A Judge for Humankind Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade

The recognition of a global shift in international affairs is marked by the passing of Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade. His quest to pursue of the emancipation of those most vulnerable from oppression, including refugees, minorities, indigenous people, the environment, was articulated as the manifestation of a universal juridical conscience. He explained how human rights violations had a transcendental scope of traumatic impact upon individuals beyond the time of detention, the suffering of the families of victims subject to forced disappearance or torture, and the anguish of societies denied reconciliation after internal conflict via structures of impunity seeking to bury historical recognition of atrocity crimes. His analysis grounded the evolution of human rights law through articulation of the right to truth, the right to a life’s project, and characterization of non-discrimination as a jus cogens norm, as well as recognition of the rights to peace and development. He supported the aim of achieving a world committed to disarmament and protection of the common heritage of mankind. He warned that the focus on individual criminal accountability should not distract from the equally important recognition of state accountability of atrocity crimes. Fundamentally, he viewed the role of the international judge as carrying a responsibility to create spaces of freedom for individuals and marginalized groups in the face of repression thereby humanizing international law. I had the privilege of interviewing him in 2011 and his illuminating perspectives are available here.

Go On! Book Discussion: The Construction of the Customary Law of Peace, Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Latin America Interest Group invites you to join us for a discussion oThe Construction of the Customary Law of Peace: Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, written by Professor Cecilia Marcela Bailliet, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo Faculty of Law on Wednesday May 11th at 11 a.m. EST on Zoom, the video is available here

The book explores the emerging construction of a customary law of peace in Latin America and the developing jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It traces the evolution of peace as both an end and a means: from a negative form, i.e. the absence of violence, to a positive form that encompasses equality, non-discrimination and social justice, including gendered perspectives on peace.

Speakers:

  • Professor Cecilia Marcela Bailliet (author), Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo Faculty of Law
  • Professor Jorge Contesse (discussant), Rutgers Law School
  • Laura Zielinski (moderator), Holland & Knight LLP

This session is organized by ASIL’s Latin America Interest Group and is cosponsored by the Center for Transnational Law at Rutgers Law School.

Date: 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 – 11:00am to 12:00pm

For More Information 

UN Special Rapporteurship on Afghanistan

On Friday 1 April, the UN Human Rights Council relinquished an opportunity to put talk into action and send an important message to the Taliban by appointing what would have been the first woman UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.   (All those who held the position during its previous existence from 1984-2005 were men.)  

The UN Consultative Group, the body that screens Special Rapporteur applications (made up this year of three men and a woman, representing El Salvador, Malaysia, South Africa and Canada), had short-listed five candidates: four women — three of whom are Muslim or of Muslim heritage — and a man.  As the candidates’ applications show, all five short-listed candidates were well-qualified, all five had relevant experience, and several had considerable direct experience in Afghanistan and other conflict zones.   

CONSULTATIVE GROUP REPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Short-listed Candidates for the Position of
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

First nameLast nameNationalityGender
LeilaALIKARAMIIslamic Republic of IranF
RichardBENNETTNew ZealandM
KarimaBENNOUNEUnited States of AmericaF
KamalaCHANDRAKIRANAIndonesiaF
Kimberley Cy.MOTLEYUnited States of AmericaF

Despite having such highly qualified women candidates for the position . . . the Human Rights Council appointed the only man on the shortlist.  Curiously, in sending its recommendations of candidates to the Council president, the Consultative Group significantly understated relevant experience in its bios of the two women finalists among the final three (Leila Alikarami and Karima Bennoune), even omitting any mention of one candidate’s direct experience in Afghanistan.

Moreover, there was virtually no mention of women’s human rights in the Consultative Group’s entire report on this mandate (except for a brief reference in Alikarami’s bio) — including no mention of any experience at all that the candidate they ranked first might have in this area.   This despite the fact that the Council resolution creating the mandate emphasizes women’s rights and calls on the use of a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate.    

The new mandate-holder, Richard Bennett, does have considerable experience on and commitment to human rights in Afghanistan, and deserves support in his critically important work.  The statement in his application that if appointed he would give priority to the human rights of women and girls is welcome indeed.  One wonders about the message the Human Rights Council sends, though, as it joins a long list of countries and organizations that are sending all-male delegations to Kabul.  The timing is especially unfortunate coming a week after the Taliban refused to reopen secondary schools for girls, reneging on an earlier pledge to do so.     

