At the outset, allow me to congratulate you, Ambassador Henczel, on your election as President of this Council. I also wish to express our appreciation for the work carried out by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Navi Pillay, who has been a strong voice in favor of justice, freedom and peace.
I wish to thank all Delegations for electing Brazil for a new term of membership of this important Council. Brazil sees its participation in this Council in the next three years as an opportunity to:
a) on one hand, to continue to advance and promote human rights at the national level, in their entire spectrum – civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights – including through an active interaction with the multilateral system; and
b) on the other, to work in Geneva alongside all Delegations, from developing and developed countries, and all regions, to improve the lives of human beings, through a balanced and non-selective approach to human rights, without futile accusations and paralyzing polarizations.
Indeed, the protection of human rights is enshrined in our Constitution as one of the guiding principles of Brazil’s foreign policy. And it is appropriate that it should be so. In our endeavors to build a better world, a world of sustainable development, social justice and peace, we must strengthen our multilateral mechanisms for cooperation. And, ethics and values must be an inseparable part of our action.
Here as elsewhere, acknowledging that there are challenges at home is an important and indispensable step in order to start to overcome them. Acknowledging a past of human rights violations is often also necessary in avoiding counterproductive attitudes of arrogance. Discussing problems honestly is part of sound democratic practice, as is the readiness to engage with representatives of civil society.
It was in this spirit that Brazil participated, in May 2012, in the discussion of our own situation under the Universal Periodic Review. (Let me say that, given the universal character of the Universal Periodic Review, which we consider one of the main achievements of this Council, we are disturbed by recent episodes of unsatisfactory cooperation.) It is in the same democratic spirit that we maintain a permanent and standing invitation to all special rapporteurs working under the authority of the Human Rights Council.
Over the last few years, Brazil has taken important initiatives that have had a transformational impact on human rights. I will highlight a few of them.
In November 2011, our Congress passed a new law ensuring public access to information. One of the key principles in that new piece of legislation is that no restriction of access to information will be allowed in matters related to human rights violations by public agents. In a broader sense, the new law has meant an enormous step forward in ensuring respect for the right of citizens to information.
Brazil also established, in May 2012, a National Truth Commission, empowered to examine and to clarify past human rights violations in Brazil, with a view to safeguarding the right to memory and historical truth.
As regards economic and social rights, we have made unprecedented progress under such social programs as “Bolsa Família”. President Dilma Rousseff has made the complete elimination of extreme poverty a national priority. Just a few days ago, she signed a further extension of the “Bolsa Família” program that will respond to the needs of the remaining 2.5 million Brazilians who still face a situation of extreme poverty. All in all, with these new measures, some 40 million Brazilians will have been lifted out of extreme poverty within less than a decade. And I do not have to stress how essential the eradication of poverty is for the full exercise of citizenship and enjoyment of human rights.
Combating racial discrimination has been another priority. A number of programs have been developed to promote equal opportunity and the protection of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. In October 2012, a new law was enacted to ensure minimum quotas in Brazilian Universities for students from public schools, in particular Afro-Descendants and indigenous people. And an important ruling by our Supreme Court has confirmed that the quota system for access to Universities is fully constitutional.
Important steps are also being taken to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
We are keenly aware that we still have work to do on human rights at the domestic level. There are still a number of significant challenges in many areas, that were identified during our recent UPR.
We will move forward by means of domestic initiatives and also through our cooperation with the UN and other international mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights.
I stress the word “cooperation” because I am convinced that it conveys the essential framework, the keystone for a result-oriented approach to human rights in the multilateral system.
We are convinced that, in a multilateral body such as this Council – a body based on international law and on the willingness of Member States to work together to improve life in all countries – it should be possible to protect and promote human rights without selectivity, without politicization, without North-South schisms, in a manner that impacts the lives of individuals, and enhances human dignity throughout the world.
In this context, I believe that the panel “the Power of Empowered Women”, that will take place here tomorrow, and the proposed resolution to combat racism through education are important initiatives in which Brazil will be taking a leading role.
The Rio+20 Conference, held last year, provided renewed guidelines for the promotion of multilateral cooperation to foster sustainable development. The final document adopted at the Conference – entitled “The Future We Want” – started by acknowledging that the eradication of poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today. The human right to development and human right to food are integral parts of this challenge.
Human rights are inseparably linked to sustainable development, just as they are inseparably linked to peace. We find an illustration of this notion in the efforts to promote development in post-conflict situations. Ensuring the right to food, for example by means of rural development, can prove central to stabilization, which, in its turn, creates a favorable environment for human rights, freedom and peace.
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Conference, which set up the agreed principle that all human rights are indivisible, and that democracy, human rights and development are mutually reinforcing.
