Letter to President Lula on Brazil’s Candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch ahead of the October elections to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for 2024-2026. As a candidate, it is crucial that Brazil demonstrate a relentless, principled and consistent defense of human rights both at the national and international level.

In establishing the Council in 2006, the General Assembly provided that Council members “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”[1] Brazil’s voluntary pledges and commitments for the upcoming elections include “strengthening and improving the international human rights system and the HRC in an integral and comprehensive manner, based on its founding principles,” among which are the aforementioned.

Since taking office in January 2023, your administration has taken a strong stance on human rights in foreign policy, including by calling out the incompatibility between democracy and racism, advocating for the right to free primary and secondary education, and committing to promoting women’s rights before the Council. You have also elevated the issues of poverty and hunger and the protection of the environment on the global agenda.

At the same time, we had hoped that you would have taken advantage of your recent interactions with Chinese authorities and of renewed diplomatic ties with Venezuela to condemn the serious human rights abuses taking place under those governments and promote non recurrence. Given that you have also repeatedly shown interest in leading peace talks to bring about an end to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, we had also hoped that you could have included in the center of your calls the need for accountability for serious crimes, in addition to having criticized United States President Joe Biden’s recent decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, a move that does not contribute to peace and could put more Ukrainian civilians’ lives at risk for years to come.

We would like to encourage your government to ensure that Brazil plays a greater role in the promotion of human rights worldwide, as mandated by its own constitution, addressing human rights abuses in a principled and consistent manner—regardless of the ideology of any particular government and not driven by geo-political interests—on the basis of the principles of universality and impartiality, which Brazil highlights in its voluntary pledges and commitments.

In this respect we would like to draw your attention to the Objective Criteria developed by a cross-regional group of countries to “help [the Human Rights Council] decide, in an objective and non-selective manner, when the Council should usefully engage with a concerned State, to prevent, respond to, or address violations and to assist in de-escalation of a situation of concern.” The Objective Criteria were set out in a statement to the HRC in 2016 delivered by Ireland and are a helpful tool for assessing when the HRC should take action on a country situation.

It is our understanding that Brazil is in a uniquely strong position to use its seat at the Council, if successfully elected, to influence other countries—particularly its Latin American neighbors and countries that are also members or are seeking membership of the BRICS—to assume concrete human rights commitments. For instance, it could publicly call for the establishment of a UN-backed independent investigation into killings and abuses of the hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers at the Yemen-Saudi border by Saudi border guards. It could, as in the past, be a leading principled voice to press Iranian authorities to change course on their relentless repression of peaceful dissent. It could also pledge to work with other states from all regional groups to follow up on the damning UN report on Xinjiang (China), which concluded that the Chinese government has committed human rights abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity.

In its reemergence on the global human rights stage, Brazil should take unequivocal steps to undo a misguided foreign policy and abandon double standards on human rights. In the region, as in the world, your administration should work with local and international civil society groups to promote safety, justice, and equality for all.

Thus, we would like to draw your attention to key human rights concerns we believe Brazil could positively impact. We are attaching a briefing paper with recommendations on thematic and country-specific situations that we urge you to consider not only if successfully elected to the Council, but through active bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and international justice.

While not exhaustive, it highlights the key role Brazil can play in advancing international justice, fighting systemic racism in law enforcement, strengthening the right to education, and protecting the rights of migrants. The briefing paper also outlines abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the crackdown on dissent in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba; the undermining of democratic institutions in El Salvador; the political crisis and the excessive use of force against protesters in Peru; and the political, humanitarian, and security crisis in Haiti.

Finally, it addresses the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians by Israeli authorities; the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine and violations of international humanitarian law; the violent crackdown against protests in Iran; and China’s heavy-handed control in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the cultural persecution and arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

Our recommendations include that Brazil:

