Brazil must be leader on impunity, free expression

April 18, 2012

Dilma Vana Rousseff
President of the Federal Republic of Brazil
Palácio do Planalto Brasília, Brazil

Via facsimile: +55-61-411-2222

Dear President Rousseff:

We are writing to bring to your attention recent actions taken by the Brazilian government that contradict your expressed commitment to guarantee freedom of expression and make human rights a priority in the country. While we recognize that the Brazilian authorities have made strides in bringing journalist killers to justice in recent years, we ask that you assert global leadership to ensure that the fundamental right of freedom of expression is afforded to all.

Brazil has been listed for the second consecutive year in CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index, which calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. Yet your government raised objections last month to a U.N. plan that would promote journalist safety and curb impunity in journalist killings. We are also discouraged by your stance toward a list of recommendations submitted by members of the Organization of American States that would weaken the Inter-American human rights system.

In the last week of March, Brazil joined other member states in UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication Council in obstructing the endorsement of a U.N. plan to promote journalist safety and strengthen the office of the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. While we recognize that the Brazilian judicial system has produced successful prosecutions in at least five journalist slayings in recent years, we are disappointed that your government, in a period of rising press crimes in Brazil, failed to endorse this U.N. plan, which would have encouraged member states to take concrete anti-impunity action with long-term impact worldwide.

We are also alarmed by Brazil’s lack of support for the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression. In 2011, the Ecuadoran government launched an offensive aimed at weakening the Inter-American human rights system by encouraging member states of the Organization of American States to submit recommendations that would prevent the rapporteur from publishing its own report on freedom of expression in the Americas; tighten the office’s funding by not allowing it to seek independent financial support; and create a code of conduct to increase states’ control, according to CPJ research. Brazil’s passive stance on these recommendations is a serious blow to freedom of expression in the hemisphere.  

As a founding member of the Open Government Partnership, a global approach to ensuring transparent and accountable governance, your administration recognizes the value of information. It is all the more surprising, then, that your government has not spoken out in support of a free press that can ensure openness and accountability.

We urge you to support the U.N. plan to promote journalist safety and oppose any attempt by repressive countries to debilitate the Inter-American human rights system. Such a commitment would inspire those who fight for democracy and human rights worldwide and undermine the arguments of authoritarian rulers who minimize the importance of freedom of expression. We believe your administration has the responsibility to use its increasing influence in the region and the world and to uphold the fundamental right to free expression and ensure it is afforded to all.

Sincerely yours,

Joel Simon
Executive Director