Anti-LGBTQ+ Protests in Hungary: Limiting Representations of Homosexuality to Minors

In June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament amended various laws that limit the spread of information regarding homosexuality and sex reassignment (H&SR) for juveniles and school children. Among other things, the law: 1) prohibits minors from accessing material encouraging or depicting H&SR or any other type of deviance from one’s sex designated at birth; 2) forbids delivering instruction about the aforesaid information and restricts sex education in registered organizations; and 3) forbids broadcasts exhibiting H&SR while bringing a new rating – Category V (not intended for children) – to any such programming. On August 6, 2021, the scope of this decree was expanded to include places near churches and also in schools. 

These modifications are due to rising anti-LGBTQ+ views, which fall on the heels of previous legislative backsliding, including: 1) restrictions on same-sex marriage, as well as the heteronormative definition of conjugal relationships and family groups (2013); 2) university prohibitions on gender studies (2018); 3) denial of official gender acknowledgment by substituting ‘gender’ with ‘sex at birth’ in the Civil Registry (2020); and 4) the constitutional restriction on child adoption for unmarried adults (2020). 

Despite repeated requests from the European Commission (EC) and many European Union (EU) legislators, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban’s government refused to remove the modifications. This comes after international condemnation of Hungary’s apparent association of sexual and gender identity [“SGI”] with pornography and pedophilia. In reaction, the EC has initiated a “rule of law” action against the Hungarian administration, claiming a breach of the values of dignity and equality as mentioned under Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Violations are likely to occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Article 1 [dignity], 7 [expression & information], 11 [respect for private life], and 21 [non-discrimination] of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for failing to substantiate the damage that such exposure has brought to children’s general well-being;
  2. Article 34 & 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU by failing to show that the limitations were properly reasoned, non-discriminatory, and ;
  3. Article 3 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which imposes excessive and discriminatory constraints on the open dissemination of audio-visual media across borders; and 
  4. Disproportionate limitations on ‘information community services’ from other Member State under Article 3 of the E-Commerce Directive. Those limits may be enforced for the ‘safeguard of juveniles’ if there is a detriment to the cause or a substantial and grave danger of harm.
  5. Article 10 [ right to freedom of expression] & 14 [ right to non-discrimination] of the European Convention of Human Rights for limiting free discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation out of concern of ‘brainwashing youngsters’, and for expressly labeling LGBTQ+ material as undesirable and immoral.

The latest law of the Hungarian Parliament prohibits problems relating to the LGBTQIA+ population from being presented on prime time media. This has  the consequence of entirely eliminating the opinions of the community from public debate, thereby depriving them of their right to be heard. Similarly, while the amendments affected the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, their opinions were largely ignored during the legislative process. Furthermore, by prohibiting the simple representation of homosexuality to children, the legislation seeks to obscure the population. The purposeful obfuscation of the LGBTQIA+ population undermines its presence in society. As a consequence, familiarity and behaviorals standards are not sufficiently formed, thereby causing the interplay to be defined by the status quo inequality. 

Similar to Russia’s controversial ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law [2013], which, prohibited minors from being encouraged to engage in ‘non-traditional sexual unions,’ these modifications must be subjected to the same level of worldwide outrage and examination. Russian legislation made it illegal to make public declarations or posts about SGI, resulting in the imprisonment of numerous gay rights advocates. The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) found an infringement of Article 10 [freedom of expression] & 14 [non-discrimination] following the petition of three such advocates. While the Russian government contended that societal acceptance of homosexuality was inconsistent with Russian societal norms and family ideals, the ECtHR cited a broad European agreement concerning the acknowledgment of gender identity and self-determination. The ECtHR found that the administration had failed to show how open homosexuality would have an adverse influence on Russian family ideals and norms. On the contrary, the Court found that sharing impartial information and scientific on SGI has a good impact on public health care and awareness. The right to exhaustive and non-discriminatory sexual education [Article 28], the right to acquire and transmit knowledge and thoughts of all forms [Article 13], and the right to receive contents targeted at devotional, social, physical well-being, and moral [Article 17] are all guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which binds both Hungary and Russia. The ECtHR stated in a detailed dissection of the claims made by Russian attorneys, by passing such laws, the Russian government promotes discrimination and ecnourages hompobhia, which is inconsistent with the values of fairness, diversity, and tolerance in a democratic country”. 

