Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s apparent willingness to greet and negotiate with oppressive regimes was counterproductive to the world’s development. Current President Dilma Rousseff has an opportunity to break with this trend by living up to the country’s humanitarian aspirations and expectations, as evidenced in the nation’s involvement with the world’s most respected humanitarian organizations.
Brazil became a member of the UN Human Rights Council when the multilateral body was created in 2006. Brazil’s involvement with the organization has served as a platform for Brazil to contribute to important human rights matters, including resolutions offering access to medicines combating pandemics such as HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Brazil also introduced and championed initiatives to protect children rights and to combat discrimination by defending the incompatibility between democracy and racism.
Although such initiatives are noteworthy, Brazil has been less than helpful with other matters of global importance. In 2009 it stopped supporting the Council’s resolutions dealing with North Korea’s human rights violations. Brazil also refrained from standing up to the international crimes committed under Sudan’s regime. Additionally, Brazil supported Sri Lanka’s resolution, in which the massacre of over 70 thousand people during 25 years of civil war was not recognized.
Some of Brazil’s actions in Latin America have also been regretful. Being a close friend of Fidel Castro, President Lula’s government ruled against one of the most basic human rights principles — the principle of non-refoulement — when it denied asylum to two Cuban athletes who were in Rio de Janeiro during the Pan-American Games in 2007 and were forced to return to Cuba and face the local dictatorship. Soon after, President Lula was in Cuba meeting with the Castro brothers when human rights activist Orlando Zapata died after 85 days of hunger strike. President Lula failed to speak of the actvist’s prowess. When asked for his thoughts about political prisoners in Cuba, Lula compared them to members of criminal gangs from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
Affinities with dictators and aspiring dictators, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were also commonplace in Brazil’s diplomatic agenda during Lula’s administration. Brazil welcomed Hugo Chavez in numerous occasions and Lula never showed any opposition to Mr. Chavez’s intent to remain in power indefinitely. Mr. Chavez has been Venezuela’s President for 12 years and is running again for presidency next year. Additionally, Brazil’s Senate approved Venezuela as a member of MERCOSUR despite Chavez’s government clear disrespected to democratic principles and human rights freedoms.
Elsewhere, Brazil was one of the first states to recognize the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s recent elections. Brazil also approved of Iran’s efforts to pursue a nuclear program, which aims to manufacture atomic artifacts and increase the tensions threatening Israel. Furthermore, Brazil and Turkey were the only two countries to oppose the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Iran, while 12 votes approved the restrictions.
The good news is that Brazil’s new administration has indicated that it doesn’t intend to continue Lula’s human rights policies. President Dilma Rousseff, recently said in an interview to the Washington Post, that she doesn’t agree with the way Brazil voted in some of the recent resolutions at UN’s Human Rights Council and with Iran’s inhuman death penalty practice. Based on her speech, we can at least see the possibility of an improvement in Brazil’s position for international human rights topics. Although her words give us hope, her actions remain to be seen. With them, Brazil will turn this page over and it will play a better role as a leader of international human rights.