University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.97, Doc. 29 rev.1 (1997).





1. The adoption of measures for progressive attainment of fully effective social and cultural rights is an international commitment that was assumed by Brazil when it ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 26 of which points out that these are the rights "set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States." Article 33 of the OAS Charter notes in this regard that the basic objectives of integral development agreed on by the countries in the Charter include the equality of opportunities and equitable distribution of wealth and income. The Commission deems it important to include in this report a quick picture of the socioeconomic situation in Brazil, since--in addition to the factors cited previously--the particular imbalances in the distribution of income and opportunities in Brazil are, in the Commission's opinion, the seminal generating factor of situations which breed violence and the violation of human rights.

2. It is incumbent on the State to promote integral development with total sovereignty as regards its policies and strategies. According to that commitment, however, these objectives cannot be avoided. Moreover, studies show the importance of State decisions in any improvement of such situations; and in the specific case of Brazil, it has been found that "the significant variation between States (of the federation) with respect to conditions of poverty, which cannot be explained by differences in income alone, suggests that economic structure and policies are also important variables."(1)

3. As noted in a World Bank report: "Poverty is being given more attention in today's Brazil than in the past for a number of reasons. President Fernando Enrique Cardoso has made social justice one of the priorities of his administration."(2) Even so, while the number of needy has been reduced in the past year and despite the relative improvement in their consumption capacity--according to official information--it has not yet been possible to achieve a qualitative improvement in the situation.

4. The extent of poverty in Brazil varies according to the many estimates, but all of them emphasize not only its absolute magnitude, but also the smal extreme inequality of income distribution, which is one of the most inequitable in the world.(3) The twenty per cent of the country's population with the highest income received thirty-two times more than the 20% in the lowest income bracket between 1981 and 1993. For 1990, ECLAC reports that 9.64% of the GNP went to the poorest 40% of the urban population, while the richest 10% received 4l.7% thereof.(4) Official data for 1994 show that the poorest 20% received 2% of the national income, while 49.7% thereof went to the 10% wealthiest group.(5)

5. The difference between the cities and the rural areas is equally significant: 66% of Brazil's rural population is below the poverty line, as compared with the figure of 38% for the urban poor. It should be pointed out that the percentage of urban population. It should be pointed out that the percentage of urban poor is rising as a result of the migration of rural poor to the cities.

6. The most conservative estimates(6) show that 24 million Brazilians--i.e., 17.4% of the population--were living below the poverty line in 1990. Other sources, such as the "Map of Hunger,"(7) estimate that 22% (or 32 million) of the population are poor, while still others cite 42 million poor, with 17 million thereof in extreme poverty.(8) Another set of estimates, using different indicators, place that figure at 43.6% of the population.(9) The Government states that as a result of the Plan Real, the proportion of poor, whcih was 33.4% in 1994, fell to 27.8% in 1995 and 25.1% in 1996. The share of income received by the 50% poorest of the population rose from 11.3% to 12.3%. Accordingly, the degree of inequality fell from 5.73 in 1994 to 5.13 in 1995 and 5.07 in 1996.(10)

7. The inequality of income is accentuated by a similar inequality in the access to basic public services: 20.3% of the population have no access to potable water and 26.6% lack access to sanitary services (drains, sewers, etc.), although the situation has improved since 1975-80, when almost twice that percentage of the population lacked such services. The same phenomenon is present in the indicators such as the figure for infant mortality, which is 57 per thousand (one of the highest in the Americas)--but it was 116 per thousand in the sixties. Similarly, in education: 3,215,000 children between 6 and 12 years of age had no school facilities in 1922, although a positive trend is apparent in adult illiteracy, which dropped from 34% in 1970 to 18% in 1990-95.(11) In brief, the situation is critical, although it was much more critical twenty years ago.

8. An examination of the distribution of public spending for social services (health care, education, and social security) shows it to be distorted in favor of the wealthy,(12) who receive the greatest benefits, when by definition such public expenditures are supposed to compensate poor families and help to reduce the inequality of access to opportunities and basic services.

