Interview: Camila Asano
For the Newsletter N. 12, SPW interviewed Camila Asano, Coordinator of Foreign Policy and Human Rights at Conectas Human Rights, who participated of the second round of the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of Brazil, at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), in Geneva, in May 2012. She is still following the different moments of the UPR fo Brazil and, in this interview, Ms. Asano analyzed this mechanism for the human rights, explaining how this process works and highlighting recommendations to Brazil, challenges and perspectives.
SPW: In your opinion, what is the main role and impact of UPRs for the protection of human rights in general?
Camila: In our opinion, as Conectas, the Universal Periodical Review is very important as an additional mechanism to assess the human rights situation at country level. The Human Rights System is a holistic machinery that integrates a diverse set of mechanisms. The UN Treaty Bodies are platforms that provide experts´ analyses on country performances in respect to ratified conventions and specific issues. The UPR, in contrast, is a state driven process: member states assess each other performances. The UPR is, therefore, a fundamentally political process.
SPW: How did Conectas Human Rights engage in two UPR rounds to which Brazil was submitted (2008 and 2012)?
Camila: Since 2008, we have strongly invested in making the mechanism better known and understood among Brazilian NGOs. For that to happen we have translated all relevant information into Portuguese and designed other materials to make clear how the UPR mechanism works. We have also engaged systematically in sending information to the UN and other member states on the human rights situation in Brazil, as to allow them to be better equipped to participate in the country’s UPR. We have also made our best to monitor how the recommendations made in 2008 had or not been implemented. I should say this has been a very difficult task, because the Brazilian state lacks a formal UPR follow-up mechanism.
When Brazil was reviewed in 2012 we have used the same strategies: disseminating information among NGOs and inviting the larger number possible of them but also social movements to engage in the process. We have done our best to ensure the wider assessment possible of human rights violations in the country, and to avoid duplication in the shadow reporting. We have also exchanged strategies and methods with these groups in order to improve their UPR advocacy.
In preparation for the UPR, the government organized a national consultation on the content of the official report. Conectas, as a member of the Brazilian Committee on Human Rights Foreign Policy, participated in the public hearing organized by the Brazilian Senate to discuss the preliminary version of the document. In this occasion we have raised sharp critiques. In our view the official report merely described existing public policies without further qualification. It did not effectively assess the human rights situation and related violations at country level. We have also observed that a number of critical issues had been left out, such as violations of sexual rights and reproductive rights or, yet more surprisingly, human rights violations in the realm of HIV/AIDS.
Furthermore, given that the UPR is a state driven mechanism, it was also crucial to persuade other member states to read our shadow reports and make substantive recommendations. We have therefore invested in circulating information amongst Geneva missions and most principally we were present at the review process in May 2012. Although the UPR formal process does not provide a formal mechanism for civil society to directly intervene in the public debate that takes place at the Human Rights Council Plenary it is very important to be there to watch dog and inform the Brazilian society about what the government has said, and what other member states have recommended. We must observe that, in 2012, after the formal review, the Brazilian Minister of Human Rights, Ms. Maria do Rosário, convened a meeting with NGO present in Geneva, to debrief and discuss review outcome. It was very important for us to be there, as upon returning to Brazil we are able to keep interrogating the government in relation to the policy measures that have been promised.
SPW: What happened after that?
Camila: In Geneva, the Minister positively signaled towards a continuation of the dialogue, at country level, as to allow NGOs to engage with the processing of recommendations by the state, which should be presented at the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council, in September. Unfortunately, this has remained as an unfulfilled promise. The announcement has been made that a public hearing on the UPR outcomes would be held at the House of Representatives in August. However, the government has systematically postponed. On our side, in dialogue with other civil society organizations we have done a very careful analysis of the recommendations made. In this assessment we have identified several problematic recommendations that in our view were to be rejected. We have also identified recommendations that Brazil should accept and other in relation to which we wanted to make recommendations.
For instance, one of the recommendations that, in our view is to be definitely rejected is the one made by the Holy See that calls Brazil to only recognize as a families those units composed by a husband and a wife, or by man and woman. This call contradicts the equality principle grafted in the Constitution and, most principally, the 2011 decision of the Supreme Court regarding civil unions between same sex persons. Another recommendation that we consider to be at odds with human rights premise and constitutional definitions is the one made by Namibia regarding religious education in the public education system. In regard to this proposal we must note that the Brazilian Constitution defines religious education as non compulsory and this principle is to be respected. In recent years, however, as this premise has been systematically violated an initiative is underway to contest the constitutionality of existing practices of religious education at the level of the Supreme Court. Lastly we also consider very problematic the recommendation made by Australia that calls for the replication, in other cities, of the model police and military occupation of slum and other poor areas adopted in Rio de Janeiro (UPPs). In our view, the UPPs are not been exempt from human rights violations and therefore should not be seen a “model” to be applied in other contexts across the country. Various NGOs have sent their views on these and other recommendations made. Despite these efforts the Brazil government has presented its response without directly dialoguing with civil society organizations.
SPW: What are recommendations that in your view must be accepted by Brazil?
Camila: Several of the recommendations made, if implemented, can positively contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation in Brazil. One example concerns the various recommendations made in regard to the national prison system, which is really chaotic. A number of recommendations in relation to torture are also to be seriously taken into account. A law provision aimed at establishing a national mechanism to prevent torture is now pending in Congress, which has a main caveat: the members of the committee that will monitor detention centers will not be elected but politically appointed and this may compromise the independence and autonomy of the mechanism. Positively enough one of the recommendations made is for this bill to be amended as to guarantee the independence and autonomy of its members.
SPW: Can you highlight those recommendations made regarding the sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality or sexual diversity?
Camila: One caveat of the UPR is that is does not necessarily reflect the full picture of human rights violations in a country. Mostly it tends to reflect the views and concerns of member states engaged in the process. There are some issues that states want to address and many others that are entirely out of their radars. States views and priorities constitute a sort of filter of what violations will or not gain visibility. Unfortunately in the case of Brazil, sexual and reproductive rights violations have not received much attention. Despite being few, however, the recommendations made in this area are critical. For instance, France recommended the Brazilian state to continue expanding access to the voluntary termination of pregnancy in order to ensure the full recognition of sexual and reproductive rights. Estonia has recommended that legislation must be developed to ensure women’s privacy and confidentiality during police investigations, as well as to guarantee their right to presumption of innocence, due process, and legal defense. While not said explicitly this recommendations is related to cases of human rights violations deriving from the criminalization of abortion that have been raised in our shadow report. Lastly, Finland recommended that Brazil amend its legislation for the legal recognition of same-sex couples and take measures to address homo- and trans-phobic crime, including by establishing a system for recording such crimes [click here to read the shadow report on this issue].
Final observation: In September 20th 2012, Brazil responded to the recommendations made in May.
>> Click here to read the responses in regard to the recommendations cited in the interview.