WORLD CUP 2014: How Brazil scores on human rights

[12 June 2014] - 
Brazilian lawmakers have recently approved a law fully banning all forms of corporal punishment against children. Brazil thus has become the 38th State in the world to ban physical punishment in all settings, including the home, in their national legislation. Aside from this positive move, Brazil has also been in the headlines for the obvious reason of being the host country of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Brazil is a nation proud of its football history; but the country’s citizens have voiced their opposition to government decisions on the tournament that have affected their human rights. 
On the eve of the World Cup, CRIN examines Brazil’s human and children’s rights record, and takes a look at FIFA, the world football governing body, and the impact its decisions have had on countries' human rights situations. 


Infrastructure expenditure vs. social services funding

The football-loving nation that is Brazil believes that the World Cup should have been hosted at another time when monies earmarked for basic services would not have been diverted to this huge undertaking. With an estimated $11 billion expenditure, this year's World Cup has been the most expensive to-date, overtaking the monies spent on the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa by more than $5 billion. 
Although the Brazilian government has defended its spending on the World Cup, the country has seen a year of protests against bad governance and perceived excessive spending on the tournament. Demonstrations have focused on the wastefulness of public resources which has come at the expense of the needs of the population, which include a national housing deficit of 5.5 million homes, with another 15 million urban households lacking minimum conditions for habitability. Other areas which have been spotlighted have been a fragile economy, the precarious nature of the current health and public education systems, high cost of living and stagnant wages.
The brutal clampdown on these protests has also shown that for a country seen as an influential democracy in its region, such violence has been akin to the military dictatorship which the Brazilians suffered through not so long ago, and human rights activists have called on the government to protect the right to protest.
Although the World Cup did not create these social problems, hosting it has highlighted and exacerbated them. The UN treaty bodies have previously raised concerns about inequalities within Brazil when the State has been up for review of its human rights record. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its last Concluding Observations on Brazil, voiced its worries about the persistent and extreme inequalities and imbalances in the distribution of wealth and resources.  The Committee made recommendations to the State asking it to implement policies to improve the lives of the great number of children marked by poverty. 

Evictions, housing rights, and land-grabbing

The run-up to the World Cup has also been marked by evictions of thousands of families from their homes in favelas across urban centres of cities such as Rio de Janeiro and land-grabbing of territory inhabited by indigenous tribes in order to implement large-scale infrastructure and stadium projects necessary for the realisation of the World Cup. While neither issue is a new phenomenon, the looming of the World Cup has undoubtedly exacerbated them.
Activists say that as many as 250,000 people across the country have been threatened with eviction, making the lowest-income Brazilians bear the brunt of the World Cup preparations, namely the inhabitants of the favelas for whom the event has become a synonym for evictions, removals and demolition of their homes. Some commentators have said the forced evictions are an “insult to soccer”. Numerous mass evictions in Rio have been carried out to accommodate the Macarana Stadium, for example, where the final of the World Cup will take place on 13 July.
Access to housing, income opportunities and schools is essential for combating poverty. But forced evictions only exacerbate the problem, and UN human rights treaty bodies have for years been calling on Brazil’s government to fight the issue more effectively. In 2004, the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Brazil to strengthen its social policies and programmes to combat the factors responsible for the increasing number of children living in extreme poverty by offering equal access to housing, education and other social services to all children.
Indigenous tribes, who largely depend on their forest for their livelihood and survival, have also been affected by the preparations of the World Cup. Several football stadiums, for instance, such as those in Cuiabá and Manaus, have been built on indigenous land. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly called upon the Brazilian government to respect the diversity of cultures, provide specific protection for the rights of indigenous children, as well as pursue measures to effectively address the gap in life opportunities of indigenous children. Similarly, the Human Rights Committee has voiced as one of its primary concerns the forced evictions of indigenous populations from their land and the lack of legal remedies to reverse these evictions and compensate the victimised populations for the loss of their residence and subsistence. Recent weeks have seen demonstrations by indigenous groups, favela residents and students in the country’s capital Brasilia against the social injustices imposed by the planning of the World Cup, including in defence of indigenous territorial rights.