9. Since children constitute a larger share of the poor sectors than in the intermediate and wealthy strata, and they are also the most vulnerable members of society, the flawed distribution of benefits leaves poor children especially deprived, with the consequences described in the corresponding Chapter. Fifteen per cent of Brazilian children were in a state of chronic malnutrition in 1989, and that figure was even higher--23% and 27% in the North and Northeast, respectively.(13)

10. Brazil is a very diverse country, and the uneven situations apply not only to the social situation but also to the geographic status of the States. The proportion of poor ranges from 7% of the urban residents in the States of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul to 44% among the rural dwellers of the Northeast. More than half of the poor Brazilians live in the Northeast, a situation that among other things is one of the sources of the problems addressed in the chapter on "forced labor" performed by rural workers. In general, the rural population is worse off than its urban counterparts in respect to poverty and access to services. The result is that, despite the fact that three fourths of the population live in cities, half of the poor are rural residents.(14)

11. Another determinant of poverty is racial origin. Blacks and mulattos constitute a disproportionately large sector of the poor, since while they represent 42.5% of the total population, they account for 62.4% of the poor.(15)

12. The present Government has acknowledged the gravity of this situation(16) as well as its connection with the flawed distribution of land and other factors of the rural economy. The human rights problems directly linked to the concentration of land ownership and rural labor conditions are examined by the Commission in the pertinent chapter. In recent months, the Government has adopted important measures to address these problems, especially an attempt to eliminate fiscal and other privileges that made it easier to maintain unproductive farms and land concentration--situations which produce explosive consequences and violations of human rights, inasmuch as large sectors of campesinos and rural dwellers have no possibility of owning land and no access to productive resources.

13. The Commission must underscore the Government's poor performance attained between 1980 and 1990, the decade in which, according to the World Bank, "there was virtually no reduction of poverty in Brazil, if we consider" (in the words of the report) "not only the proportion of people who are poor but also how poor they are, and the conditions in which the poorest groups live"; and that the poorest sectors were the very ones who suffered most from the economic trends in the decade of the 80s.(17)

14. According to information furnished to the Commission by the government, infant mortality fell from 1986 to 1996, producing a rate for that decade of 48 deaths per thousand live births. This number is expected to fall to 31.2 per thousand by the year 2000. The information also deals with the decline in infant malnutrition, which dropped from 15.7% in 1989 to 10.5% in 1993, although in rural areas the rate is 16.3%. In addition, the water and sewer distribution system was expanded and the data point toward a general improvement in the overall health conditions of children. Approximately 90% of boys and girls 5 to 14 years of age attend school. According to the same source of information, from 1993 to 1995, 13 million Brazilians climbed above the poverty threshold line and the intake of food and protein among the poorest parts of the population rose significantly.

15. The Commission considers it especially useful to refer to these international obligations of Brazil in the area of poverty and distribution of income, in accordance with the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights, and notes that according to reliable estimates, "it would be possible to eliminate poverty in Brazil (giving each poor person enough to move above the poverty line) at a cost of less than 1% of gross domestic product.(18)



1. World Bank, Brazil: A Poverty Assessment, (Report 14323 BR) June 1995. Washington D.C. (hereinafter "WB Report 1995"). The example of the State of Ceara, one of those in the Northeast whose plight is most desperate, but which have nevertheless established successful poverty reduction policies, shows the state capability to exert a positive influence on these conditions.

2. World Bank Report, 1995, op. cit., p. 32.

3. UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Human Development Report, 1996. Oxford University Press, NY, 1996. Of the 37 countries throughout the world with a similar level of development for which data are cited in this report, the figures for Brazil show the widest gap between the 20% of the population with the highest income and the poorest sector.

4. ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), The Social Panorama of Latin America, 1995, Santiago, Chile, page 145.

5. Embassy of Brazil, Society, Citizenry and Human Rights, Washington, 1995.

6. WB Report 1955, p. X.

7. Peliano, Anna Maria T.M. Coord. 1993 O Mapa da fome I-III, Documentos de Politica N1 14.16-IPEA.

8. WB Report, 1995, p. X.

9. ECLAC, op. cit., page 54.

10. Three Years of the Plan Real, Secretariat of Communications (

11. PNUD Human Development Report, cit.

12. WB Report, 1995, page 54.

13. National Nutrition Survey (PNSN), 1989.

14. WB Report 1995, p. XI.

15. Rocha, Sonia. The Profile of Poverty in Brazil, 1993. Cf. the chapter on "Racial Discrimination." The term "racial" is used in accordance with the nomenclature of the American Convention on Human Rights.

16. Report on the Human Rights situation in Brazil, filed by the Government according to Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, UN doc. CERD/C/263 add. 10 and HRI/CORE/1 add. 53.

17. WB Report, pages 24 and 25.

18. WB Report 1995, p. 18.


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