Opponents have compared the amendments with this propaganda, which according to independent experts has exacerbated societal hatred and fueled vigilante assaults against LGBT persons in the EU’s eastern neighbour. Nevertheless, if left unaddressed, the implications of these institutional reforms in Hungary could be disastrous. For one, this kind of nationalist discourse creates in-groups and out-groups, gaining support by inventing imagined concerns to the nation-state.  As a result, the LGBTQ+ group is regarded as a domestic threat as well as a foreign impact. The introduction of the phrase ‘gender ideology’ implies a refusal of fundamental sexual liberty and privacy rights. Conservative nationalists frequently give the phrase a stereotyped connotation, blaming it on so-called ‘Western liberal innovations’ of transgenderism, gender flexibility, and feminism, etc. 

As evidenced by multiple empirical studies performed over the last decade, Hungary’s persistent and intrusive effort against the LGBTQ+ community has left the population incredibly insecure in their own country. In 2010 & 2017, the Hatter Society conducted a comprehensive survey, finding that LGBTQ+ students face constant discrimination in schools.  According to a 2010 study [n=1991], 1 in every 5 students has faced discrimination at school. As per the findings of a 2017 survey, in an online poll of 928 LGBTQ+ students aged 13 to 21, more than 51% & 70% of participants indicated they had heard transphobic and homophobic statements from other classmates, professors, and school personnel regularly or often in the prior school session, respectively. In fact, 35% of those polled stated that the school officials never interfered. In addition, approximately 64% had experienced vocal and 22% had experienced physical abuse at school s due to their sexual identity. More than 56% of individuals who had revealed their sexual identity had been verbally abused (and 19% physically abused) in the prior school session. 

These emotions of uneasiness and insecurity at school can have a negative impact on an individual’s potential to not only achieve academically but also to create effective connections with classmates and participate in intra/inter-school activities. As per the Millennium Cohort Study, prejudice in academic institutions, resulting in a nearly threefold increase in degrees of depression, low-life contentment, and self-harm characteristics in LGBTQ+ adults as contrary to non-LGBTQ+ adults. This not only hinders physical and emotional development, but the atmosphere of disinformation and a lack of discussion produces a stagnant repressive environment for future generations. 

Hungary’s amendments, on the other hand, are certain to collide with the same legal currents that brought down its Russian equivalent. The post-COVID-19 rehabilitation package earmarked for Budapest [a sum of about 7.2 Billion Euros] has been vetoed by the European Commission. While PM Orban contends that the same is true in the case of the LGBTQ+ policy, the European Union has repetitively reiterated that it is founded on Hungary’s failure to follow through on anti-corruption and autonomous judiciary commitments. Hungary, therefore, has only a few months to answer to the European Commission and confronts imminent dangers of being directed to the European Court of Justice for a judgment. As an instant response, Orban pledged to hold a national vote on issues like facilitating gender identity workshops, the accessibility, and promotion of gender reassignment surgery, as well as the exposure of information that may influence a child’s gender identity. Nonetheless, no referendum has been conducted as of October 2021, with questions about its legitimacy still lingering. 

Persistent prejudices and the execution of prohibited legislation, as demonstrated in Russia’s history, are frequently unaffected by the simple favorable outcome of such judicial procedures. It is critical, then, to keep a constant eye out for such new and hidden forms of social tyranny. 

CONCLUSION

The proposed legislative reforms are in violation of international and European human rights principles. Hungary has failed to fulfil its obligations as a member state by passing this law that targets homosexuals. The major argument given for doing so is to ensure that the mental and moral development is preserved. Moreover, in the matter of Alekseyev vs Russia, the ECtHR specifically stated that there is no scientific evidence to support the conclusion that the simple mention of homosexuality has a negative influence on children. The modifications leave no room for anything except one-sided and biased education, allowing stigmatisation and harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals to flourish.

Past Time for Respect for Indigenous Peoples and the Environment

Despite the challenges of 2021, it closed with some important milestones. At long last, the U.N. Human Rights Council recognized “the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” and appointed a Special Rapporteur to focus on rights in the context of climate change. Additionally, the U.S. officially designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11. President Biden’s proclamation acknowledges “the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities” and celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ “resilience and strength” and “immeasurable positive impact . . . on every aspect of American society.”

