Racism remains pervasive in Brazil though the black community is estimated to constitute between 50 and 60 percent of the country's population. As evidence of the systemic effects of racism in Brazil, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
has called special attention to the high illiteracy rate among blacks, relegating many of them to employment in low paying jobs such as street sweepers and domestic workers. And, while Brazilian law states that racism is a punishable crime, few blacks have the education or economic resources to pursue their rights.
In 1988, a provision of the new Brazilian Constitution that criminalized racial discrimination changed the Black Movement's traditional distrust of the state and view of the law as an officially sanctioned tool for oppression. Many Afro-Brazilian groups began to work with the government to seek legal redress for racially motivated crimes, using the 1988 Constitution and secondary legislation to promote racial equality. The 1988 Constitution also provides for the direct incorporation of international human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Race Convention), into the domestic legal order.
Despite the legislative provisions of Brazil's constitution and the country's ratification of Race Convention, too few police, prosecutors and judges recognize the seriousness of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and little attention has been paid to the possibility of finding civil remedies for racial discrimination. Consequently, few racial-discrimination cases actually come to court (few of which are punished).
Drawing on our experience with other Afro-descendent communities in Latin America and our 22-years of strategic human rights advocacy and lawyering within the Inter-American system, IHRLG trains Afro-Brazilian lawyers in using UN mechanisms to combat racial discrimination, invites human rights leaders to participate in our annual international advocacy training program, Advocacy Bridge, helps local leaders amplify the voice of the black community within the international arena, and facilitates networking between local groups.
Recent examples of our Brazil program activities include
- Preparing Afro-Brazilian NGOs for effective participation in the 2001 World Conference Against Racism and inviting an activist from Salvador to voice her experience of racial discrimination in IHRLG's Voices Forum held during the World Conference.
- Training 18 Afro-Brazilian lawyers in ways to incorporate the language, techniques and procedures of the Race Convention into their legal work and advocacy efforts.
- As part of our overall efforts to help Afro-Latino groups combat racism, IHRLG proposed an article on racial discrimination for inclusion in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Our advocacy, and the initiative of other NGOs involved in the document elaboration process, resulted in IHRLG's proposal becoming Article 9 of the Charter adopted by the Organization of American States in September 2001.