Brazil: President-Elect Lula Should Prioritize Human Rights

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Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva votes in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo state, in the presidential runoff on October 30, 2022.
© 2022 Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Brazil’s President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should prioritize the protection of human rights and reverse the serious setbacks during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro.

Former president Lula, as he is known in Brazil, was elected president with 50.9 percent of the vote in the October 30, 2022 runoff election, while President Bolsonaro received 49.1 percent, Superior Electoral Court data show. The narrow margin is equal to 2.1 million votes, while abstention fell from 21.3 percent in 2018 to 20.6 percent in 2022.

The president of the Court announced Lula as the official winner of the election. President Bolsonaro had not made any public comments on the electoral results as of 11.00 pm, Brasilia time.

Many governments around the world, including the United States, the European Union, Argentina, Ecuador, and others, quickly recognized the electoral results.

“President Bolsonaro was a disaster for human rights, both at home and abroad,” said Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “President-elect Lula should start working on a plan to reverse President Bolsonaro’s harmful policies in the areas of public security, the environment, and women´s, LGBT, and Indigenous rights, among others, and start carrying out that plan as soon as he takes office on January 1, 2023.”

In his first public statement after winning the election, President-Elect Lula called for national unity and dialogue between the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. He committed to fighting hunger, poverty, violence against women and Indigenous people, racism, and Amazon deforestation.

President-Elect Lula should work to repair the damage that President Bolsonaro has inflicted on the democratic system and the rule of law, and to strengthen judicial independence, Human Rights Watch said. He should ensure the independence of the Prosecutor’s Office, which in Brazil had been protected by a tradition of selecting an attorney general from a list of three candidates elected by prosecutors across the country. President Bolsonaro broke with that tradition by selecting a prosecutor not on the list. The attorney general, who should be independent, has been widely criticized for appearing to make decisions favoring him and weakening the fight against corruption.

President-Elect Lula should promote accountability in all Congressional budget appropriations and end the so-called “secret budget,” supported by President Bolsonaro, which redirected billions of dollars to congressional spending projects with virtually no transparency.

President-Elect Lula should lead a national effort to reverse significant learning losses during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly for Black and Indigenous children and those from lower income households, which were worsened by the Bolsonaro administration’s failure to respond to the education emergency. The president-elect should also promote comprehensive sexuality education, which the Bolsonaro administration opposed.

President-Elect Lula should also enact policies to reduce food insecurity, which increased by about 60 percent between 2018, the year before President Bolsonaro took office, and 2022, according to the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security. About 33 million people suffer severe food insecurity, the Network said. 

As president, Lula should address other chronic human rights problems that were ignored or made worse by the Bolsonaro administration. He should reverse the damage done to the agencies tasked with protecting the environment and Indigenous rights, and strengthen law enforcement to fight the destruction of the Amazon and threats and attacks against forest defenders. His administration should also increase the ambition of Brazil’s climate action plan in line with the Paris Agreement.

President-Elect Lula should dismantle barriers to access legal abortion erected by the Bolsonaro administration and promote sexual and reproductive rights in international forums. And he should develop a plan to curb police killings nationwide, in consultation with civil society and affected communities.

Reversing Bolsonaro’s harmful policies will be a very important step forward, but further measures to uphold human rights will be needed, Human Rights Watch said. These include addressing violence against women and LGBT people, decriminalizing abortion, fighting systemic racism and inequality, developing community-based services for people with disabilities, and improving prison conditions, among others.

President-Elect Lula should adopt policies that address human rights without any discrimination, without stigmatizing those who hold different political opinions, reduce polarization in society, and promote open, free public debate.

President-Elect Lula should also put forward foreign policy proposals that defend human rights consistently worldwide, regardless of the ideology of the government in question, Human Rights Watch said. For instance, his future administration should condemn the abuses committed by governments in the region, such as in  El Salvador,  Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. It should also condemn the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution  against millions of Palestinians. It should also support thorough and independent investigations into possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The Lula administration should also prioritize strengthening the Interamerican human rights system.

“President-Elect Lula should lead a government that restores the defense of democratic principles and the rule of law, after almost four years of repeated attacks against judicial and electoral authorities, and against reporters, particularly female reporters, by President Bolsonaro,” Goebertus said. “President-Elect Lula should place human rights at the center of his policies at home and abroad, and defend the rights of all, without discrimination. That would be a sea change from the Bolsonaro administration.”

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