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The fifth largest country in the world, Brazil covers nearly half of the landmass of South America. The country is one of the world’s largest democracies, and is among the foremost rising economic powers. Notably, the discovery of major offshore oil reserves could lead to its emergence as one of the top oil exporting nations. Perhaps the foremost human rights concerns in the country relate to the high level of violent crime and the abusive response of the justice system, including police brutality, poor conditions and the use of torture in detention centres.


Brazil is a Latin American country, covering nearly half of the South American landmass. It is the fifth largest country in the world, shares its borders with 10 different countries and borders the Atlantic ocean to the east. The capital is Brasilia.

Population and Language

Brazil's population has been steadily growing by 1 per cent and has now over 198 million citizens[1]. The official language in Brazil is Portuguese, although other languages are being spoken by Indian tribes living in remote reservations. Brazil is racially mixed with most people descended from white Europeans (mostly Portuguese), black Africans (mostly from the west of the continent) and the original indigenous Indian population. It also has the largest number of people of Japanese ancestry outside Japan.[2]

History and Politics

When the Europeans arrived in the late 15th century there was a small indigenous population in what is now known as Brazil. The Portuguese claimed the land in 1500, but in 1822 the country claimed independence and became a kingdom. Half a decade later a republic was established. The military coup in 1964 was followed by a series of military governments until in 1985 the civilian government was restored. Several corruption scandals became known over the years. In 2010 Brazil got its first female president; Dilma Rousseff. [3]. The new government has focussed on addressing corruption, with five senior government officials already forced to step down over corruption allegations. The government has also promoted a strong state role in areas like banking, the oil industry and energy.[4]


Brazil is the world's seventh wealthiest economy, but its economy slowed in recent years with its GDP growth decelerating from 7.5% in 2010, to 2.7% in 2011 and to 0.9% in 2012. Nevertheless, the financial sector and banking system remained resilient to the slowdown and is believed to remain solid in the medium turn. Social indicators such as health, mortality and nutrition differ greatly by regional. People in the South and Southeast are generally richer and enjoy better indicators than people in the poorer regions. Despite these differences poverty has dropped and income inequality has fallen due to difference in growth rate among the richest and poorest of the population. In 2011 income inequality was 0.519 (measured by the Gini-index) a fifty year low for Brazil but relatively high for a middle-income country.[5]

Media and Civil Society

Freedom of expression has progressed significantly during Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's two terms as president. Certain media laws were repealed and access to state-held information improved. The constitution guarantees a free press and there is vigorous debate in the media about political and social matters. Nevertheless, journalists and bloggers are still threatened and seven journalists have been murdered since 2010. Reporters without borders note that 'the Brazilian media continue to suffer from conflicts of interest and concentration of ownership in very few hands'.[6] The NGO Article 19 has raised concerns about digital freedom. Information and opinions online are not immune to censorship, although they are not censored systematically. Google is often required to remove content that is supposed to be offensive and Facebook is known to remove content considered inappropriate. Furthermore, bloggers and journalists have been threatened, attacked or even murdered which leads to self-censorship. There is no specific legislation that regulates this, but there are several draft laws that, if approved, would have serious consequences for digital freedom.[7] Human rights defenders are considered to be protected under the 'National Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders' which is operational in five states. However, due to bureaucratic problems the programme is not very effective. According to Amnesty International Defenders complained they have not received adequate protection.[8]

Human Rights and Children's Rights

Under President Rousseff laws were ratified that are meant to investigate human rights violations committed between 1946 and 1988. These laws are important in addressing impunity although this might be undermined by the Amnesty Law of 1978. Amnesty International notes that public security is an issue in Brazil. The country faces high levels of violent crime, human rights abuses, corruption and weak law enforcement practices. Police officers that are believed to be involved in death squads engaged in social cleansing, extortion and trafficking in arms and drugs. Amnesty further states that torture is prevalent at arrest, during interrogation and detention in police stations and prisons. Besides torture, prisoners are also affected by overcrowding, degrading conditions and prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In most states criminal gangs effectively control prisons and policy cells. Another issue in Brazil is the situation of indigenous communities. They are subjected to discrimination, threats and violence especially in regard to land disputes. Furthermore, land activists are threatened and killed when speaking out. Livelihoods are further affected by large-scale development projects that threaten communities in poverty with intimidation and forced eviction.[9] Regarding children the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed particular concern about the juvenile justice system, the situation of children belonging to a minority or indigenous group and the occurrence of economic and sexual exploitation of children.[10]

  1. UNDESA, 2011 Population Statistics
  2. Brazilian Embassy, "Brazil in Brief"
  3. The Colombian Electronic Encyclopedia, "Brazil History"
  4. BBC, "Brazil"
  5. World Bank, "Brazil"
  6. Reporters without Borders "Brazil"
  7. Article 19 "Digital Freedom in Brazil"
  8. Amnesty International "Brazil"
  9. Amnesty International "Brazil"
  10. UNHCHR "37th session of the Commitee on the Rights of the Child"


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