Violence against Indigenous Peoples and nature is deeply intertwined. For generations, Indigenous lands have been exploited as a “hunting ground” for resources with colonialism propped up by racial and gender hierarchies. In the U.S., Native American and Alaska Native women experience sexual assault at a rate 2.5 times higher than other women, with 86% of perpetrators non-Native men. For example, the oil boom in the Bakken region brought a 75% increase in sexual assaults and a 53% increase in violence with the influx of hundreds of transient male workers, housed in “Man Camps” near Indian territories. Moreover, with strained infrastructure and Indian tribes lacking jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian defendants, there is often no accountability. Indigenous leaders have highlighted the link between sovereignty over land and bodily autonomy.

Against this backdrop of abuse, the climate crisis is displacing Indigenous communities at increasing rates and leading to economic instability, land disputes, and disruptions in social safety nets, contributing to increased risk of gender-based violence. Moreover, Indigenous leaders have been at the forefront of sounding the alarm on climate change and may also experience violence as retaliation for their actions as human rights defenders confronting environmental degradation. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Indigenous Peoples, aggravating preexisting inequalities and resulting in heightened rates of infection and  increased environmental degradation, economic insecurity, and gender-based violence, threatening Indigenous cultures. 

Continue reading

Women Refugees and Gender Persecution

The UN AudioVisual Library invited me to give a lecture on Women Refugees and Gender Persecution. It gives an overview of gender-based violence, the context of forced migration faced by women, the application of the due diligence principle in Refugee Status Determination, assessment of risk, evidentiary issues, credibility determination, gender-related persecution, nexus to protection categories, and the application of cessation clauses and the Internal Flight Alternative. It will be made available on March 7th on the eve of International Women’s Day! Please check the UN AVL website

The Human Rights Brief of American University Washington College of Law published my article titled Examination of the Effects of Deportation as a Result of Revocation of Status Upon the Rights to Non-Discrimination, Family Unity, and the Best Interests of the Child: An Empirical Case from Norway, This article discusses the European and Nordic trend of non-European/Schengen nationals to their countries of origin or transit countries and implementing deportation as a principal mechanism of immigration control. It examines a particular case from Norway resulting from a review of cases involving select nationalities extending back in time beyond five years. This review identified persons who lied about their country of nationality and were subject to revocation of status and deportation in spite of their ties to family and integration within the community. The article discusses the role of the judiciary as a resistant gatekeeper to international human rights, in particular the right to family unity and the best interests of the child, as well as the right to non-discrimination. It calls for reform of review of old cases based on nationality, instead acting only an individualized security risk assessment and the adoption of a human rights based approach to revocation and deportation.

International Solidarity

Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet has been chosen to Chair the Expert Advisory Group to the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity Obiora Okafor. Together with other members of the group, Bailliet will prepare a report and suggest revisions to the current draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

In addition to Bailliet, the group consists of Professor Obijiofor Aginam of the UN University, Professor Mihir Kanade of the University of Peace in Costa Rica, Professor. Vesselin Popovski of the Jindal Global Law School, and Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales of Temple University.

The group will present its report and recommendations for a revised draft in April 2022 to the Independent Expert who then will share with key states within the UN Human Rights Council in order to make a presentation to the Council for adoption.

The group benefits from the findings provided by the research assistance of UiO law students Solveig Hodnemyr and Julie Skomakerstuen Larsen and Johns Hopkins University student Jeff Baek. The right to solidarity is described as being part of “the second wave of third generation rights” including the right to peace (adopted as a Declaration by the UN General Assembly); the right to development (currently being drafted as a convention); and the right to a healthy environment (recognized by the UN Human Rights Council).

This work complements Professor Bailliet’s current project editing the Research Handbook on International Solidarity to be published by Edward Elgar 2022-23; it includes chapters by other women scholars (including Jaya Ramji-Nogales): Beate Sjåfjell, Alla Pozdnakova, Vasuki Nesiah, Sylvia Bawa, Usha Natarajan, Elizabeth Salmon, Karin Frode and Shyami Puvimanasinghe.

For those of you attending the 2022 ASIL Conference virtually, there will be a session on solidarity in Track 6 on Competing Values of International Law. This roundtable will include Noura Erakat, Maha Hillal, Azadeh Shashahani, Nia Houston, and Cecilia Bailliet.