  • Lead an initiative to establish a mechanism to monitor rights abuses at borders, as called for by civil society and the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants.
  • Join a cross regional core group of member states to lead and support the development of a fourth optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to guarantee free, quality, inclusive and public pre-primary, and secondary education.
  • Support all initiatives at the Human Rights Council to increase the capability of the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER).
  • Take an unequivocal stand against threats or attacks to the International Criminal Court (ICC), its officials, and individuals cooperating with the Court.
  • Unequivocally condemn the repression against demonstrators and critics in Cuba, call on the government to release all those arbitrarily detained and push for a transition to democracy in the country.
  • Bring attention to the human rights violations committed by Salvadoran security forces during Human Rights Council meetings and debates.
  • Ensure that any consensual deployment of a multinational force in Haiti has robust monitoring and accountability mechanisms, complies with human rights standards and is part of a multifaceted response that includes the establishment of a transitional government.
  • In cooperation with other democratic governments, establish a “Group of Friends” to coordinate a high-level response to the human rights crisis in Nicaragua and push for a transition to democracy.
  • Call on the Peruvian government to invite an interdisciplinary group of international experts to support ongoing criminal investigations into the killings of protesters, and report on the causes of the crisis.
  • Actively support all accountability efforts on Venezuela at the Human Rights Council, including by supporting the UN Fact-Finding Mission.
  • Support efforts at the Council to follow up on the landmark report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Xinjiang, which concludes that Chinese authorities may have committed crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim communities, including efforts to ensure further reporting on the situation.
  • Highlight Israeli authorities’ commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution in statements at the Human Rights Council, in a submission to the International Court of Justice, ahead of its October 25 deadlines for submissions, and in other fora.
  • Support the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Iran and consistently raise serious human rights concerns in bilateral meetings and negotiations during the accession process of Iran to the BRICS, particularly the continued imprisonment of human rights, women rights, labor rights and environmental defenders and journalists.
  • Support the annual extension of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine created to investigate abuses and human rights violations in the context of the full-scale invasion by Russia, while apparent war crimes continue to be committed extensively.

Brazil does not need to wait to help address human rights violations as they occur. If it does so in a non-selective manner and is seen to be acting out of principle rather than politics, such actions will only enhance its candidacy.

We appreciate your consideration of the issues listed in this letter and would welcome your response to these recommendations.

Sincerely,

Juanita Goebertus

Americas director at Human Rights Watch

Maria Laura Canineu

Brazil director at Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch Recommendations:

Brazil’s Candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council

1.     THEMATIC ISSUES

INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE. 

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY IN LAW ENFORCEMENT. 

RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS. 

RIGHT TO EDUCATION.

2.     LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES

CUBA.

EL SALVADOR.

HAITI

NICARAGUA

PERU

VENEZUELA

3.     OTHER FOREIGN COUNTRIES

CHINA

IRAN

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

UKRAINE/RUSSIA

THEMATIC ISSUES

INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE

Brazil has an essential role to play in supporting justice for serious international crimes as part of a principled human rights-based foreign policy. 

As a member country of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Brazil can increase its leadership on justice by promoting ongoing political and practical support to the court. A key area is ensuring the court has adequate financial resources to support its mandate across all situations, avoiding overly selective approaches that can reinforce double standards in victims’ access to justice. Brazil should cooperate in the court’s investigations and should use all available multilateral and bilateral opportunities to call on other governments to cooperate with the court. With regard to the countries referenced in this letter, this includes the ICC’s critical investigations in Palestine, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

Support for international justice, of course, extends beyond support to the ICC. As a matter of domestic law, Brazil should fully implement the Rome Statute and should take the necessary steps to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations, including through the principle of universal jurisdiction, as envisioned in domestic laws.

Recommendations:

  • Maximize every opportunity to uphold the principles enshrined in the Rome Statute and take an unequivocal stand against threats or attacks to the ICC, its officials, and individuals cooperating with the Court.
  • Ensure that it can both comply with every cooperation request from the ICC, as well as call on other states to cooperate with the court. 
  • Take an active stand against double standards and selective approaches in accountability for serious human rights violations, ensuring that all victims can access judicial remedies, including through support to bolster the ICC’s financial resources.
  • Apply its domestic laws on universal jurisdiction.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY IN LAW ENFORCEMENT

In 2021, the Human Rights Council adopted a milestone UN resolution brought forward by the Group of African States to create the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER). Its three experts are tasked with investigating the root causes of systemic racism, in particular in law enforcement, as well as government responses to peaceful anti-racism protests, discriminatory policing, and other human rights violations against Africans and people of African descent around the globe.

The investigations pursued by the new expert group should spur accountability and create pressure for the implementation of racial justice measures in health, housing, employment, and education, as well as tailored reparations for victims. So far, the Mechanism has issued recommendations on data disaggregated by race or ethnic origin as a key element for driving and assessing responses to systemic racism in the areas of law enforcement and the criminal justice system; made important recommendations on the existing legislative and regulatory scheme governing racial discrimination in Sweden; and is preparing a report on its visit to the United States.

