After four years of a conflicted and controversial relationship with the UN, the Brazilian government began a process of normalizing its participation in the international arena and in the debate on human rights.
The Minister of Human Rights, Silvio Almeida, concluded his first mission over the weekend to reintroduce Brazil to the international community, proliferating meetings with the UN summit, governments and special rapporteurs and abandoning the ideological discourse that had marked the previous administration.
There were 15 meetings and a strategic choice for asking for a new dialogue with the heads of each of the main organizations of the United Nations system, in addition to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
During the visits, Silvio Almeida started the dismantling of Bolsonarist foreign policy and proposed a new relationship with the UN. To this end, it signaled the country’s openness to receiving missions to examine the human rights crisis in Brazil and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to multilateralism. He also defended considering the reality of emerging and poor countries, a speech that was warmly received by Latin Americans, Africans and Asians.
One of the guests to visit Brazil was the UN High Commissioner, Volker Turk, a turnaround in the relationship between the institution and the country marked in the last four years by attacks by Brasília against any comment made by the United Nations summit on topics such as police violence, situation of indigenous people, executions and threats against activists and racism.
Silvio Almeida also made it clear that Brazil is open to receiving the UN’s report on the Independence of the Judiciary and Lawyers and set out the country’s participation in international initiatives.
For interlocutors at the United Nations, the “new Brazil” is both a relief and a strategic piece in the organizations’ effort to prevent the continuation of a process of setbacks of human rights in the world.
Diplomatic sources admit that there are worries and doubts about the government’s ability to actually implement all the announced changes. The position of the Lula government in cases of human rights violations in other countries, as in the case of Nicaragua, also hovers as a question.
But, at first, the international community’s bet is that it can once again count on Brazil in the debate. Not by chance, in the private meetings that he had, the minister almost always heard the same request from international entities: Brazil’s cooperation in the defense of fundamental values that, today, are threatened.
Under Jair Bolsonaro, Itamaraty and the Human Rights portfolio were instrumentalized to allow the extreme right agenda to be established as a guideline. As of 2019, Brazil broke with traditional positions, abandoned a voting pattern that had guided foreign policy for decades, redefined its priorities and became one of the main voices in the dismantling of a progressive vision of human rights.
Trump passes the baton to Bolsonaro
Brazil’s role in defending ultraconservatism became even stronger when, in 2021, Donald Trump left the US government. In an email sent in January of that year to supporters and institutions, the then undersecretary for the Family of the US government, Valerie Huber, signaled that the reactionary alliance established by Washington with partners around the world would, from that moment on, be led by Brazil.
What followed was a permanent refusal by the Bolsonaro government to accept international criticism.
Behind the scenes of the UN and foreign governments, such a posture destroyed the country’s credibility and made Brazil an uncomfortable presence in international bodies.
In internal documents produced by the transition team of the Lula government, the finding was the same:
“Over the past four years, Brazil has distanced itself from some of its historical positions in terms of human rights and from the very constitutional mandate that determines that Brazil’s international relations must be governed by the principles “of the prevalence of human rights; of non-intervention, repudiation of terrorism and racism”, pointed out the report produced by the transition team and which involved diplomats and former ministers.
“Since redemocratization, the country has been guided by the defense of the indivisibility of human rights and the selectivity of its political use, a balanced and constructive attitude that favored cooperation and dialogue as tools for the promotion and protection of human rights,” he said.
“The Bolsonaro government abandoned the leading role in international agendas dear to the interests of national development, such as the right to health, the right to adequate food, gender and racial equality, and facing all forms of violence and discrimination“, he said.
Silvio Almeida, therefore, landed at the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, to show that Brazil would resume its international posture of defending flags such as the fight against racism and democracy, but that the country’s return would also mean a new posture in defense of new flags and the expansion of rights.
For foreign diplomats, symbolic was the fact that the delegation led by the Afro-descendant prime minister to hold the position was also composed of the transvestite from Pará Symmy Larrat, head of the National Secretariat for the Rights of LGBTQIA+ People of the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship.
With Damares Alves as head of the portfolio, a large part of the Brazilian strategy was aimed at reinforcing issues such as religion and family, pillars of the far right agenda which, with such guidelines, camouflaged an excluding view of human rights.
“The change in diplomatic discourse and the clumsy participation in ultraconservative alliances went hand in hand with the dismantling of domestic public policies, especially with regard to gender equality, sexual and reproductive rights, and minority rights. bias of the right to freedom of religion and belief, which failed to confront religious discrimination, mainly against religions of African origin”, completed the survey of the transition team.
For sources in Geneva, therefore, Brazil signals the resumption of its traditional position of defense of human rights, which should be translated into a strengthening of the country’s position as an interlocutor.
A thermometer of this new moment was the event promoted by the Brazilian government on the margins of the Council. In a room full of foreign governments, UN representatives and civil society, the Brazilian delegation presented in detail what are their views on some of the main challenges facing the country and the world.
In the evaluation of foreign diplomats, Silvio Almeida managed to start a process of reversing the crisis of confidence that the country was experiencing in the scenario. For many, it remains to be seen whether it will have the budget and political strength in the government’s internal debate to lead the transformation it proposes to carry out.
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