion of a culture of respect and human rights, with didactic and pedagogical materials that focus on valuing diversity and the repudiation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination.
The guidelines were incorporated into the tools and mechanisms implemented by the Lula administration, such as the National Human Rights Education Plan (PNEDH) and the National Committee for Human Rights Education (CNEDH).

The plan, whose construction involved civil society, public and private agencies, and different levels of government, establishes concepts, principles, objectives, guidelines and lines of action in five areas – Elementary School, Higher Education, Education of Justice and Public Safety Professionals, Informal Education, and Education and Media. The purpose of the National Committee – whose members include representatives from government agencies, civil society organizations, and prominent personalities in the area – is to propose, monitor and evaluate public policies for implementing the PNEDH.

System for the protection of people at risk: much more than physical security

The Protection System for People at Risk is a set of initiatives from the Presidential Office on Human Rights that seeks new ways to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of those at risk who are under state protection.

The execution of this system is guided by a total protection concept of safeguarding not only an individual’s fundamental right to life, but also their right to education, health care, housing, social welfare and work.

The initiatives focus on the social integration of protected individuals while minimizing impacts related to restrictions on the exercise of their rights and their access to services.