We are encouraged by Brazil’s invitation to the Mechanism to conduct a fact-finding mission in the country in November 2023 after a call by 120 groups, including Human Rights Watch. Police abuse is a chronic problem that disproportionately impacts people of African descent in Brazil. In 2022, police killed more than 6,400 people—83 percent of them were Black. Human Rights Watch has documented serious attempts of cover-ups as well as failures to adequately investigate cases of abuses, resulting in widespread impunity.

Decisive measures to end police violence should be of upmost priority for the Brazilian government.

Recommendations

  • Support all initiatives at the Human Rights Council to increase the capability of the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER) to perform its activities and support the renewal of its mandate, which expires in June 2024.
  • Fully cooperate with the EMLER in its visit to Brazil in November 2023 and continue to engage in follow up to the visit, including through the implementation of its recommendations.

RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS

In June 2023, Human Rights Watch joined more than 200 organizations to urge the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent monitoring mechanism at and around borders. Policies and practices of migration governance around the globe have led to deaths, torture and other grave human rights violations at and around international borders. The Human Rights Council should take appropriate action and establish an independent international monitoring mechanism to investigate these violations including root causes of violations in the governance of international migration, and contribute to accountability and redress for victims and their families.

The Missing Migrants Project recorded 55,980 reported deaths of people in migration worldwide from 2014 to May 2023. This number is widely understood to be a significant underestimate.  In some regions migrant deaths have reached record highs. These deaths are often not effectively investigated.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has repeatedly raised serious concerns about abusive and violent border governance tactics, which include state of emergency measures, the legitimization of pushback and pullback practices through the introduction of legislation and government orders, inadequate State-led search and rescue operations, and obstacles imposed on non-State search and rescue operators. According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, many of the migration policies that contribute to deaths and other grave violations of refugee and migrant rights disproportionately affect individuals from certain national origin, ethnic, racial and religious groups. In many cases these policies involve or are built on structural racism.

At the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council, Mexico introduced a Resolution on the prevention and accountability for human rights violations in transit, which was adopted by consensus. The main outcome of the resolution is the intersessional panel which will take place between the March and June sessions next year. Unfortunately, it did not establish an international mechanism to monitor abuses at borders, which civil society and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants called for. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for the monitoring of borders.

Recommendations

  • Lead an initiative to establish a mechanism to monitor rights abuses at borders, as called for by civil society and the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants at the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council.
  • Create and promote international and domestic law standards for people who do not meet the 1951 Refugee Convention standard, but who would face a serious threat to life or physical integrity if returned to their country because of a real risk of violence or exceptional situations, including from the effects of climate change, for which there is no adequate domestic remedy.

RIGHT TO EDUCATION

The right to education—as defined in international human rights treaties—is no longer sufficient to ensure that children thrive in today’s world. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, guarantees children free and compulsory primary education, but says nothing about early childhood education and does not guarantee children an immediate right to free secondary education. Brazil is well placed to champion a new initiative to create a legally binding international instrument—such as a new optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—to strengthen the right to education to explicitly recognize every child’s immediate right to at least one year of free pre-primary education and to free secondary education.

Brazil’s constitution and domestic legislation already set an excellent example by guaranteeing free and compulsory education for all children, including two years of free and compulsory pre-primary and 12 years of public, free, and compulsory primary and secondary education. While Brazil’s voluntary pledges only briefly mention the right to education, we are encouraged by the positive statement at the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council to invite all states to consider the new international legal instrument to enlarge the right of every child to education. We hope that Brazil continues to defend and support efforts to strengthen international law on the right to education.

Furthermore, Brazil can maintain its prominent role in safeguarding education during conflicts. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Brazil has strongly advocated against attacks on, and the military use of schools in conflict zones. Notably, Brazil also demonstrated its commitment by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration in May 2015. As the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has underscored the damaging effects of such attacks on the right to education and the lives of learners, there is an urgent need to continue to strengthen the protection of students, teachers, and educational facilities in conflict.

Recommendations

  • Join a cross regional core group of member states to lead and support the development of a fourth optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to guarantee free, quality, inclusive and public pre-primary, and secondary education.
  • Consistently advocate for addressing attacks on education within the agenda of the Human Rights Council (HRC) as well as in the reporting and monitoring through HRC’s country-specific mechanisms.
  1. LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES

CUBA

The government of Cuba continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism, as Cubans endure a dire economic crisis affecting their rights.

Authorities responded with brutal, systematic repression and censorship when thousands of Cubans took to the streets in July 2021 to protest the Covid-19 response, scarcity of food and medicines, and long-standing restrictions on rights. Trials of hundreds of such protesters in 2022 often violated basic due process guarantees and resulted in disproportionate prison terms.

