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This article is by LAB partner CONECTAS.
In the run-up to its 6th summit, heads of state of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are being confronted by the limited impact of their previous decisions, as was clear in the case of Syria, and by the expectations and contradictions surrounding the first practical initiative in the group’s history – the formal creation of a new multilateral bank to finance infrastructure projects in developing countries. The summit will take place on July 14 and 15 in Fortaleza and on July 16 in Brasília.
These weaknesses will be the main target of Conectas and other human rights organizations during the event. “The authorities can no longer ignore the influence the block has in the conduct of major issues for human rights in the world,” said Camila Asano, coordinator of Foreign Policy at Conectas. “For Brazil, for example, the BRICS has been a valuable forum for decision-making and for defining the country’s position in the face of crises.”
As an example, Asano cited the case of Syria, the subject of an exclusive paragraph in the final declaration of the last summit, held in the city of Durban in May 2013. “We commended the request by the block for immediate, safe, full and unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations to Syria, but we have not, since the last meeting, seen satisfactory efforts by the BRICS to implement this measure.”
Although the Security Council approved, in February 2014, a resolution on humanitarian access to Syria, the UN itself has warned about the non-compliance with its provisions and the deterioration of the situation on the ground.
One year later, the commitment of the leaders to the victims of the conflict in Syria still only exists on paperConectas and another 7 Brazilian, Indian and South African organizations sent a letter to the heads of state requesting, among other things, a new commitment from the block to a solution for the Syrian conflict and to the provision of funds. The organizations are also calling for a strong condemnation of the use of barrel bombs and cluster bombs.
The letter also draws attention to the small size of the humanitarian contributions by the BRICS to the Syrian crisis. “Brazil has pledged to donate, in 2014, a very small amount in humanitarian aid to the victims of the crisis in Syria. The leadership that the country claims to have ought to be followed up by concrete actions, such as a donation befitting a country that is one of the world’s 10 largest economies,” said Asano.
Another key point of the letter is the request for the final declaration of the summit to include a commitment to the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Of the block’s five countries, only Brazil and South Africa have signed the agreement. None of them have ratified the treaty to date.
Read the letter in full.
Another major debate is expected to emerge over the future BRICS Bank. This is the block’s first practical initiative since its creation, in 2009, and it pursues the central goal of the summits, which is to make changes to global economic governance.
Although they acknowledge the strategic importance of the bank, Brazilian civil society organizations point to contradictions at the heart of the project, since the BRICS themselves and several of their potential client states are facing serious tensions caused by development projects.
According to Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas, the initiative is a response to an urgent demand for more innovation and diversification in the sources of financing for development. But the notorious strategies that have violated human rights in the past cannot be repeated under a new guise. “This is what we see in Brazil, for example, when the BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) finances projects with significant socio-environmental and human rights impacts, particularly in the energy, agribusiness, petrochemical and mining sectors.”
“The future of the BRICS Bank presents a unique opportunity, before it makes its first loan, to create robust practices and policies that contribute to development, but that also protect nature and human rights. This can be done, for example, by creating an effective grievance mechanism or by adopting solid transparency policies,” said Kweitel.