Intimidation of Brazilian human rights defenders engaging with the UN

During two side events at the United Nations, Jean Wyllys and Luciana Zaffalon were intimidated by Brazilian officials.

The undersigned organizations are concerned about two acts of intimidation recently carried out against Brazilian citizens by State officials. These incidents took place on March 15th and 19th, 2019, during two side events held at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva and Vienna, respectively. All of the undersigned organizations were co-sponsors of one or both of the side events.

The first side event, entitled “New Authoritarianism: Implications for Human Rights and Civil Society,” took place on March 15th in Palais des Nations, in Geneva, during the Human Rights Council’s 40th session. The panel included human rights defenders from Brazil, the United States and the Philippines. Among the panelists was Jean Wyllys de Matos Santos, an LGBTI rights activist and former Brazilian congressperson, who was elected last year for a third congressional term but who left the country due to multiple death threats. He is a beneficiary of precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since November 20, 2018.

After Mr. Wyllys delivered his speech, the Brazilian Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, stated that Mr. Wyllys had “abandoned his voters to travel the world to disseminate fake news”[1], that LGBTI people were not being persecuted in Brazil and that it was “a shame” to use the UN platform to spread criticism against her country[2]. After making this statement, the Ambassador stood up to leave without listening to Mr. Wyllys’ response, repeating loudly that his presence at the UN was an embarrassment to the country[3].

The second side event was held on March 19th during the 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), at the Vienna International Centre. It was focused on the militarization of public security across the Americas and policies aimed at reducing drug supply. Among the panelists invited to speak at the event was Luciana Zaffalon, a researcher and Secretary of the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, a network of 50 NGOs, collectives and experts advocating for reform of drug policies based on human rights and harm reduction. Ms. Zaffalon gave a presentation on the situation in Brazil, highlighting the federal military intervention in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and its consequences in terms of violent deaths – namely, a 35% increase in the number of people killed by police forces.

After the panelists spoke, a man who introduced himself as the General Coordinator of the Brazilian Federal Police specifically addressed Ms. Zaffalon, saying that he did not agree with the data because the people she was talking about were “criminal people”. He repeatedly interrupted Ms. Zaffalon, including when she pointed out that the information came from official sources. “I also have data,” he replied, “I am a federal police officer, I am the general coordinator of the federal police”, clearly using his position as a tool for intimidation[4]. The situation grew increasingly tense, to the point where the event moderator was forced to interrupt. The panelists expressed surprise regarding the tone of the police officer’s remarks, which was highly unusual for side events held at the Vienna International Centre. Ms. Zaffalon felt particularly intimidated by the fact that a high-ranking police officer participating in a UN meeting as part of a country’s delegation would publicly justify extrajudicial executions committed by law enforcement officials.

The two side events were organized by a diverse group of national, regional and international human rights organizations. The intimidation of Mr. Wyllys and Ms. Zaffalon has disrupted spaces for open debate, reflection and dialogue as well as exchange of critical ideas and experiences by civil society actors. Brazilian citizens and others who criticize the Brazilian government should be able to circulate safely within UN buildings and to freely express their views and ideas at meetings and events. It is particularly worrisome that Mr.  Wyllys, who is facing death threats, and who is currently under the protection of a regional human rights mechanism, has been subjected to intimidation and personal attacks inside the United Nations.

We call on the United Nations to address these cases of intimidation and we urge the Brazilian State to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations to investigate these acts, hold perpetrators accountable and provide remedy to Mr. Wyllys and Ms. Zaffalon.

Organizations which sponsored the events
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C. (CMDPDH)
Conectas Direitos Humanos
Human Rights Law Centre
Instituto Brasileiro de Ciências Criminais (IBCCRIM)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Intercambios Asociación Civil, Argentina
Plataforma Brasileira de Políticas de Drogas (PBPD)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Brazilian organizations present at the events
Articulação para o Monitoramento dos DH Brasil
Artigo 19
Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis, Transexuais e Intersexos (ABGLT)
Conselho Federal da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil
Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI)
Instituto Vladimir Herzog
Sociedade Maranhense de Direitos Humanos Terra de Direitos

[1] The written statement has been published by the Brazilian Mission to the UN on its Twitter account:

[2] The written statement has been published by the Brazilian Mission to the UN on its Twitter account:

[3] Brazilian journalist Jamil Chade (UOL) was present in the room and filmed the episode, which is available on his Twitter account:

[4] A video of the incident is available on the Facebook page of the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform: