On January 2, 2019, the new Brazilian government introduced a provisional measure that would allow it to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and observe the activities and actions of international agencies and non-governmental organisations within national territory.” In response, civil society organizations have spoken out against the measure and highlighted the ways it violates rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Brazil and international law, such as freedom of association.
Conectas—a Brazilian NGO focused on human rights—notes that Brazil’s vibrant civil society has been an integral component to its stable democracy by “working towards better conditions in the areas of education and health, for individual freedom and equal access to rights, for access to information and freedom of expression…as well as many other issues.”
Read the full statement from Conectas here:
The Bolsonaro government’s first working day saw the introduction of a provisional measure that appears to be aimed at putting the campaign promise of “ending any form of activism” into practice. The MP 870/2019, in article 5, II, published on 2nd January gives the Secretariat of Government of the Presidency of the Republic the scope to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and observe the activities and actions of international agencies and non-governmental organisations within national territory”. These new functions were subsequently reflected in the structure of the Secretariat, in line with decree 9.669.
This type of function is unprecedented in the democratic period and suggests an attempt to curtail the work of civil society. The Secretariat of Government has always had the role of communication and dialogue between civil society and the government. It has never been to monitor the activity and actions of these organisations.
It is not the role of the government to control the work of non-governmental organisations on national territory. The Constitution is explicit in preventing state interference in the functioning of civil society organisations and guaranteeing full freedom of association for lawful purposes, without the authorisation of the government.
This does not mean that these organisations are exempt of any controls. There are a number of mechanisms to monitor the transfer of public resources and fiscal exemptions, including supervision by the Audit Office and the Internal Revenue Service.
It is important to understand the importance and the diversity of the activities of non-governmental organisations in Brazil. According to a study by the IPEA (Institute for Applied Economic Research), in 2017 there were over 820 thousand NGOs, working towards better conditions in the areas of education and health, for individual freedom and equal access to rights, for access to information and freedom of expression, for dignity of work, for the rights of children and adolescents, for respect towards the environment, as well as many other issues.
A free, active civil society is part of a solid democracy. The government should urgently revert this norm and bring it into line with the precepts of the Constitution. The intention to control, supervise or monitor the activities of these organisations is an extremely negative sign of authoritarianism on the part of any government that takes this initiative.