Manifesto Approved by BRASA on Human Rights and Academic Freedom in Brazil


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Defend Human Rights and Academic Freedom in Brazil

 

The following manifesto was unanimously approved by the BRASA Executive Committee on November 15, 2018. We urge BRASA members working and studying in the United States to sign the petition: brasaec.org. We also call on you to ask other scholars and students to sign.

 

In view of recent events widely reported in the Brazilian and international press, as well by students and scholars of that country, the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) expresses its concern about the current state of human rights and academic freedom in Brazil. We express our solidarity and emphatic support to educational professionals and students from all over the country who have been subjected to the curtailment of their freedom of expression, the monitoring of their political positions, and many kinds of threats and violence. Brazil’s 1988 Constitution guarantees that universities have “didactic-scientific, administrative and financial management autonomy.” It also guarantees to all citizens the right “to present their thought” and the “free expression of intellectual activity.”

 

In recent decades, Brazilian society has built a successful university system that produces scientific knowledge with significant international impact and trains professionals essential to the country in all areas of knowledge. In examining recent episodes of Electoral Courts’ abusive actions against dozens of universities, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) emphatically reaffirmed the constitutional principles of university autonomy and academic freedom. In so doing, they recognized that without autonomy and academic freedom, scientific research and critical thinking have no environment in which to thrive.

 

Despite the important statement of the Federal Supreme Court in defense of academic freedom and university autonomy, serious episodes are occurring on a scale that is very alarming. Bill no. 7180/14 (dubbed “School without a party” by its advocates) is currently being considered in Congress. The bill purports to “respect the beliefs of students that come from their parents and other guardians, privileging family values in their school education related to moral, sexual and religious education.” Our own analysis of the text of the bill, however, suggests that it could have devastating effects on teachers at all levels of education. Among other things, we are gravely concerned that educators will be bullied and dismissed as a form of persecution based on the way they approach issues in the classroom. There is already evidence that this is happening, with elected politicians encouraging students to denounce and slander educators through social networks, verbal aggression, and direct threats of violence. In a recent episode in São Paulo, a group of alleged students invaded a classroom carrying weapons at one of the country’s top universities.

 

We are also concerned about the application and effects of laws like these on marginalized communities. Among other things, the text of Bill no. 7180/14 prohibits the use of the term “gender” in all levels of teaching and in teaching materials. If enacted it could very well prohibit teaching topics related to gender in schools and universities, thus disregarding much of the human knowledge produced in the last decades in many disciplines, which consider gender relations as an essential aspect of human experience at all times and in all societies. The Supreme Federal Court will be ruling on the constitutionality of said bill in the near future. BRASA calls upon the STF to defend Brazilian educators, so that they are free from censorship and persecution.

 

We believe that academic freedom is critical to democracy and to the exercise of human rights. The Brazilian Studies Association places itself on the side of Brazilian educators in a permanent and unequivocal way, and is prepared to use all means at its disposal in defense of human rights and academic freedom in Brazil.