Brazil is on the cusp of adopting a constitutional amendment that will undermine fundamental human rights for generations to come. The Proposed Constitutional Amendment 55 (or PEC 55 in its Portuguese acronym), which is currently being debated in the Senate, will freeze public spending in real terms for the next two decades. This means that formerly constitutionally protected government expenditures in the areas of health, education and other social sectors will remain stunted until 2036. If approved, it will transform the Constitution from a tool to ensure a minimum floor of investments in social rights into a blunt instrument prohibiting increases in social spending, regardless of needs on the ground.
The amendment is likely to have serious and long-term impacts on already disadvantaged groups, such as women, afro-Brazilians and people living in poverty, who rely more on public services. As argued in an analysis document issued jointly by CESR and our Brazilian partners CONECTAS, Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC) and Oxfam Brasil, this constitutional reform may also stand in violation of Brazil’s obligations under international human rights law, as confirmed by recent warnings from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.
Moreover, the International Monetary Fund and respected economists agree that such ill-conceived austerity measures tend to exacerbate, rather than remedy, economic crises and as such they are dangerously counterproductive. As illustrated in a joint op-ed article published in El País by CESR and its partners, alternative means to alleviate fiscal pressures are readily available to the Brazilian government, including combating tax evasion and the pursuit of more progressive taxation.
In this worrying context, CESR, CONECTAS and INESC have issued joint letters to the Brazilian authorities, calling on them not to approve PEC 55 or any proposed fiscal expenditure cap or austerity measure which would breach Brazil’s human rights obligations. These include the duty to devote the maximum of its available resources to progressively achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights, and to fully explore alternatives, including progressive tax measures, that can tackle the economic crisis whilst also protecting human rights. This letter was also sent to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights urging his intervention. Following our joint advocacy and pressure from the United Nations, the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Senate will discuss the human rights implications of the constitutional amendment at a session on the eve of the vote.
As the people of Brazil look to an uncertain future, CESR and its allies will continue to work for more just and human rights-compliant solutions to the ongoing economic crisis.
Photo on front page: Demonstrators protest the vote on PEC 55 in Brasília. Source : Adriano Machado/Reuters. Photo on this page: Brazilian activists burn a poster reading Republic of the Coup, with the images of Senate President Renan Calheiros (L) and right-wing interim President Michel Temer, at a protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 12 May 2016. Source: Reuters/Nacho Doce.
CESR, CONECTAS, INESC and Oxfam Brasil joint analysis document: Human rights implications of proposed Constitutional Amendment to limit public spending for two decades (Portuguese)
El País op-ed: PEC 55: um salto no escuro (in Portuguese) (In English translation: Brazil’s Constitutional Austerity Amendment: A leap into the darkness)
CESR Brazil webpage
Human Rights in Tax Policy
Fiscal Policy and Human Rights in the Americas
Rio’s Indigenous Trapped in Social Housing
Brazil: Goiás Land Struggle, Exercise in Citizenship