Demonstrations across the country have continued, triggered by blackouts, shortages, and deterioration of living conditions.

In August 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that Cubans were suffering a “collapse of the public healthcare system” and a “widespread rise in poverty and inequality.”

The government’s repression and apparent unwillingness to address the underlying causes that took people to the streets have forced Cubans to leave the country in unprecedent numbers. Between January 2020 and April 2023, the US Border Patrol apprehended over 380,000 Cubans—a figure representing almost 3.5 percent of the Cuban population. The US Coast Guard has intercepted over 6,500 Cubans at sea since October 2022—a dramatic increase compared to the 800 people intercepted between October 2021 and October 2022.

Efforts by the US government to press for change by imposing a sweeping economic embargo have proven to be a costly and misguided failure. The embargo imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad.

Recommendations:

  • Bring attention to the situation in Cuba and raise human rights concerns during Human Rights Council meetings and debates, including during Interactive Dialogues with relevant Special Procedures mandate-holders or in their statements under item 4.
  • Ensure a multilateral and coordinated approach toward Cuba that prioritizes human rights and push for a transition to democracy in the country.
  • Unequivocally condemn the repression against demonstrators and critics in Cuba and call on the Cuban government to release all those arbitrarily detained.
  • Publicly express support for the rights of Cuban protesters, journalists, and activists.
  • Continue to criticize the US embargo on Cuba and urge the Biden administration to progressively dismantle the policy of isolation toward Cuba, including by replacing the embargo and the existing bans on travel and trade with Cuba with more effective forms of pressure.

EL SALVADOR

Since taking office in 2019, President Nayib Bukele has undermined democratic institutions at an alarming rate and created a hostile environment for independent media and civil society groups. Pro-government legislators, who obtained two-thirds majority in Congress in 2021, have since eroded judicial independence, restricted transparency and accountability, and suspended due process rights established under the constitution as part of a “war against gangs.”

President Bukele’s allies in the Legislative Assembly summarily removed and replaced all five judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General, and passed laws that allow the Supreme Court and the Attorney General to arbitrarily transfer or dismiss independent lower-level judges and prosecutors. Today, there are virtually no independent government bodies that can serve as a check on the executive branch or ensure redress for victims of abuse.

In March 2022, the Legislative Assembly adopted a state of emergency in response to a spike in gang violence. The law suspended constitutional rights, including some basic due process protections. The Legislative Assembly also approved a series of measures proposed by President Bukele to address gang violence that allow judges to imprison children as young as 12, restrict freedom of expression, allow for collective trials, and dangerously expand the use of pretrial detention and counterterrorism legislation. 

Over the past year and a half, police officers and soldiers have conducted hundreds of indiscriminate raids, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, arresting over 72,000 people, including hundreds of children. The state of emergency has been extended 17 times and remains in force.

In a December 2022 report, based on more than 1,100 interviews with people from all 14 states of El Salvador, Human Rights Watch and the Central American human rights organization Cristosal documented widespread human rights violations committed during the state of emergency, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, and massive due process violations. Hundreds of people detained had no apparent connection to gangs’ abusive activity.  Cristosal also reports that 174 people died in custody, in circumstances that in many cases suggest state responsibility. We found that human rights violations were not isolated incidents by rogue agents. Rather, similar violations were carried out repeatedly and across the country, throughout a period of several months, by both the military and the police.

To date, Salvadoran authorities have not reported any meaningful progress in investigating human rights violations committed during the state of emergency. President Bukele has publicly backed the security forces and tried to intimidate the country’s few remaining independent judges and prosecutors who could investigate violations. He has also used a hostile rhetoric against independent press and civil society, labeling them as “gang defenders.”

Recommendations

  • Bring attention to the situation in El Salvador and raise human rights concerns during Human Rights Council meetings and debates, including during Interactive Dialogues with relevant Special Procedures mandate-holders.
  • Publicly and privately oppose human rights violations committed by Salvadoran security forces.
  • Press Salvadoran authorities, in a multilateral manner and ideally in coordination with other Latin American and European states, to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.
  • Urge the Salvadoran government to adopt an effective and rights-respecting security policy to dismantle gangs and protect the population from their abuses.
  • Press Salvadoran authorities to restore judicial independence, including by conducting independent, fair, and transparent processes for the selection of Supreme Court justices and the attorney general and abrogating laws that undermine judicial independence.

