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BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Ethiopia; (2) Brazil

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani

Location: Geneva

Date: 24 November 2020

Subjects: (1) Ethiopia

(2) Brazil

1) Ethiopia

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged the parties to the conflict in Tigray to give clear and unambiguous orders to their forces to take constant care to spare – and protect – the civilian population from the effect of the hostilities.

“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger,” the High Commissioner said. “I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law,” she added, expressing alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray province following the Government’s issuance of a 72-hour ultimatum.

“Such rhetoric suggests possible breaches of the cardinal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities that are designed to ensure the civilian population is protected.”

To read the full press release, click here

2) Brazil

The killing of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, an Afro-descendent beaten to death by two private security guards in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, is an extreme but sadly all too common example of the violence suffered by Black people in Brazil. It offers a stark illustration of the persistent structural discrimination and racism people of African descent face.

This deplorable act, which tragically happened on the eve of Black Consciousness Day in Brazil, should be condemned by everyone.

Government officials have a particular responsibility to acknowledge the underlying problem of the persisting racism in the country, as this is the first essential step towards solving it.

The structural racism, discrimination and violence people of African descent face in Brazil is documented by official data, which indicates that the number of Afro-Brazilian victims of homicide is disproportionately higher than other groups. Data also shows that Afro-Brazilians, including women, are over-represented in the country’s prison population.

We understand that an investigation is under way regarding the death of Mr. Silveira Freitas. It should be prompt, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent and should also examine if racial bias played a role. This aspect should also be taken into account when ensuring justice and truth, as well as redress and reparations for his family.

We also call on the authorities to investigate any allegations of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against people protesting peacefully following Silveira Freitas’s death and hold those responsible to account.

This case and the widespread outrage that it sparked highlight the urgent need for the Brazilian authorities to tackle racism and racial discrimination in close coordination with all groups of society, especially those most affected.

The legacy of the past is still present in Brazilian society as in other countries. Black Brazilians endure structural and institutional racism, exclusion, marginalization and violence, with – in many cases – lethal consequences. Afro-Brazilians are excluded and almost invisible from decision-making structures and institutions.

To overcome this situation, urgent reforms of laws, institutions and policies, including affirmative action, are needed. Deeply engrained racial stereotypes, including among officials in the police and the judiciary, must be tackled. Authorities must also intensify human rights education, in order to promote better understanding of the root causes of racism, and make a greater effort to encourage respect for diversity and multiculturalism, and foster deeper knowledge of Afro-Brazilians’ culture and history as well as of their contribution to Brazilian society.

While the State has the duty to prevent and redress human rights violations, business enterprises also have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations and business relationships. This responsibility requires a company to conduct human rights due diligence to prevent, identify and mitigate human rights risks including in the contracting of private security. We note that Carrefour – a member of the UN Global Compact (the network of companies committed to supporting UN Goals) – on whose premises Silveira Freitas was killed, has said it has already terminated its agreement with the private security company concerned. Carrefour should explain if, and how, it had assessed human rights risks associated with contracting the company and what steps it had taken to mitigate such risks with a view to preventing a tragedy like this.

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