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Brazil: Social rights under siege

December 8th, 2016

To access the El País oped in Portuguese, 

click on the screengrab above
. To access it in English, click here.
CESR Brazil webpage
Brazil is on the cusp of adopting a constitutional amendment that will undermine fundamental human rights for generations to come. The Proposed Constitutional Amendment 55 (or PEC 55 in its Portuguese acronym), which is currently being debated in the Senate, will freeze public spending in real terms for the next two decades. This means that formerly constitutionally-protected government expenditures in the areas of health, education and other social sectors will remain stunted until 2036. If approved, it will transform the Constitution from a tool to ensure a minimum floor of investments in social rights into a blunt instrument prohibiting increases in social spending, regardless of needs on the ground.

The amendment is likely to have serious and long-term impacts on already disadvantaged groups, such as women, afro-Brazilians and people living in poverty, who rely more on public services. As argued in an analysis document issued jointly by CESR and our Brazilian partners CONECTAS, Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC) and Oxfam Brasil, this constitutional reform may also stand in violation of Brazil’s obligations under international human rights law, as confirmed by recent warnings from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

Moreover, the International Monetary Fund and respected economists agree that such ill-conceived austerity measures tend to exacerbate, rather than remedy, economic crises and as such they are dangerously counterproductive. As illustrated in a joint op-ed article published in El País by CESR and its partners, alternative means to alleviate fiscal pressures are readily available to the Brazilian government, including combating tax evasion and the pursuit of more progressive taxation.

In this worrying context, CESR, CONECTAS and INESC have issued joint letters to the Brazilian authorities, calling on them not to approve PEC 55 or any proposed fiscal expenditure cap or austerity measure which would breach Brazil’s human rights obligations. These include the duty to devote the maximum of its available resources to progressively achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights, and to fully explore alternatives, including progressive tax measures, that can tackle the economic crisis whilst also protecting human rights. Following our joint advocacy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights also intervened with a strongly-worded statement.

As the people of Brazil look to an uncertain future, CESR and its allies will continue to work for more just and human rights-compliant solutions to the ongoing economic crisis.


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