HAITI

Haiti faces a deep political, humanitarian, and security crisis. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 exacerbated Haiti’s constitutional crisis. Parliament has ceased to function, and the justice system faces enormous difficulties operating. A spike in violence by criminal groups with alleged links to the police and politicians, severely overcrowded prisons, and extensive impunity remain major concerns. A cholera outbreak has caused tens of thousands of suspected cases and hundreds of deaths since October 2022. Since January 2021, the Dominican Republic, the United States, and other countries have returned tens of thousands of people to Haiti, where they are at risk of suffering violence.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued two important reports on Haiti over the past year, both of which made a series of recommendations to the Haitian authorities, as well as other actors.[2] The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 4 April 2023, presented by the delegation of Haiti, requesting the High Commissioner to establish an independent human rights expert and requested that his Office provide further reports on the human rights situation in Haiti to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth sessions.

The UN Security Council is considering options for the deployment of a consensual multinational force to help the Haitian police restore security. This may well be an important part of the solution, but it will most likely only be effective with a new transitional government and as part of a multi-faceted response with strong human rights safeguards.

Recommendations:

  • Support, including through technical and financial resources, facilitation of the establishment of a transitional government to restore basic security and ensure adherence to fundamental human rights, re-establish rights-respecting rule of law, and provide access to basic necessities for all Haitians, until the formation of a regular government on the basis of democratic elections.
  • Call for any consensual deployment of an international force to be based on clear human rights protocols, have adequate funding and robust oversight mechanisms, and be complemented by strong measures to ensure accountability, curb the flow of weapons and ammunition to violent criminal groups, and provide humanitarian aid and other basic services, education, and jobs in areas that have been most affected by violent criminal groups.
  • Support the continued provision of enhanced capacity building and technical assistance to Haiti by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as well as follow-up on recommendations made by the OHCHR and other independent human rights experts, including at the Human Rights Council.

NICARAGUA

The human rights crisis in Nicaragua, which began with the repression of protests in April 2018, is deteriorating even further.

The government of President Daniel Ortega has targeted all segments of society in a bid to remain in power indefinitely. As of July 2023, 68 people perceived as government critics remain behind bars, according to local human rights groups. These include Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a religious leader known for advocating on behalf of victims. The treatment of Bishop Álvarez, who has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on spurious charges, exemplifies the many cases of persecution of the Catholic Church.

On February 9, 2023, the government released 222 political prisoners and expelled them to the United States, labeling them as “traitors,” stripping them of their nationality, and confiscating their assets. Many had been detained in the context of 2021 presidential elections, where Ortega was reelected for a fourth consecutive term amid a wave of repression of government critics, including journalists, human rights defenders, business, peasant leaders, and presidential candidates. Following their release, the government stripped the nationality of 95 other government critics.

A report released in early March by the United Nations Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua found reasonable grounds to conclude that the authorities have committed crimes against humanity, including murder, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, forced deportation, and persecution on political grounds.

The government has also dramatically restricted civic space, including by applying repressive legislation to cancel the legal status of over 3,500 nongovernmental organizations, including humanitarian organizations such as the Nicaraguan Red Cross. No international monitors have been allowed to enter the country since the government expelled the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in late 2018.

Abuses by the National Police and armed pro-government groups during a brutal 2018 crackdown that left over 300 protesters and bystanders dead remain unpunished.

Recommendations

  • Call on the Nicaraguan government to comply—and monitor the extent of its compliance—with the Human Rights Council’s resolution A/HRC/52/2 of March 27, 2023, which urges the government to “cease immediately the use of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as of threats and other forms of intimidation or alternative measures of detention, as a means to repress dissent, to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners,” and to “adopt effective measures to guarantee the independence, transparency and impartiality of the justice system.”
  • In cooperation with other democratic governments in Latin America and the European Union, establish a “Group of Friends” to coordinate a high-level response to the human rights crisis in Nicaragua and push for a transition to democracy, as requested by 180 Nicaraguan victims and 29 national and international human rights organizations.
  • Press the Ortega administration to authorize international human rights bodies that were expelled in 2018—the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)—to re-enter Nicaragua to monitor human rights conditions in the country and fully cooperate with the UN Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, including by allowing in-country visits.
  • As a state party to the 1984 Convention against Torture and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, exercise criminal jurisdiction, to the extent permitted under domestic law, over any Nicaraguan officials responsible for torture, in accordance with article 5 of the UN Convention Against Torture.

PERU

In December 2022, then-President Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and take over the judicial power, amid serious allegations of corruption against him. Congress removed him from office and Vice-President Dina Boluarte became president.

Thousands of protesters—mostly rural workers and Indigenous people who experience marginalization and unequal access to government services—took to the streets calling for early elections and other demands. Some protesters carried out serious acts of violence. The military and the police responded in an indiscriminate, disproportionate, and brutal manner.