ECtHR’s Lost Opportunities in its Transformative Rulings: Queer Interpretation of Right to Privacy and Protection from Discrimination

European Court of Human Rights © Christian Lemâle

Previous year the European Court of Human Rights [‘the Court’ or ‘ECtHR’] delivered some significant rulings strengthening ECtHR’s jurisprudence on Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [‘Convention’] concerning Queer rights. The author in this article revisits three rulings of the ECtHR to argue that, nevertheless of being progressive rulings, the Court did fall short in addressing some major issues.

Firstly, in AM v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russian Court violated Trans individual’s rights under Article 8 read with Article 14 of the Convention by ending all contact between a trans woman and her children without a balanced and reasonable assertion of the legitimate interests [see here & here].

In the AM case, the Russian authorities and the applicant’s wife argued that the applicant is suffering from Transsexualism and further contended that the applicant’s intention to disclose her gender transition information to her children will impact their mental health and psychological development. This institutionalised prejudice of Russian authorities, nevertheless of ‘homosexuality propaganda law’ being held as unconstitutional in the state, exacerbates the ‘vicious wheel’ connected with prejudiced perceptions against trans individuals and a lack of education and awareness on Queer rights. The Court fails to address this elephant in the room, that how these prejudiced notions could impact the children’s education and perception about their parent’s gender identity.

When addressing the ‘best interests of the children’s, the Court had the chance to conceptualise the children’s right to non-discrimination on the grounds of their parents’ gender identity under Article 2 Convention on the Rights of the Child [‘CRC’], and the right to preserve personal relations and direct communication with both parents continuously under Article 9/3 CRC. Further, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no. 14 also stipulates their right to receive information on Queer Community challenges as well as gender identity and transition under Article 13 CRC and the right to education under Article 28 and, Article 29 of the CRC. Arguably, the ECtHR could have delved into significant length concerning the challenges with utilizing negative preconceptions about transgender individuals to rationalize restraining relationships and communication between transgender parents and their children.

In the second ruling, the Fedotova v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russia’s failure to provide same-sex couples with the opportunity to have their relationships formally acknowledged in form of a marriage, or in any other form is in violation of Article 8 & 10 [see here and here].

Nevertheless, the application was brought for recognition of same-sex marriage, the Court doesn’t feel adequate to discuss Article 12 [‘right to marry’] anywhere in the ruling. The Court concluded that the moral views of the majority cannot be used to deny sexual minorities access to forms of legal recognition. Taking reference from queer interpretations of the ECHR (here and here), which consider the inherent heteronormative (i.e. bi-genderism) notion of most of the Convention’s rights and how to transgress this dialectic. Regardless of the fact (which is still unclear), whether the applicant didn’t include Article 12 or not, the Court itself could have incorporated Article 12 of its own volition.

Not only Supreme Courts of other jurisdictions [the US and South Africa] but also the international institutions like Inter American Court of Human Rights [‘IACtHR’] have rejected the anti-majoritarian notion. It can be argued, that the Court’s rationale of Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, i.e. the appreciation of the majority opinion, remains viable. Furthermore, it can be argued that the ECtHR entirely embraces Article 12’s “heterosexual structure,” principally rendering the article inapplicable to same-sex relationships.

The second issue is the necessity of the non-discrimination principle under Article 14. The applicants did claim on Article 14, however, the Court concluded that it was not relevant because it heretofore ruled the violation of Article 8. Since Dudgeon v. UK, it has been a well-established tenet of the ECtHR that rules that discrimination does not need to be investigated if it is not “a crucial element of the case“. It is unrealistic to contend that the lack of legal recognition does not have a severe discriminatory intent in a nation where same-sex individuals are continuously stigmatised and marginalised, where even the Constitutional Court supported the law on prohibition on “homosexuality propaganda.”

Lastly, in the  X v. Poland case, the Court ruled that there had been a violation of Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention after the domestic courts had refused to grant custody of the child on the grounds of the mother’s sexual orientation [on mother’s relationship with another woman].