Such indivisibility of human rights cannot be understood to mean that some conditions must be fulfilled before human rights can be respected. Human rights must be respected here and now, without pre-conditions.
We are convinced that human rights cannot be imposed from the outside, least of all through resort to military force. In fact, armed conflicts are a breeding ground for human rights violations. Conversely, the prevention of armed conflict should be also seen as an effective way to safeguard respect for human rights.
Much has been said about the fact that situations where governments fail to protect their own population are unacceptable. There is indeed an international consensus on the need for coordinated efforts to face these situations. However, it is also necessary to recognize that the international community has been lacking the political will to effectively deal with fundamental questions concerning the adequate protection of civilian populations.
These questions include areas such as the promotion of sustainable development and financing for development; disarmament and non-proliferation; the illegal and poorly monitored flow of small arms; the present stagnation of the system of global political governance, in particular the lack of reform of the UN Security Council; and the troubling paralysis in the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process.
The prevention of conflict and the peaceful settlement of disputes reduce the suffering of civilians. The responsibility to protect must be accompanied by the Responsibility while Protecting, in particular when military intervention is authorized and considered potentially beneficial by the UN Security Council. It goes without saying – but it is worth stressing – that initiatives aimed at protecting civilians must respect human rights and International Humanitarian Law, including in the context of efforts to combat terrorism.
Brazil follows with great distress the spiral of violence in Syria, where the number of casualties – mostly civilian casualties – is staggering. This Council has established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Syria. The reports are appalling.
Brazil, which in the past has received a great number of immigrants from Syria, feels deeply concerned and saddened by the tragedy that is unfolding in a country to which we are so closely linked. The fact that we maintained our Embassy open in Damascus has helped Syrians to come to Brazil in safety. We urge all parties involved, and most particularly the Government of Syria, to end the violence and to make dialogue possible.
We would like to call this Council’s attention to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry that highlight the negative effects of unilateral economic sanctions, imposed by some countries, on the Syrian people.
We support the efforts of the Joint Special Representative, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, and we believe that the document produced last year by the Syria Action Group, here in Geneva, still provides a rational basis on which to work to prevent further militarization and to promote a Syrian-led political transition.
The lack of progress in dealing with the situation between Israel and Palestine is simply unacceptable. Year after year, the impasse remains and we watch the crystallization of an unjust status quo which is deeply detrimental to one of the sides, deepens resentments, makes a two-state solution more elusive and in the final analysis benefits no one.
Existing mechanisms, such as the “Quartet”, have not delivered results. The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the most serious sources of tension in current international relations, a scenario of serious human rights challenges and a pressing threat to international peace and security.
Let me say that not all is discouraging when it comes to relations between Israelis and Palestinians. In a recent trip to the region, I was deeply moved by initiatives taken by civil society such as “Parents circle: Families Forum”, which brings together families who have lost their loved ones in the conflict yet reach out to each other through an agenda for solidarity and peace.
Throughout the world, there are many other situations in which civilians are under threat of violence. The attention of this Council can help to minimize such threats. The protection of civilians must be implemented in a universal and non-selective manner.
It is positive that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism has decided to investigate the impact of the use of “drones” on civilians.
For quite some time, the United Nations has been pursuing work on the problem of summary or arbitrary executions. It is indeed a serious problem, one that affects the fundamental notion that everyone is equally entitled under the law to his or her right to life, that everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As we know, it is called “due process of law” and it is a core concept for the protection of human rights. The United Nations must proceed with its work in defense of due process and to help eradicate summary executions.
Under this heading, this Council must also pay attention to the unfortunate fact that religious intolerance seems to be on the rise in some parts of the world, including in highly developed countries. Brazil has been expressing its concern in particular over the increased manifestations of islamophobia. We condemn such practices in the strongest terms and we reiterate our conviction that the international community must remain vigilant when it comes to racism and xenophobia. As we know, racial discrimination, under whatever form, is incompatible with democracy and human rights.
Twenty years after the adoption of the Vienna Program of Action, and fifty-five years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the leadership of the United Nations remains indispensable.
The UN has the power to offer glimpses of hope, even in places where none would seem to be possible. And whoever has the power of awakening hope has also the power to change reality.
But this power of the UN will only become effective if we – that is, the states that are represented here – are convinced that the task is indeed important and urgent, if we are wise enough to simultaneously understand differences and build consensus on common values, and if we have the courage to accept the difficult and sometimes exhausting challenge of dialogue.
Brazil will participate in the intergovernmental deliberations in this Council in close contact with representatives of the civil society and inspired by a strong commitment to multilateralism, on one hand, and to a progressive humanism on the other, always in a spirit of cooperation and open to dialogue.
Thank you very much.