Rhetoric that rejects human rights, and particularly human rights organizations and activists, has been rapidly gaining traction in Brazil in the last few years.
Throughout 2016, during the controversial impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff—a former political prisoner tortured during the dictatorship (1964-1985) and the first woman elected president of Brazil—, an anti-human rights discourse began rising more noticeably.
For example, when former Deputy Jair Bolsonaro cast his vote for Rousseff’s impeachment, he dedicated it to Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who was directly responsible for Rousseff’s torture and the first official of the Brazilian army to be convicted for this practice.
After Rousseff was impeached and Michel Temer, then vice president, instated as president, Bolsonaro started a presidential campaign that would prove successful three years later. A key feature of his campaign rhetoric and first months in office was the consent, support, and commitment to policies and language that rejected and outright derided human rights.
For the first time since Brazil’s 1988 Constitution reinstated democracy, our country has a president placing “anti-human rights” values into the official discourse.
Against this controversial backdrop, Conectas and the Center for Public Administration and Government Studies (CEAPG) conducted a project called “Behavioral Research on High-income Donors” (PCDAR, in Portuguese) during the presidential campaign of 2018. This initiative was a partnership with CEAPG at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), Conectas Human Rights, and funded by Fundo BIS and GVPesquisa. (The PCDAR’s full results are available here.)
PCDAR was an exploratory mixed-methods research about the socio-demographic and behavioral profile of Brazil’s high-income population. It focused on their habits, practices, and perceptions on donations in general and donations to human rights organizations in particular. The population consisted of high-income individuals with an average monthly income of 30 thousand reais (around 8,000 USD), corresponding to 1% of the Brazilian economically active population (more or less one million people).
The project used public and secondary databases and carried out a focus group and a survey with 348 high-income individuals. While not statistically representative, the sample helps to identify key patterns and the various characteristics of the phenomena, as well as areas for further research.
One of the most interesting findings of PCDAR project is that the disapproval of “human rights”—and, as a consequence, of donations to organizations who advocate for them—at least among high-income individuals, is not as strong as circumstances (and the perception of human rights actors and fundraisers) might suggest.
While overall this population seems skeptical about human rights, this view appears to be driven by uninformed preconceptions and a general lack of knowledge on human rights and the organizations that defend them. Notably, in our study, participants did not mention “human rights” as a cause affecting their lives, despite mentioning concern over a wide range of topics such as homelessness, security, women issues, corporate disrespect for rights, refugees, and so on—indicating a general lack of knowledge on the full range of themes human rights are about.
Yet some respondents in the focus group had negative preconceptions, such as one who held the common stance in Brazil that human rights organizations “protect those who do not deserve protection”.
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