Monica Bergamo reports in Folha de S.Paulo newspaper that UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego Garcia, received a document on the 17th May in which 85 Brazilian professors and jurists warn of “an unprecedented campaign of mistrust and threats” against the country’s superior courts.
With the imminent presidential election under explicit coup threat should frontrunner Lula da Silva win as expected, Brazilians have looked to international bodies for assistance in guaranteeing its already fractured democracy.
The text states that judicial independence in Brazil faces challenges not seen since post-military dictatorship redemocratization since 1985. It also says that this year’s elections and democratic continuity are threatened by the attacks promoted by President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies.
The letter was prepared by the Observatory for Monitoring Electoral Risks in Brazil (Demos), made up of legal and political science researchers such as Emílio Peluso Neder Meyer, Clara Iglesias Keller, Estefânia Maria de Queiroz Barboza and Diego Werneck Arguelhes.
“Bolsonaro has invested heavily to delegitimize elections. He has repeatedly claimed — without ever providing any evidence — that the electronic voting system the country adopted in the 1990s is open to deliberate manipulation,” the researchers say.
“Those who believe that democracy in Brazil is sufficiently guaranteed and protected and that the institutions are perfectly functioning are mistaken. It is not exactly easy to see when the line between democracy and dictatorship has been crossed, and Brazil may be crossing that line in the coming months.” the letter reads.
The document asks the UN to carry out an official visit to Brazil to assess the attacks on judicial independence, and hear testimonies from magistrates at the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) and STF (Federal Supreme Court), as well as members of civil society. The document asks that the UN demand explanation for these threats, from the Bolsonaro government.
The initiative is also supported by 28 entities and research groups, such as the Washington Brazil Office, the Center for the Analysis of Freedom and Authoritarianism, and the Laboratory for Security and Defense Studies at UFRJ.
The signatories also report to the UN that the Jair Bolsonaro government encourages public attacks on institutions and violence against political opponents, as well as undermining the peaceful resolution of electoral conflicts.
They recall that Brazilian elections have been supervised by the Electoral Justice since the 1930s, and that, between 2018 and 2021, the country dropped five points in the general index of Freedom House, a human rights organization that measures political freedom in territories Worldwide.
“Bolsonaro tests the limits of institutions, encouraging his supporters to act against the courts and their judges, eroding support for institutions in a way that strengthens his own illiberal and authoritarian agenda,” they warn.
“Bolsonaro has supported disinformation and false accusations of fraud in the 2018 elections, even though he himself was the winner”, the document notes, and recalls episodes such as the September 7 2021, a “dress rehearsal coup” which took place last year with direct participation by the president, and the pardon he granted to far-right ally Daniel Silveira after conviction by the Supreme Court.
The letter also describes the latest standoff between the Electoral Court and the Armed Forces around the 2022 election: “Fostering a permanent institutional crisis has been Bolsonaro’s strategy to avoid judicial and electoral checks on his power, generating distrust and undermining institutional legitimacy in a way that could last even after the 2022 elections,” it reads.
“Even if the current government is defeated at the polls, measures must be taken to combat attacks on the judiciary, as the government’s narratives and influence will certainly overcome the election.” the letter concludes.