An April 2023 Human Rights Watch report documented excessive use of force by security forces, due process violations and abuses against detainees, and failures in criminal investigations, as well as the entrenched political and social crisis that is eroding the rule of law and human rights in Peru. Forty-nine people, including 8 children, were killed—the vast majority from gunshot wounds. More than 1,300 people were injured during the protests, including police officers.

Recommendations

  • Bring attention to the deaths of protesters in Peru and raise human rights concerns during Human Rights Council meetings and debates, including during Interactive Dialogues with relevant Special Procedures mandate-holders.
  • Call on the Peruvian government to invite an interdisciplinary group of international experts to support ongoing criminal investigations into the killings of protesters, and report on the causes of the crisis and on the ensuing human rights violations.
  • Publicly and privately express concern about efforts by Congress to undermine and coopt democratic institutions, attacks on electoral authorities, and widespread corruption.
  • Urge the Peruvian government and Congress to take concrete steps to ensure security forces abide by the law in the future and to regain public trust including by addressing corruption and deep inequalities in the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights, and protecting the independence of democratic institutions.

VENEZUELA

As Brazil reestablishes diplomatic ties with the Maduro government, it should take measures to assure that such recognition helps bring progress on human rights, including free and fair elections, accountability for serious human rights violations, and better humanitarian assistance.

Venezuela is facing a severe humanitarian emergency, with 19 million in need of assistance, according to HumVenezuela, an independent platform by civil society organizations monitoring the humanitarian emergency. Many are unable to access basic health care and minimum levels of nutrition. More than 7.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014—about 80 percent of them to other Latin American countries—, generating one of the largest migration crises in the world. According to the most recent data available, about 487,700 Venezuelans, including more than 53,300 refugees, live in Brazil.

We were disappointed that after meeting with President Nicolás Maduro in May, President Lula said that democracy there is in place and described the undermining of democratic institutions in Venezuela as a “constructed narrative.” For almost twenty years, Human Rights Watch has documented how Venezuelan authorities progressively destroyed judicial independence and electoral integrity, and later used their unchecked power to carry out systematic human rights violations, including torture, killings, and arbitrary prosecution of political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations. More than 280 political prisoners are currently behind bars, according to the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal.

The United Nations International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela has concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity were committed” by Venezuelan authorities, including murder, arbitrary detention, and torture. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is currently conducting an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the country.

We are highly concerned about recent efforts by the Venezuelan National Assembly to carry out a government-controlled process to appoint new members to the National Electoral Council, which could further undermine the prospect of free and fair presidential elections in 2024 and legislative and regional elections in 2025.

Recommendations

  • Actively support all accountability efforts on Venezuela at the Human Rights Council, including by supporting the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) and, if appropriate, supporting efforts to extend its mandate when it is up for renewal in September 2024.
  • Urge the Venezuelan government to allow the FFM to visit the country to carry out its investigations in accordance with its mandate, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture.
  • Support efforts of establishing a UN-administered humanitarian fund, agreed in November 2022 during negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition.
  • Publicly and privately urge the Venezuelan government to comply with the recommendations of the 2021 EU electoral observation mission, to allow new electoral observation in the 2024 and 2025 elections, to ensure a balanced composition of the National Electoral Council and to guarantee that opposition leaders are not arbitrarily barred.
  1. OTHER FOREIGN COUNTRIES

CHINA

China’s authoritarian government under President Xi Jinping—who began an unprecedented third term in 2022—and the Chinese Communist Party systemically repress fundamental rights. Authorities have arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, tightened control over civil society, media, and the internet, and deployed invasive mass surveillance technology. The government imposes particularly heavy-handed control in Xinjiang and Tibet. Authorities’ cultural persecution and arbitrary detention of a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims since 2017 amount to crimes against humanity.

In Hong Kong, the government imposed draconian national security legislation in 2020 and systematically dismantled the city’s freedoms. The government hindered international efforts to investigate the origins of Covid-19, muzzled critics abroad, and undermined global human rights institutions. People across China and in the diaspora took to the streets in late 2022 to demand human rights and democracy in China.

In October 2022, with a dramatic vote of 19 to 17, the Human Rights Council got tantalizingly close to securing a discussion of the OHCHR’s damning report which concluded that human rights abuses by Beijing may amount to crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. We were disappointed that Brazil abstained on that draft decision, supported by countries in the region, which simply noted the report and convened a discussion on the situation. If a future initiative is presented, we hope that Brazil would be in a position to support it, to send a clear message to the Chinese government that it does not condone such abuses, and a message of solidarity to victims, survivors and the loved ones of the hundreds of thousands that are arbitrarily detained or missing. It is also important to be clear that no state, no matter how powerful, is above international law.

