Q&A: 'Brazil's Foreign Aid Must Include Respect for Human Rights'

  • Fabíola Ortiz interviews ATILA ROQUE, head of Amnesty International in Brazil (rio de janeiro)
  • Wednesday, November 30, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

Rio de Janeiro was chosen as the location for the first Brazilian office of the London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International.

Atila Roque, the 52-year-old head of the new Amnesty office, talked to IPS about the organisation's agenda in this country, the scope of its action, and how it will monitor the human rights situation.

Q: What are the first actions Amnesty International (AI) will take in Brazil? A: We're still getting established. I have just taken up my post, after spending 10 years away from Brazil, and the team is still small.

In the next four months we will concentrate on two broad fronts: the physical structuring of the office, and talking to social actors in the private sector and in government, as well as lawmakers and the media.

Opening a permanent AI mission in Brazil has raised great expectations, and now it is time for us to listen. There are many social demands regarding human rights in the country.

Q: Which of your plans have the highest priority? A: Promoting the human rights agenda in Brazil, and building a culture for the defence of those rights.

We are planning work in three main areas. One is the situation in the prisons, public security and justice.

The second is the connection between development and human rights, like the changes in urban spaces as a result of the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. These events draw a great deal of attention, nationally and internationally, and they provide an opportunity to redesign urban spaces in favour of social inclusion.

Finally we are going to monitor the impact of large infrastructure projects, such as big hydroelectric power complexes, on rural and indigenous populations.

Q: What do you think about the way the authorities are dealing with criminal vigilante groups ('militias' made up of off-duty and former police, prison guards, and firefighters) who act outside the law in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro? A: The so-called militias are the public security issue that is the greatest challenge to the state and to society. We will monitor the problem closely, as it is an urgent matter and a central issue for democracy.

These criminal groups have killed a judge and threatened the life of Rio state lawmaker Marcelo Freixo (who campaigned against the militias). We are very concerned. We will demand state protection for him and for everyone in a similar situation.

Human rights activists are in a very vulnerable situation in Brazil. There is an atmosphere of impunity and great indifference on the part of society, which accepts the situation (of lawless violence) as though it were normal.

Q: What do you think about the launching of the Police Pacification Units (UPP) that are tasked with eliminating drug trafficking from Rio's favelas and making them safe? A: The UPPs are innovative because they have switched the focus of the security forces from repression to crime prevention and services for citizens. They deserve our attention and respect, but they are an emergency measure, not the broad reform of public security that is crucially needed.

Reform of the police forces is a wider issue, and requires cooperation between different state bodies. Security should be seen as a right, and so should external oversight of the police.

Q: Does AI intend to monitor Brazil's actions on the international stage? A: We will check on Brazil's role in the world and its promotion of rights on a global scale. The country's foreign aid policy should be guided by the framework of respect for human rights.

We will pay attention to Brazil's position on several international issues, for example the cases of Iran and Syria.

We will also be paying special attention to transfers of public funds via the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) to Brazilian companies for their operations in countries in places like Africa. Brazil must align its policy choices abroad with human rights provisions in the international treaties it has signed.

The positions adopted by Brazil in international organisations such as the United Nations, the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging economies, and the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are also of interest to AI.

We are in permanent contact with the Foreign Ministry with regard to Brazil's development strategy abroad, and we feel the authorities are interested in maintaining this dialogue.

However, there is still very little up-to-date information about the country's foreign aid programme, especially in Africa, where reporting of Brazilian donations is still very fragmented.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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