The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Partners for change at the intersection of academics and advocacy.

PRESS RELEASE: Brazil Fails to Protect the Rights of Afro-Brazilian Communities

September 24, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas - The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at The University of Texas School of Law claimed today that Brazil is not guaranteeing the land rights of its Afro-Brazilian quilombo communities.

Its report, titled “Between the Law and Their Land: Afro-Brazilian Quilombo Communities’ Struggle for Land Rights,” includes a detailed analysis of the persistent patterns of discrimination that these communities face and offers concrete recommendations for improving the land titling process for quilombos and for addressing the precarious economic and social position of their inhabitants.

Quilombos were born out of a history of early resistance to slavery whereby many slaves escaped captivity by fleeing, mostly to remote areas, and forming communal arrangements across Brazil. According to Professor Karen Engle, Director of the Rapoport Center, “for centuries—even after the end of slavery—legal, social, and economic barriers prevented black communities from securing title to the lands they traditionally occupied.” Significantly, the 1988 Brazilian Constitution recognized the right of quilombos to collective title of their lands. Engle stresses that “despite these constitutional promises made over twenty years ago, of the over 3,550 quilombos recognized by the state, only 87 had received titles as of May 2008.”

The report maintains that the process for obtaining title is long, difficult, and uncertain, and that Afro-Brazilian quilombo communities continue to struggle against deep-rooted racial discrimination. Moreover, the Brazilian state has demonstrated that it lacks the political will to protect quilombos from land encroachment by wealthy landowners. According to Ariel Dulitzky, the Center’s associate director, “without formal title, these communities have little or no protection against displacement.”

The report on Afro-Brazilian land rights is the culmination of months of research conducted by a Center delegation that visited Brazil in March 2008. The delegation was comprised of Engle and Dulitzky and students from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law, Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and LBJ School of Public Affairs. The delegation visited Afro-Brazilian communities, academics, activists, non-governmental organizations, and state-level officials in the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bahia and Salvador. Delegates also met with high-level federal authorities in Brasilia who are involved with quilombo recognition and titling.

The Rapoport Center delegation’s report identifies key impediments to the effective titling of quilombos’ traditional lands and offers responses. According to Dulitzky, “we recommend that the Brazilian government immediately resume the titling process that is currently suspended, revise regulations to simplify and accelerate the tilting process, create meaningful and accessible channels for the participation and protection of quilombo communities, and provide effective measures for rights guaranteed under domestic and international law.”

The report further recommends that the United States government ensure that any trade or cooperation agreements with Brazil respect the rights of quilombo communities and that its policies on the production of biofuels not negatively impact them. “We also call for the United States and international financial institutions to increase foreign aid and assistance to support the political participation and economic development of quilombos,” said Engle. The report includes recommendations for other entities as well, including human rights intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

This report follows a 2007 report on Afro-Colombian land rights, and is part of a multi-year project on Afro-descendant and indigenous land rights in Latin America.

For further information please contact:

Karen Engle
(512) 232-7066

Ariel Dulitzky
(512) 232-1256

The full text of the report is available here.

Read a summary of the report here.

Learn more about the 2008 spring break project.