Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern About Plans to Shut Down Several Branches of Brazilian Ombudsperson’s Office

July 17, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about plans to shut down several branches of the Brazilian Ombudsperson’s Office (DPU, by its Portuguese acronym), due to an imminent staff reduction. The Brazilian Ombudsperson’s Office is a crucial State institution active on a federal scale to promote human rights and to defend the individual and collective rights of people with few financial resources.

Based on publicly available reports, July 27, 2019 is the deadline for 828 public servants—more than 60% of the Office’s total administrative staff—who had been temporarily lent to that institution by the federal executive branch to return to their previous positions. The Ombudsperson’s Office has relied on these public servants since it was created, in 1995. According to the information the Commission has had access to, a bill has already been drafted that would create a DPU administrative career and grant the Office more staff.

In the current scenario, the Office must end activity in its 43 branches outside major cities, which will affect the right to access justice for poor and vulnerable people, particularly in rural areas. In particular, the IACHR warns of the impact this shutdown can have on vulnerable groups including indigenous peoples, Quilombolas, migrants and persons deprived of their liberty.

The Commission acknowledges efforts made by the Brazilian government to expand the functional and administrative autonomy of the Ombudsperson’s Office, particularly after Constitutional Amendment Nº 74 of 2013 was passed. That amendment separated the Ombudsperson’s Office from the Justice Ministry and formally established its autonomy.

In the Preliminary Observations based on its in loco visit to Brazil in November 2018, the IACHR highlighted the major role that autonomous institutions in the justice system—including the Public Prosecutor’s Offices of individual states, the federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, and state and federal Ombudsperson’s Offices—could play for the defense of human rights. At the time, the Commission urged the Brazilian State to provide the Ombudsperson’s Office with the human resources it needed. The Commission observes with concern that budgetary dependency continues to compromise the Office’s efforts to promote full and free access to justice on a federal scale.

The IACHR notes that autonomy to organize and manage their own affairs is essential to guarantee the institutional independence of ombudsperson’s offices, which must have the resources they need to do their job. Their involvement in budget planning is a good practice to achieve this goal, along with the bill that the executive has submitted to the legislative branch.

In particular, the Commission stresses that States must have effective public policies in place to ensure access to justice for vulnerable individuals and groups, and to support the daily work of people who work to implement these policies. In this scenario, it is important to stress that the Commission considers that federal and state institutions must promote and protect human rights. Strengthening human rights institutions is crucial to respect and implement inter-American human rights standards and to ensure compliance with Brazil’s international obligations on this matter.

The IACHR notes that Brazil blames the current situation on Act Nº 13,328/2016, which says that public servants who have been temporarily transferred need to return to their original positions within three years.

The IACHR urges the Brazilian government to immediately implement comprehensive legislative and administrative reforms to ensure that its Ombudsperson’s Office is able to function and enjoys effective budgetary and operational independence. This concerns not only budget allocations, but also managing its independence and using its resources, especially in terms of staff.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 175/19