Restriction of Civic Space Suffocates Democracy in Brazil, Says UN Rapporteur

On a mission in the country, Togolese jurist said that disinformation and attacks on dignity are limits to freedom of expression

The growing political violence —intensified after the still-unsolved murder of councilor Marielle Franco—,the proliferation of disinformation, the silencing of organized civil society, the criminalization of social movements, and the attack on journalists and traditional populations are restricting civic space in Brazil.

For the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, these are vectors of a crisis that has endangered Brazilian democracy.

A lawyer born in Togo, West Africa, Voule is mandated, among others, to monitor the guarantee of access to justice and participation in public life, a crucial freedom for any election period and which seems to be significantly threatened in Brazil today.

Sao Paulo, SP, BRASIL, 08-04-2022: Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule (Foto: Eduardo Knapp/ Folhapress, PODER). - Folhapress

​"I condemn any measure that restricts social and political participation, such as the restriction on the public consultation on policies and decision-making processes, illustrated by the closing of 650 councils in the country", he points out. "And also by the excessive use of force during protests and police operations in Brazil. The lack of a public and unified protocol for the security forces has generated human rights violations."

For him, political violence in the country has a racial and gender profile, affecting more forcefully among black women, especially those linked to the LGBTQIA+ community. "When anyone's political participation puts their life at risk, it's because they're killing democracy."

Voule claims that the disinformation movement and orchestrated attack linked to the increased use of social media in Brazil go beyond freedom of expression. "Its limits are disinformation and respect for the rights and dignity of others. Freedom of expression allows you to raise concerns and criticize something or someone, but it does not give you permission to misinform or attack the rights of others. others or their dignity. Hate speech violates fundamental freedoms and rights."

Harassment and the attack on dignity have occurred "frequently against professional journalists, particularly women who have been the target of smear campaigns, particularly by messaging apps."

For him, "this environment of violence was intensified by arming the population. The law that facilitated the purchase of weapons and ammunition contributes to this climate of fear around the elections."

Voule was in Brazil at the beginning of April, on a mission that lasted 12 days. The period was tight for visits to communities in Salvador, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. And for the agenda with authorities from the Judiciary and the Prosecutor's Office, parliamentarians and ministers, among whom the absence of the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, called attention.

Less than two weeks, however, were enough for the rapporteur to witness the arrival in Congress of a presidential proposal to increase the anti-terrorism law, which threatens social movements, and the attempt to censor the political manifestation of artists during the Lollapalooza festival.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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