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Manifestação do projeto de pesquisa Autonomia Universitária e Liberdade Acadêmica, vinculado ao NIDH, para Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos (CIDH)

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O projeto de pesquisa autonomia universitária e liberdade acadêmica do NIDH apresentou manifestação para construção dos standards interamericanos sobre a liberdade acadêmica e autonomia universitária, perante a Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos (CIDH). Confira aqui:

Rio de Janeiro, November 12th 2021.

NÚCLEO INTERAMERICANO DE DIREITOS HUMANOS – NIDH, permanent and active academic center for research and outreach of the National Law School of the Rio de Janeiro University (FND/UFRJ), address n. 8, Moncorvo Filho st., Centro, Rio de Janeiro/RS, Brasil, CEP 20.211-340, by its South-American Constitutionalism Research Group (SUD) and its University Autonomy and Academic Freedom Project, represented by its research staff Carolina Cyrillo (UFRJ), Luiz Fernando Castilhos Silveira (UCS), Siddharta Legale (UFRJ), Daniela de Oliveira Miranda (UCS) and Laura Maurina (UCS), present a response to the consultation about the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), the Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Taking into account the research and engagement by the mentioned SUD members within the topic of this consultation, we come to present the following observations, especially about the current scenario in Brazil.

PREAMBLE

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, given its role as an institution for, beyond the State (gatekeeper), safekeeping human rights, and the Inter-American principles and standards in the Americas (PIOVENSAN and LEGALE, 2020), is qualified for the effective protection of academic freedom in the Americas, and should be aware of the current scenario in Brazil regarding this topic, and bring to effect measures that correspond to its institutional role.

Given this introduction, we will present three situations that potentially violate the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, and that require that action be taken by the ICHR according to its Inter-American role of safekeeping these human rights.

PRINCIPLES

Brazil is systematically violating Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy (CYRILLO and SILVEIRA, 2021). The first violation we will mention is of the principle n. II, comprising the Autonomy of the academic institutions, carried out by the President of the Republic when trying to systematically usurp legal mechanisms to intervene in Universities in order to advance in a policy of “eliminating ideologies” in public universities while trying to take advantage of the COVID 19 pandemic to fulfill his campaign promises of controlling federal public universities. In December 24th 2019, the President enacted an urgent presidential act (which has the same legal hierarchy that of a federal act of parliament), giving himself powers to nominate the Deans of all federal higher education institutions, hence willingly violating principle n. IV. This act was later repealed by the Brazilian Parliament.

Nevertheless, the President started to utilize legislation created during the period of the military dictatorship to nominate the Deans of federal universities, breaking the constitutional custom of nominating for deanship the person elected by the academic community according to its own criteria. This was done with the goal of ideologically intervening in the universities, and thus violating principle n. IV, of Protection of Universities from State interference.  

Also in the sphere of the Federal Public Administration, the General Controler’s Office of the Union (CGU), a body that is subordinated to the presidency of the Republic, applied sanctions to two Professors of the Pelotas Federal University (UFPel), one of them the former Dean and coordinator of the national EpiCovid Research, Pedro Hallal, for “uttering disrespectful and demeaning remarks towards the President of the Republic”, affirming that those utterances were made “during a live broadcast in an official media channel of the institution on Youtube and Facebook.”

On another occurrence, the Attorney General of the Republic filed a claim before the Ethics Committee of the University of São Paulo (USP) against the Professor of Constitutional Law of that institution, Conrado Hübner Mendes, for the institutional criticism that the Attorney General had received in conducting the federal controls and supervision of federal policies related to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Given this state of affairs in Brazil, there are clear violations to the Inter-American principle n. VIII of the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, on the Prohibition of censorship and exceptionality of the exercise of States’ punitive power against staff members who are in scientific disagreement with the current government’s ideologies.

Moreover, in Brazil there are systematic violations to Principle n. III, of Non-discrimination, through the enactment of laws  that prohibit the discussion of gender or sexual diversity topics, and even contain provisions for punishing teaching staff who promote non-discriminatory education, which violates the Inter-American principle determining that academic freedom must be promoted, protected, and guaranteed equally and without discrimination on any ground, including political or other opinions, ethnic-racial origin, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, language, religion, cultural identity, social origin, socioeconomic status, educational level, situation of human mobility, disability, genetic characteristics, mental or physical health condition, including those of infectious or contagious disease, mental impairment, and any other. In trying to eliminate “ideologies” in education, the current Brazilian government promotes political ideologies which criminalize the debate about sexual and gender diversity. Thus, the State promotes hate-policies in public debates, increasing discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ population, and violating its human rights, such as the right to life, freedom of expression and individual autonomy.

To understand the potential of contribution of academic freedom together with university autonomy in society, including and maybe especially regarding the protection of democratic values themselves, it is paramount to understand its instrumental role in resisting against the recent authoritarian attacks against democracy, rights and democratic institutions in Brazil.

The three occasions mentioned above include attacks to freedoms of thought and expression in Academia. These attacks are perpetrated as part of a project to control the scientific narrative about the facts of social reality, a control which intends to undermine what Vicki Jackson has called “a sound epistemic base for representative democracy.” By definition, authoritarianism does not tolerate dissenting ideas or their expression, including scientific freedom. This dimension of the political importance of academic institutions as the place in which the search for truth resists authoritarian advances had already been identified by Hannah Arendt, in her text “Truth and Politics”, for whom these institutions, due to the unease that they bring to those in power, are always exposed to the dangers of authoritarian political power, because truth, the goal of university institutions, confronts and limits the will of tyrants.

The will to control universities through authoritarian policies is not new in the Americas. In the political context of the 1960s, Anísio Teixeira already warned us about the tension between university autonomy (as a “consequence of the nature of its functions”) and the Latin American society (which tends to fundamentally ground itself in “authority”). Thus, university autonomy is the guardian of the right to academic freedom, and no power besides that of knowledge should intervene in this autonomy. The University is the institution that protects this fundamental right to academic freedom and, as a corollary, to freedom of expression as a whole.

These are our considerations that we bring to this Comission.

Sincerely,

REFERENCES

CYRILLO, Carolina; SILVEIRA, Luiz Fernando Castilhos. La autonomía universitaria en la Constitución brasileña de 1988: un modelo de autonomía institucional en construcción. Revista Jurídica de la Universidad de Palermo | ISSN 0328-5642 | e-ISSN 2718-7063 | pp. 223-244 | Año 19, Nº 1 | Junio de 2021.

LEGALE, Siddharta; PIOVESAN, Flávia (Org.) . Os casos do Brasil na Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos. 1. ed. Rio de Janeiro: NIDH – UFRJ, 2020. v. 1.

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