Nevertheless, the observations that the Court concluded in its rationale, which was first observed in the Hoffmann v. Austria and have been repetitively reaffirmed in many of its rulings about allegations of discriminatory treatment against divorced parents, the Court overlooked an outstanding opportunity to state unequivocally that a parent’s sexual orientation does not influence their parental capabilities. The Court could have gone a step forward like it did in Vojnity v. Hungary, where the Court made clear that parents’ religious beliefs per se cannot influence their capacity to raise their children.

In Atala Riffo v. Chile, the IACtHR concluded that the Chilean Courts’ judgement to take children from their homosexual mother’s custody based on her sexual orientation was discriminatory, emphasising that ‘an abstract reference to the child’s best interest… without specific proof of the risks or damage to children that could result from the mother’s sexual orientation’ is not acceptable’

What is more disappointing is that the third-party intervention also highlighted Poland inequalities and prejudices in legal and practical matters concerning rainbow families and the attitude towards the Queer community being negative and Queerphobic. Later, the same was also emphasized by Judge Wojtyczek in his dissenting opinion. However, the Court still neglected to address this concern.

Conclusion: The Test Continues

These judgements are undoubtedly significant and are progressive in protecting trans parents’ rights, same-sex marriage recognition and discrimination on gender identity & sexual orientation. The author doesn’t question their contribution, however, the abovementioned arguments do signify the ECtHR’s inherent narrow approach in Queer Interpretation of Article 8 and 14. The ECtHR’s upcoming opportunities here, here and here, will further demonstrate the extent to which the Court is inclined to tread unprecedented ground in terms of acknowledging rainbow family relationships.

“Conflicting areas”: Brazilian energy planning at odds with the protection of Indigenous Peoples and the Amazon Rainforest

Fernanda Frizzo Bragato*

Lara Santos Zangerolame Taroco*


Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest globally, and Brazil is home of 60% of its full extension. Although the Amazon rainforest is an essential global repository of carbon, mitigating climate change,[i] it also awakens deep economic interests, given its potential in untapped natural resources and rich biodiversity. 

The advancement of deforestation in the region backs to the 1960s, when the military took power and adopted economic plans to develop and integrate the Amazon into the rest of the country.[ii] In that period, the government boosted the opening of roads, the discovery of minerals, and the beginning of agricultural colonization in region.[iii] For instance, the herd grew from just 2 million in 1970 to around 80 million heads in 2010. Until 1975, deforestation affected less than 1% of the forest, reaching almost 19% in 2013. Social conflicts caused by violent land tenure disputes also intensified in the late 20th century due to the increasing availability of lands through recently opened roads and the intensification of land grabbing. [iv]   

In the civil-military dictatorship, studies discovered “the existence of an immense hydraulic potential in the Amazon region, mainly on the Tocantins and Xingu rivers.” [v]  The government then initiated the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the region, marked by environmental impacts and violation of the indigenous rights.

Since then, Brazil has been largely relying on hydropower as the main source of electricity generation.[vi] According to the National Energy Plan – 2050 (thereinafter PNE 2050), [vii] which came out in 2020, hydroelectricity supplied almost 2/3 of the electricity demand in October 2019.[viii]

In 1988, the new Constitution restricted the exploitation of hydroelectric resources in Indigenous lands, and environmental legislation established protected biodiversity zones. Convention no. 169 of the ILO, ratified by Brazil in 2002,[ix] reinforced this restriction by providing the FPIC with indigenous peoples before undertaking, or authorizing, any resources’ exploitation within their lands.

Brazil also ratified, in 1998, the Convention on Biological Diversity,[x] and created the National System of Nature Conservation Units in 2000, which established several Conservation Units. In 2004, Brazil reserved more than 500 thousand square kilometers for new Conservation Units. This effort resulted in an expressive reduction in deforestation, which fell from almost 28 thousand square kilometers in 2004 to around 5.8 thousand square kilometers in 2013.[xi]

Nonetheless, the electricity plans continued to prescribe hydroelectricity as the primary energy source, including its exploitation in protected areas, such as Amazonian Indigenous lands and conservation units.

