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In defense of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights: the work of Terra de Direitos in the Covid

The problems associated with the treatment and fight against Coronavirus transmission has been pointing out to a crisis context that is not limited to health systems. The Covid-19 situation reveals the failure of a social, economic, and wellbeing model. The intensification of inequalities, the processes of commercialization of economic and social rights, the economic and fiscal austerity policies, the attacks against civil society organizations, amongst other measures, are examples of responses of a model incapable of dealing with emergencies and crisis.

Governmental responses directed at “saving” the economy, helping businessmen and bankers, and implementing economic and fiscal austerity have a cost over the life and health of a part of the population, which is already vulnerable and marginalized from accessing goods, services, and rights.

Thus, a diverse panorama of violations of human rights has been integrated into our daily lives, characterizing life in the pandemic context:

  • The increase of the burden of crisis management over women, with an intensification of episodes of domestic violence;  
  • The failures of the social protection system in guaranteeing the basic survival rights to the most vulnerable population, even with the approval of the emergency basic income;
  • The increased lack of protection of informal workers and the risks of further deepening setbacks regarding the labor legislation;
  • The emergency of a food crisis in which both the production and delivery capacities by the part of rural workers, traditional peoples, and communities, as well as the survival possibilities of people who live in poverty conditions;
  • The use of the health crisis as a smokescreen for an increase in authoritarian measures by the part of governments, including surveillance actions, collection of data violating the right to privacy and restricting the right to information, besides increasing the access to guns and ammunition for private groups/militiamen in society;
  • The violation of the right to health and the absence of protection measures for the prison population in a permanent state of overcrowding;  
  • The hardships in implementing safety and protection measures to men and women who are human rights defenders in risky situations and which, in a crisis circumstance, play a major role in the ways of life and survival of their communities.
  • The lack of monitoring and State presence in certain areas as a stimulus factor for the violation of rights by private agents, such as the case of land invasions in traditional territories, the persistence of deforestation actions, and the murder of social leaderships and activists.


This situation is accentuated by structural inequalities, among which the institutional racism is noteworthy, in the spread of the disease, and in accessing health care, exams and treatment. A public alert announced by the National Coordination of Rural Black Quilombola Communities (Conaq), on April 22nd, points out that in the last 11 days, every two days there’s a death due to Covid-19 among quilombolas.

The alert calls out the attention for a reality of great underreporting of cases in quilombos, as well as for situations of hardships in accessing exams and the denial in providing tests to people with symptoms. In this same sense, an alert by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib) points out racist situations and underreporting of cases among indigenous peoples.

With more than one month since the Coronavirus crisis started in Brazil, Terra de Direitos has been affirming and defending the safeguard of human rights in this context, acting politically and directly, considering the protection needs of the most vulnerable groups and peoples. To know and to fight against inequalities are decisively and increasingly crucial elements for a project of society in which there’s a place for each and every one.

In this work horizon, the organization claims that the right to life, healthcare, food, education, social security, territory, and housing is above the interests of private agents and fiscal austerity measures. The justice system must also assume a part of the responsibility due to the crisis, whether through guaranteeing compliance with the human rights standards in their decisions, whether through budget administration that is responsible and solidary with the crisis effects over the lives of the population. In a manifestation at the beginning of the pandemic, Terra de Direitos has highlighted a series of measures to be adopted by the organs that comprise the justice system. If urgently implemented, these measures would minimize the violent effects of the structural and epidemiological crisis that we are living. 

Facing this context, we’ve been acting and contributing to the work made by many networks, organizations, groups, and civil society movements, through the following measures and actions.

Guided by the defense of the Unified Healthcare System (SUS), which guarantees the population’s essential access to free services and ruptures the commercialization of human rights, Terra de Direitos, in the scope of actions by the DHESCA Platform, supported a petition to the Federal Supreme Court (STF) requesting the immediate suspension of the Constitutional Amendment No. 95, known as “Expenditure Roof”. The entities affirmed that the pandemic may cause health systems and other social policies to collapse and that its effects will go beyond 2020.

