In an open letter, over 340 civil society organisations are demanding that the European Union immediately halt free trade agreement negotiations with the Mercosur bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) on the grounds of deteriorating human rights and environmental conditions in Brazil. The letter is addressed to presidents of the EU institutions ahead of the ministerial-level meeting next week in Brussels where EU and Mercosur foreign ministers aim to finalise the negotiations.
"Dear President of the European Council, President of the European Commission, President of the European Parliament,
We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are writing to call on the European Union to use its influence to prevent a worsening human rights and environmental situation in Brazil.
In April, more than 600 European scientists and two Brazilian Indigenous organizations, representing 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups, called for the EU to act as a global leader in supporting human rights, human dignity and a habitable climate by making sustainability the cornerstone of its trade negotiations with Brazil. We fully support this call.
Bound by the Treaty of the European Union, the EU and its Member States vowed to respect and promote human rights as an overarching objective in its dealings with other countries. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has also clearly stated the need for new EU trade agreements to deliver sustainable development.
Since the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in January 2019, we have witnessed increased human rights violations, attacks on minorities, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ and other traditional communities. Moreover, the administration continues to threaten the basic democratic functioning of civil society while instigating a fundamental assault on some of the world’s most precious and ecologically valuable regions.
We are deeply concerned about the following:
- Indigenous lands demarcation has been put under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Ministry, paving the way for powerful cattle and soy agribusinesses to accelerate their sweep through the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest and the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Though this controversial measure appears to have been temporarily reversed in May by the Brazilian Senate, President Bolsonaro may still veto it.
- There has been a dramatic increase in attacks on Indigenous people, other traditional communities and their territories. In February, at least 14 protected Indigenous territories were reported to be under attack from invaders. In addition, the government abolished more than 35 national councils of social participation. Attacks on people defending their territories or natural resources are on the rise in rural Brazil, resulting in increasing deaths of community leaders, peasants and activists.
- Bolsonaro’s campaign promise of “ending any form of activism” was implemented on his first day in office, empowering the government to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and observe the activities and actions of international agencies and non-governmental organisations within national territory.”
- Both the Environment Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry are now led by deniers of global warming, leading to the abolishment of departments responsible for climate change. Even as Brazil remains a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change, it is becoming unlikely that the administration will take the necessary measures to implement the agreement.
- Socio-environmental legislation and policies have been dramatically weakened during the first 100 days of the new government. The Forest Code has been undermined with new measures proposing the reduction of legal reserves and a more flexible deadline for land regularization by landgrabbers. In January 2019, deforestation in the Amazon reportedly rose by 54 percent compared to the same period in 2018.
Civil society actors, activists, peasants, workers and minorities face extreme dangers from the incendiary rhetoric of the Bolsonaro government and its supporters. This includes his labeling of members of grassroots movements like the Landless Workers Movement and the Movement of Homeless as “terrorists,” generating concerns that Brazil’s controversial anti-terrorist law will be used to criminalize social activists.
The EU is Brazil’s second-largest trading partner overall, second-largest importer of Brazilian soy and a major importer of Brazilian beef and other agricultural products. The EU, therefore, has a responsibility to address human rights and environmental injustices taking place in Brazil under the Bolsonaro government. It must use its leverage to support civil society, human rights and the environment.
The EU is in the midst of negotiating a far-reaching Mercosur trade deal that seeks to expand market access and trade between the two regions, including Brazil. It is imperative that the EU sends an unequivocal message to President Bolsonaro that the EU will refuse to negotiate a trade deal with Brazil until there is an end to human rights violations, strict measures to end further deforestation and concrete commitments to implement the Paris Agreement.
In the past, the EU has suspended trade preferences with countries involved in human rights violations, such as Myanmar and the Philippines. In addition, the EU has restricted imports of products whose production is related to human rights in the case of conflict minerals. It is time that the EU takes a similar, tough stance to prevent a deterioration of the human rights and environmental situation in Brazil.
We therefore call on you to:
- Immediately halt negotiations for an EU-Mercosur free trade agreement.
- Guarantee that no Brazilian products sold in the EU, nor the financial markets underpinning them, are leading to increases in deforestation, land grabbing of native lands or human rights violations.
- Demand confirmation, with material evidence, that the Brazilian government will fulfill its commitments as part of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
- Increase support for Brazilian civil society, including strengthening the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and proactive consultations with Brazilian civil society organisations that address human rights and the democratic functioning of Brazilian civil society.
- Monitor and respond to human rights violations—including investigating cases since Bolsonaro’s election—and strengthen mechanisms to protect human rights defenders. For those most at risk, including Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders, the EU should provide direct and urgent support where required, including through political representations.
(For signature lists, download pdf version)