The 2030 National Energy Plan (thereinafter PNE 2030), published in 2007,[xii] identified hydroelectric energy as the main source of energy generation, contributing for 79% of total generation, and 70% of the Brazilian energy potential in the Amazon and Tocantins/Araguaia basins. The document mentioned the existence of “issues” to be solved by the National Congress, citing as an example the possibility of “exploitation of energy potential in Indigenous lands”. [xiii]

In addition, the Decennial Energy Expansion Plan 2006-2015 (thereinafter PDEE 2006-2015)[xiv] pointed out that 41% of the Amazon Biome’s total area comprises “conflicting areas.” This expression refers to legally protected areas that make it impossible or difficult to expand energy production. Of the 41% mentioned, 16% are Conservation Units, and 25% are Indigenous lands. Moreover, neither the PDEE 2006-2015 nor the PNE 2030 mentioned Indigenous demands for more land demarcations in the Amazon. The non-demarcation of Indigenous lands leads the main claims and conflicts involving Indigenous Peoples in Brazil.[xv]

The Growth Acceleration Program (thereinafter PAC),[xvi] formulated by the Federal Government in 2007, provided energy infrastructure as one of its four pillars. The PAC maintained the creation of the Belo Monte HPP, and planned to build another 31 plants in the country’s northern region. Recently, the PNE 2050 also predicted the high participation of hydroelectricity as the country’s primary energy source.

Unlike the previous plans, the PNE 2050 mentions the “socio-environmental complexity for hydroelectric expansion,” [xvii] given that the hydroelectric potential is located predominantly in “areas of high socio-environmental sensitivity, especially in the Amazon region, which has half of its extension covered by legally protected areas.”[xviii]

According to the PNE 2050, 77% of the identified hydroelectric potential overlap with legally protected areas in the national territory, such as Indigenous lands or conservation units. Only 23% of the potential capacity of hydroelectric plants does not overlap with protected areas, which makes it difficult to reconcile “the purposes of a Conservation Unit with the expansion of energy supply.” [xix]  However, the PNE 2050 does not propose any alternative for the overlaps.

Considering the 204 conservation units in the Brazilian Amazon, which comprises around 104 thousand hectares,[xx] the energetic Brazilian plans look inconsistent with the urgent need to curb deforestation.  Likewise, deforestation within Amazonian conservation units jumped from 441km2 in 2018 to 953km2 in 2019, increasing more than 110%.[xxi]  In 2019, the Amazon was the Brazilian biome most affected by deforestation, amounting to 63.2% of the country’s deforested area (totaling 770,148 hectares). [xxii] The total deforested area increases every year. It is estimated that  20% of the rainforest has already been deforested, close to the tipping point, rated between 20-25%,[xxiii] in which ecosystemic changes would cause an irreversible cascade effect.

Also, the impacts of the electricity sector in Indigenous lands are severe and irreversible. Among them, the following stand out: the relocation of communities to other regions, often accompanied by disruptions in their livelihood; the flooding of large land parcels, including sacred areas, such as traditional burial sites, and rich biodiversity; the invasion of traditional lands; the decrease of hunting, fishing and the reduction of arable areas; and the proliferation of insect populations, including arthropods and mollusks, leading to increased incidences of malaria and other infectious diseases.[xxiv]

Considering the Brazilian history and the horizon of 2050, the incompatibility between what is defined by the government’s planning and protected areas – called inappropriately “conflicting areas”-  seems extremely clear. Therefore, state planning for the energy sector predicts conflict situations that tend to escalate in the following years, leading to more human rights violations against Brazilian indigenous peoples and increasing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.


* Professor at UNISINOS Law Graduate Program. CNPQ Researcher. Coordinator of UNISINOS Human Rights Center. E-mail: fbragato@unisinos.br.

* Law PhD Candidate at UNISINOS. Law Master Degree from Vitoria Law School  – FDV. Member of Unisinos Human Rights Center. E-mail: larasantosz@hotmail.com.

[i] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH. Rainforest Mafias. How violence and impunity fuel deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon. 2019. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/brazil0919_web.pdf . Access on: Nov 09, 2021.

[ii] PRATES, Rodolfo Coelho, Carlos José Caetano BACHA. Os processos de desenvolvimento e desmatamento da Amazônia. Economia e Sociedade, dez. 2011, v. 20, n. 3 (43), pp. 601-636. Available at: < https://www.scielo.br/pdf/ecos/v20n3/a06v20n3.pdf. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[iii] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[iv] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[v] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Centro da memória da eletricidade no Brasil. Disponível em: http://memoriadaeletricidade.com.br . Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[vi] BRASIL. Presidência da República. II Plano Nacional de Desenvolvimento (1975-1979). Brasília, 1974. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/1970-1979/anexo/ANL6151-74.PDF . Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.65.