Recommendations

  • Support efforts at the Human Rights Council to follow up on the landmark Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on Xinjiang, which concludes that Chinese authorities may have committed crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim communities, including efforts to ensure further reporting on the situation.
  • Raise concerns over human rights abuses in China in statements at the Human Rights Council, including with reference to the findings and recommendations of the OHCHR report on Xinjiang.
  • Commit to working towards the establishment of independent monitoring and reporting and follow up on the findings and recommendations of the OHCHR report, and other abuses in China, as requested by hundreds of civil society organizations around the world.

IRAN

In the fall of 2022, following the death in custody of 22-years-old Kurdish Iranian woman arrested by Iran’s morality police for “improper hijab,” a wave of widespread protests took over Iran, with the leading slogan of “woman, life, freedom.” The protests started with calls for accountability and against the systemic abuses of Iran’s morality police and compulsory hijab laws, but it quickly, evolved to demand for fundamental change of systemic rights violations and impunity. 

Iranian authorities violently cracked down against the protests, killing hundreds and arresting tens of thousands of protestors, including dozens of human rights defenders, labor activists, journalists and public celebrities.

The protestors’ grievances were supported by large numbers of Iranians and civil society that have long faced harassment, pressure and imprisonment for advocating for greater freedoms or justice. Women, particularly in big cities, ranging from ordinary people to women athletes and actors, have also publicly removed their headscarves and/or started appearing in public without hijab as an act of resistance. In response, authorities are tightening regulations, deploying a mix of increased punishment particularly for not observing hijab as a form of activism, severe economic coercion, and pressure on private sector to act as enforcers, all disproportionately impacting marginalized communities in particular women. The government has not yet conducted any transparent investigation into serious abuses committed by security and intelligence forces, and instead has increased pressure on the domestic civil society actors, baselessly accusing them of contact with foreign states and media, and has prevented families of those killed from holding memorials.

Protests movement drew global solidarity and support particularly withing governments from the global north. Geopolitical tensions and perceived selectivity of Western states in upholding human rights violators to the same standard, however, diminish their impact on Iran’s behavior and provide Iranian authorities with an opportunity to dismiss international criticism as a political ploy. Convincing Iranian authorities to change course on systematic rights violations requires a principled approach that uses the power of multilateralism while insisting on the protection of civil and political as well as economic rights of Iranians who have been impacted by decades of broad economic sanctions.

President Lula’s strong tradition of supporting labor rights can play a crucial role in leading international and bilateral a human-rights-centered policy towards Iran.

Recommendations:

  • Support the UN Human Rights Council appointed Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Iran, encourage the Iranian authorities to meaningfully engage with its mandate and support the renewal of that mandate to ensure the FFM has the time and resources to complete a comprehensive investigation into abuses committed after the 2022 protests.
  • Consistently raise serious human rights concerns in bilateral engagements and in negotiations during the accession process of Iran to the BRICS, particularly the continued imprisonment of human rights, women rights, labor rights, and environmental defenders and journalists, as well as restrictions on access to lawyer during national security cases, and increased economic coercion on women.
  • Consider creating initiatives that allow Iranian civil society and academics to engage with their Brazilian counterparts.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians, as Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented. They have done so through pursuing an overarching government policy to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, coupled with grave abuses against Palestinians, in particular those living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

Those abuses include sweeping restrictions on the movement of Palestinians; widespread land confiscation; the imposition of harsh conditions which have led thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes under conditions that amount to forcible transfer; the denial of residency rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their relatives; and the suspension of basic civil rights to millions of Palestinians.

In recent months, Israel’s discrimination and repression have intensified. Israeli forces have already killed more Palestinians in the West Bank in 2023 than in any other year since the UN began systematically recording fatalities in 2005. In August, the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention without trial or charge based on secret evidence reached a 30-year-high. Israel’s current government has clearly identified as a guiding principle that all the territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea belongs “exclusive[ly]” to the Jewish people.