Freedom of expression and situation for human rights defenders

Amidst continued public demonstrations of opposition to the World Cup and criticisms of related violent police incidents against protesters, a new anti-terrorism bill was proposed and considered by Congress in April 2014 -- a move which advocates fear could result in the further deterioration of citizen’s freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The grounds for the bill were said to be concerns that the World Cup could become a target for terrorists. But human rights advocates say the legislation could be used to arrest legal protesters as well. The language, lawyers say, is vague and might give security forces - which already have a history overstepping their powers and a very poor record of dealing with public unrest - "unprecedented powers" when faced with demonstrations. 
With its current wording, the proposed law could make the situation even worse, putting freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly at further risk, according to Amnesty International. Some activists say proposed revisions of the text will not make any difference, as authorities just want to stifle all protests. Because of South America's history of abuse of national security laws, Brazil does not presently have any anti-terrorism legislation in place. In this respect, some commentators argue that Brazil should be just as vigilant about protecting its democracy as it is about protecting the country from terrorism. Amnesty International has launched the campaign “No foul play, Brazil” asking individuals across the world to send yellow cards to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and president of Congress, Renan Calheiros, urging them to respect everybody’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly during the World Cup - as well as once the event is over. A petition against the proposed anti-terrorism bill has also been launched.
Another area of concern in this context is the situation for human rights defenders in Brazil. Militarised riot police have recently been said to have used excessive force to break up peaceful protests by activists who gathered in remembrance of past resistance to the country’s previous dictatorship. Intimidation, isolation and surveillance have been used as tactics by the police forces to target organisers of demonstrations and those who document abuse. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights voiced deep concern in 2009 about the culture of violence and impunity prevalent in Brazil, particularly with regard to reports that human rights defenders, including those assisting individuals and communities in asserting their economic, social and cultural rights, are regularly threatened, harassed and subjected to violence, frequently by private militias commissioned by private and public actors.

Public security and social cleansing

In order to securing an image of public security and safety, the government stationed 170,000 armed police officers across the country, especially in host cities. Authorisation was also given by the army to occupy favelas located near tourist sites. In the latest occupation in the Rio complex of Mare, located between the city’s airport and the major tourist sites, a collective search and seizure was ordered authorising the police to enter the houses of 130.000 people.
Even before that, the BOPE, police special forces known as the “men in black” and whose emblem is a knife on a skull, conducted brutal incursions in favelas. Uninvestigated deaths and interrogations under torture abound.
Various forms of social cleansing have also been taking place. New reports of death squads killing street children have surfaced in recent months. Several major cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, are also detaining child drug addicts so they are not seen on the streets. This situation is so dire that a minor was detained indefinitely after being found in possession of a small quantity of drugs. Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered his release.

Child sexual exploitation

Even before Brazil was declared the host country of the 2014 football World Cup, child sexual exploitation was already a problem, especially in and around coastal cities that regularly attract foreign tourists. Around half a million children in Brazil – many from poor and rural areas - are thought to sell their bodies, according to the non-profit National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labour. But with the World Cup expected to attract 600,000 foreign visitors who will spend around 25 billion reais ($11.3 billion) during their stay - in addition to the three million Brazilian fans expected to travel around the country - authorities and human rights campaigners fear an explosion of the sexual exploitation of children.
While major sporting events like the football World Cup are not themselves the direct cause of an increase in child exploitation, their organisation gives rise to conditions that do. Research from the organisation Childhood Brasil shows sex crimes against children increased by 66 per cent during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and by 28 per cent during the 2006 tournament in Germany. On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, activists already warn that there has been an increase in child sexual exploitation in the vicinity of football stadiums in which matches are scheduled to take place.
Among initiatives to combat the problem the Brazilian government says it has invested 8 million reais ($3.3 million) in host cities.  In May, Brazil's Chamber of Deputies approved a new law on the sexual exploitation of children, defining the crime as a heinous act that would attract harsher punishment. Last week the Brazilian Minister of Justice signed a Normative Instruction denying entry to the country to any foreigner who has been under suspicion of any kind of child abuse. And a 24-hour helpline was launched to report sexual abuse. But according to critics, officials have simply pushed the child sex trade out of sight. For instance, a member of a Catholic charity that supports victims of sexual exploitation recalled that during the Confederations Cup - a curtain-raiser for the World Cup -  last June, police expelled street children and child sex workers from tourist areas, housing them in shelters. But after the tournament’s end, they were allowed to return.
Another problem is that authorities are not responding to the root causes of child sexual exploitation. A 2013 new report by Brunel University London points out that child exploitation is less connected to major sporting events, but rather to structural factors that existed before the a given event - such as poverty and domestic violence, family stress and diverted services - and which will continue to exist once the event is over. The situation for some families is so dire that they will even push a child into sex work, according to Alicia Oliveira, head of the Ceara Sex Workers’ Association. Meanwhile state prosecutor Antônia Lima Sousa, who works on children’s rights in the north-eastern coastal city of Fortaleza, says underage prostitution has become normalised in Brazil because it is “a country where many see the worst forms of child labour as a part of life.”
As a way of encouraging countries to tackle the structural causes of child sexual exploitation, some commentators suggest that when it comes to selecting new host countries for major sporting events, global sports-related bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee should establish child protection criteria as a requirement of bidding for a given sporting event.