The State’s duty to foresee and act to minimize the consequences of the pandemic for the most severely affected part of the population and which faces the biggest obstacles for overcoming the crisis has been strongly required by the civil society in different areas. In this sense, we’ve signed representation from many organizations, led by Habitat for humanity Brazil, to the Federal Attorney for the Rights of Citizen (PFDC) about the special measures for favelas and peripheries, particularly health -

Just as “Coletivo Mobiliza” – a network in defense of the right to the city in Curitiba (PR), we officiated Curitiba’s Campaign for Popular Housing (Cohab) suspending evictions due to the lack of payment and suspending charges.

Another important measure in civil society’s scope which received the adherence of Terra de Direitos was the Campaign for an Emergency Basic Income.

The monitoring should be reinforced so that in this period the State doesn’t take advantage to act in the crisis’s shadow to promote ongoing processes of violation of rights of communities, especially the non-ordering of forced evictions. In this sense, another important action has been the support of the claim made by the Movement of Alcântara Space Base-Affected People (MABE) to the Brazilian State regarding the plans for evicting quilombola communities in Alcântara (MA).

Besides, in Santarém (PA), Terra de Direitos is part of an articulation formed by social movements, work unions, civil society organizations, university, and social pastorals, to think about collective actions to fight coronavirus in the city, taking the protection of more vulnerable groups into consideration. Many support and protection measures for traditional peoples and communities, and human rights defenders have already been implemented and are being discussed.

We join the Articulation Justice and Human Rights (JusDh), a network that defends justice democratization, providing visibility to the justice system, in order to safeguard human rights, the realization of the rights under the Federal Constitution and, especially, to reduce the impacts of the epidemic in the population, particularly the most vulnerable one.

Another articulation that we’re a part of is the recently created Human Rights Observatory – Crisis and Covid-19”, an initiative that gathers a broad set of organizations that act in many human rights agendas and that will monitor, formulate and systematize information about the guarantee or the violation of human rights during the period of crisis confrontation.


Terra de Direitos has contributed and joined many solidarity campaigns in many different territories. In Paraná, we joined the Campanha Resistindo com Solidariedade (Resisting with Solidarity Campaign), to purchase food for peripheral urban communities in Curitiba and its Metropolitan Region. Other front actions, from the Frente Mobiliza Curitiba, has been the production of reports and guidelines for urban communities in Curitiba’s metropolitan region. We also support agrarian reform farmers, in the transportation of food donated by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) to peripheral communities in the capital and metropolitan region.

Still, in the state of Pará, we have been collaborating with the provision of food baskets for collectors of recyclable material in the capital, and in denouncing the State’s lack of assistance. In Curitiba, we are part of a group of emergency support to the population living in the streets, in support of requesting actions to the public power, denouncements, solidarity campaigns, and providing food. We have been equally collaborating with resuming the work by the Association of Family Farmers and in the network of support with food donations from settlements of agrarian reform for indigenous Guaranis, in the West of the State.

In Pará, Terra de Direitos has been contributing through actions of acquisition and distribution of basic food baskets for traditional communities, and indigenous quilombolas in greater vulnerability. With the guideline of remaining in their territories and without being able to sell their products, the communities – especially those of várzea (flood forest) where the access to the city is made only by boat – where the lack of supply is already felt.

In the state of Minas Gerais, we have been collaborating with the Commission in the Defense of Rights of Extractivist Communities (Codecex), especially in Serra do Espinhaço, with the support for the acquisition of food and hygiene material for traditional communities.


Another work front of Terra de Direitos has been the monitoring of the legislative activity, of actions of the executive branch of government and judicial decisions related to measures and law projects which result in loss of rights, especially for the most vulnerable population, and the criminalization of leaderships and popular movements.

We understand that the critical situation requires intense action in many fronts, articulated and in a network by the civil society, having the defense and the guarantee of human rights as the main goal, in accordance with the Federal Constitution.

Terra de Direitos continues to act strongly in the defense of human rights through remote work, servicing and monitoring emergencies and cases, respecting the isolation and social distancing guidelines, a measure adopted since the beginning of the pandemic.



Axes: Human rights policy and culture