Statement on Human Rights in Brazil
Board of the USCC
February 14, 1974
The Holy Father’s address to the Cardinals of Rome last December dealt with particular insight with the issue of human rights. In his remarks, Pope Paul said:
“For as long as, within the individual national communities, those in power do not nobly respect the rights and legitimate freedoms of the citizens, tranquility and order (even though they can be maintained by force) remain nothing but a deceptive and insecure sham, no longer worthy of a society of civilized beings.”
The American bishops’ statement last November on the 25th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was especially sensitive to the United States’ international activities. It specifically highlighted the moral question of American economic assistance supporting regimes which seriously suppress the human rights of their citizens.
It is precisely to the international level, and more specifically, to the relations of the United States and Brazil that we address ourselves at this time.
We are compelled to focus attention on Brazil because of the level to which respect for human rights has deteriorated in that country, and also because continuous efforts have been made there to eliminate sources of dissent in the public sector--in youth groups, political parties, labor unions, peasant associations.
One of the last remaining organized voices in Brazil’s society with power to speak in opposition to repressive government tactics is the Church and this obviously places it in a most vulnerable position.
The policies of the government must be seen in the context of the supposed economic "miracle" taking place in Brazil. Although Brazil’s economy is growing at a remarkable annual rate, Robert S. McNamara, President of the World Bank, has pointed out that Brazil’s development in the 1960s was severely distorted: “The very rich did very well. But throughout the decade the poorest 40% of the population benefited only marginally.”
McNamara’s general observations are also especially relevant to Brazil: "When the distribution of land, income, and opportunity becomes distorted to the point of desperation, what political leaders must often weigh is the risk of unpopular (among the rich) but necessary social rebellion." The Brazilian regime, rather than effecting necessary social reforms, seems to favor measures which suppress all sources of opposition and thereby hopes to eliminate "the risk of social rebellion."
In view of the oppressive conditions in Brazil, the March 1973 statement on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made by the National Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Brazil on the occasion of their annual assembly, is remarkably courageous and timely. The bishops stated that the Church in Brazil must inform public opinion of instances of violations of human rights, "and must be ready to accept the consequences of this action."
We associate ourselves in solidarity with the Brazilian bishops in their call for greater respect for human rights, as illustrated by the recent statement of the bishops of the Southern region of Brazil. Faced with severe violations of human dignity, they publicly chastised the government:
“It is not lawful for you to arrest people the way you do, without identification of agents, without communication to judges, without sentencing. Many of the arrests are kidnappings. It is not lawful for you to submit people to physical, psychological or moral torture in order to obtain confessions, even more so when this leads to permanent damage to the health, psychological breakdowns, mutilations and even death.”
We also associate ourselves with the Brazilian Episcopal Conference in their call for the establishment of an international juridical body "on human dignity, whose function would be to judge, from an ethical point of view, the regimes which violate the basic rights of the human person, taking as a fundamental criterion for their judgments the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights."
We also join with others in the protests already filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, concerning violation of human rights in Brazil. We pledge ourselves to search for ever more effective ways of expressing our solidarity with the Church in Brazil.
Our government must examine closely its programs of financial and military assistance to be certain they are not used in the denial of human rights. Further, the U.S. government must examine its trade and tariff policies to insure that they do not foster the repression of human rights. The U.S. government, along with other governments, must continue to scrutinize Brazilian affairs closely and bring pressure to bear on the Brazilian authorities for the restoration of human rights, especially through various international agencies such as the United Nations, as well as those bilateral United States-Brazilian programs.
In the private sector, we encourage policy makers in multinational corporations and financial institutions to assess the social consequences of their present or contemplated investments in Brazil. And further, since stock ownership entails a moral responsibility, stockholders are encouraged to use their influence to affect corporations’ policies.
Americans, in general, should inform themselves about human rights conditions in Brazil, and assess their social responsibility in rectifying injustices.