Recommendations

  • Highlight Israeli authorities’ commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution in statements at the Human Rights Council, in a submission to the International Court of Justice, ahead of its October 25 deadlines for submissions, and in other fora.
  • Urge the Israeli authorities to reverse the decision to outlaw six prominent Palestinian civil society organizations and allow them to continue their vital work, including their essential work to support implementation of the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • Urge Israeli authorities, both publicly and privately, to end the generalized ban on travel to and from Gaza and permit free movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, subject to, at most, individual security screenings. 
  • Urge the Palestinian Authority to end its systematic practice of arbitrarily arresting and torturing critics and opponents.
  • Publicly support efforts to recognize, end complicity in and ensure accountability for apartheid, persecution and serious human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine, including the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel and other UN initiative.

UKRAINE/RUSSIA

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, eight years after its initial invasion in 2014. Russia’s war against Ukraine has had a disastrous impact on civilian life, killing thousands of civilians, injuring many thousands more, and destroying civilian property and infrastructure. Russian forces committed a litany of violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing and shelling of civilian areas that hit homes and healthcare and educational facilities. Some of these attacks should be investigated as war crimes. Russia’s repeated use of cluster munitions since February 2022 has killed and wounded civilians, damaged civilian objects, and contaminated agricultural land. Ukraine’s forces have also used cluster munitions, causing civilian casualties.

In areas they occupied, Russian or Russian-affiliated forces committed apparent war crimes, including torture, summary executions, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and looting of cultural property. Those who attempted to flee areas of fighting faced terrifying ordeals and numerous obstacles. In some cases, Russian forces forcibly transferred significant numbers of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and subjected many to abusive security screenings. Russian forces’ countrywide, repeated attacks on Ukraine’s energy and other critical infrastructure appeared aimed at terrorizing civilians and making their life unsustainable, which is a war crime.

Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain initiative, blocking the export of Ukrainian grain, driving up global grain prices.

During the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities have engaged in a systematic campaign of repression of human rights and closing civic space inside Russia. They have adopted pernicious legislation aimed at eviscerating civil society, sought to isolate Russia from “unfriendly” information, and rampantly imprisoned and otherwise persecuted peaceful critics through bogus administrative and criminal cases. This escalating campaign led the Human Rights Council in October 2022 to adopt a resolution creating the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Russia. The resolution cited grave concern over “systematic crackdowns on civil society organizations”, “reported mass arbitrary arrests…, the deterioration of the rule of law,” and “mass forced shutdowns of civil society organizations and independent media outlets.”

Recommendations

  • Call on the Russian Federation to comply, and monitor the extent of its compliance, with the Human Rights Council’s resolution A/HRC/52/32 of April 4, 2023, which urges the government to “immediately end its human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine,” and to “cease the unlawful forced transfer and deportation of civilians and other protected persons within Ukraine or to the Russian Federation, … in particular of children”.
  • Comply with the Human Rights Council’s resolution A/HRC/52/32, which calls on States to “cooperate fully” with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which has had its mandate extended further one year, “to allow it to effectively fulfill its mandate, and to provide it with relevant information or documentation they may possess or come to possess, as appropriate”.
  • Support the annual extension of the Commission’s mandate while apparent war crimes continue to be committed extensively in Ukraine.
  • Call on Russia to respect the prohibition on forcible transfers including coercing civilians to evacuate to unwanted destinations, and urge all parties to the conflict to facilitate safe passage for civilians to a destination of their choosing.
  • Inquire with Russian authorities about the number of children transferred from Ukraine to Russia and the number, location, and occupancy rate of the temporary placement centers throughout Russia, and about the number and whereabouts of Ukrainian civilians detained in the occupied areas following the “filtration measures” or detention.
  • Provide support via the Brazilian embassy in Russia in the issuance of temporary travel documents enabling Ukrainian citizens who are in Russia without their identity or travel documents to leave the country if they wish to.
  • Call on the UN to establish an inter-agency task force dedicated to identifying the whereabouts and ensuring the welfare and return of unaccompanied and separated children who were forcibly transferred within Ukraine or to Russia, including children who were illegally adopted and naturalized, and offer support to this effort.
  • Join the Convention on Cluster Munitions without delay, stop producing and transferring them, and, subsequently,
    • Urge Russia and Ukraine to stop using cluster munitions and encourage them to accede to the convention.
    • Use every opportunity to condemn the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine, including via joint statements and resolutions.
    • Commit not to assist Russia or Ukraine with any activities prohibited under the convention, such as the use and transfer of cluster munitions; and
    • Urge all states to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions without delay.
    • Support the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Russia.
  • Call on Russia to comply with the recommendations of Human Rights Council Resolution 51/25, to uphold fundamental freedoms inside the country, and to fulfill forthcoming recommendations by the Special Rapporteur.
 

[1] General Assembly Resolution 60/251

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