[vii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.75.

[viii] U.S. Energy Information Administration. Hydropower made up 66% of Brazil’s electricity generation in 2020. Sep 7, 2021. Avaliable at: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=49436. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[ix] BRASIL. Decreto n. 10.088/2019. Anexo LXXII. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2019-2022/2019/Decreto/D10088.htm#anexo72. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[x] BRASIL. Decreto n.2.519/1998. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/decreto/d2519.htm. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xi] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021

[xii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia 2030. Rio de Janeiro: EPE, 2007.Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-PNE-2030. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xiii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia 2030. Rio de Janeiro: EPE, 2007.Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-PNE-2030. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xiv] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Decenal de Expansão Elétrica: 2006-2015. Brasília: EPE, 2006. Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Decenal-de-Expansao-de-Energia-2015. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xv] CAVALCANTE, Thiago Leandro Vieira. “Terra Indígena”: aspectos históricos da construção e aplicação de um conceito jurídico. Revista História. Franca, v.35, 2016. Available at:http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-90742016000100501&lng=en&nrm=is. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xvi] MINISTÉRIO DO PLANEJAMENTO. Sobre o PAC. Available at:http://www.pac.gov.br/sobre-o-pac  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xvii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xviii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xix] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xx] ISA. Instituto Socioambiental. Placar de Unidades de Conservação. Pará – Belém do Pará. 2020. Available at: https://widgets.socioambiental.org/placar/ucs/674  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxi]  NOTÍCIAS MPF. Ação do MPF requer atuação imediata do governo federal para combater desmatamento na Amazônia. 2020 Available at: http://www.mpf.mp.br/am/sala-de-imprensa/noticias-am/acao-do-mpf-requer-atuacao-imediata-do-governo-federal-para-combater-desmatamento-na-amazonia . Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxii] MAPBIOMAS. Relatório Anual do Desmatamento no Brasil – 2019. Available at: https://mapbiomas.org/relatorio-anual-do-desmatamento-do-brasil-aponta-perda-de-12-milhao-de-hectares-de-vegetacao-nativa-no-pais-em-2019 Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxiii] LOVEJOY, Thomas and Carlos NOBRE. AMAZON TIPPING POINT. Science Advances, Feb. 2018, Vol. 4, No. 2. Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/2/eaat2340  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxiv] TADEI, W. P., 1994. Proliferação de mosquitos na Hidrelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. In: A Questão Energética na Amazônia. Avaliação e Perspectivas Sócio Ambientais. Anais do Seminário Internacional, pp. 2-13, Belém: Núcleo de Altos Estudos na Amazônia, Universidade Federal do Pará/Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi; ARRUDA, M. E., 1985. Presença de plasmódio brasilianum em macacos capturados na área de enchimento do reservatório da usina hidroelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, 80:367-369; BULCÃO, J. A. P., 1994. Proposta de um Modelo para Avaliação do Impacto dos Empreendimentos Hidroelétricos sobre as Doenças Transmitidas por Vetores com Especial Referência à Malária. Dissertação de Mestrado, Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz.; COUTO, R. C. S., 1996. Hidrelétricas e Saúde na Amazônia: Um Estudo sobre a Tendência da Malária na Área do lago da Hidrelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. Tese de Doutorado, Rio de Janeiro: Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, Fundação Instituto Oswaldo Cruz.

Question for the UN Human Rights Council: So, should only men apply?

At its session concluded earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council established two new country rapporteurships, one on Afghanistan, and one on Burundi.  The call for applicants has now been posted. However, even before any applications have been collected and reviewed, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seems to have already decided that both appointees will be men, based on the Name of Mandate-holder column (click screen shot below to enlarge). They’ve done this for the two thematic mandate openings, as well.

UPDATE on 29 October 2021: I see that today the OHCHR has now fixed this issue on the country rapporteur page by removing the “Mr.” from the two open positions in the Mandate-holder column, and on the thematic rapporteur page it has removed the “Mr.” from this column for the newly-created thematic rapporteurship on climate change, but has still left in place the “Mr.” in the opening on the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

FURTHER UPDATE, 5 November 2021: The OHCHR has now removed the remaining “Mr.” from the vacancy listing in the Mandate-holder column on the thematic procedures webpage.