With the growing focus on human rights issues surrounding major sporting events - largely thanks to news outlets and advocates that provide continual coverage of these issues - sports associations like FIFA are under pressure to assume a role of greater social responsibility. Indeed, FIFA has been facing calls for reform for a number of years.
The organisation’s website mentions its “strategy of responsibility” and its intention to raise awareness of social problems. But despite the array of children’s rights issues discussed earlier, FIFA has, until recently, shown little interest in the the topic of child protection, according to British sports-sociologist Celia Brackenridge, who spearheaded a confidential report for a major charity which looked at how best to approach FIFA around the issue. Maybe unsurprisingly, FIFA’s second highest ranking figure, Jérôme Valcke, said in May 2014 that "the World Cup is not there to solve problems or create problems. A World Cup is a World Cup."
Undeniably, sports associations such as FIFA play an indirect role in exacerbating human rights violations by giving World Cup hosting duties to countries with dubious human rights records. Pressure to change this has even come from within the football world itself, with Theo Zwanziger, former president of the German Football Association, saying that FIFA, which is making large amounts of money from the World Cup (it amassed more than one billion euros, according to its 2013 financial report), bears a social responsibility which it must fulfill. Presumably the human rights controversies that followed the selection of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments - Russia and Qatar, respectively - influenced FIFA to recently announce that it is considering new rules in the selection process of candidate countries.
The human rights criticisms facing Russia and Qatar are that both countries impose anti-gay policies, with Russia’s legislation claiming to “protect” children. Hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar have died in the construction of event venues under poor working conditions. And there have even been calls to withdraw Russia’s award to host the 2018 tournament following the annexation of Crimea and the State’s alleged role in the escalation of violence in the region.
Now, senior figures at FIFA are thought to be pushing for a human rights element to be added to future bid documents. Although changes would apply to countries competing to stage the 2026 World Cup and beyond, it is understood that FIFA will pressure Qatar to reform its labour laws. It is not clear if any conditions will be placed on Russia.
But the human rights question, however, extends beyond the human rights record of host countries, and includes FIFA’s association with organisations and companies which themselves are linked to human rights abuses.
In the case of the 2014 World Cup, several of the event’s sponsors have faced criticism. FIFA was urged to break ties with McDonalds following reporting of alleged negligent and abusive labour practices, including child labour. Adidas t-shirts that formed part of World Cup merchandise were removed from stores following complaints that the printed images on the clothing promoted sex tourism in Brazil. Meanwhile Coca-Cola was urged to cease buying sugar from companies implicated in Brazil’s land-grabbing scandal, a practice that has been identified as contributing to the indigenous Guaraní tribe having the highest suicide rate in the world.

The children’s rights trials to follow the World Cup

The eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup served as an opportunity to highlight some of the pressing children’s rights issues which are linked to the presence and impact of hosting a major sporting event. As a lighter follow-up to this analysis, once the football tournament nears its finale, we will release the second edition of the CRIN World Cup, in which CRIN, as official referee of participating countries, will judge them not on their ability to score goals, but on how well they uphold - or not - children’s rights on their home soil.  
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.