Brazil: Human Rights in the Foreign Policy of an Emerging Power

24 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2012 Last revised: 16 Feb 2012

See all articles by Par Engstrom

Par Engstrom

Institute of the Americas, University College London; Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

This chapter (in Spanish) seeks to locate human rights in the broader tradition and trends of Brazilian foreign policy. In short, the chapter argues that since the transition to democracy Brazil’s foreign policy has gradually shifted from a traditional pluralist position on international human rights (emphasising the centrality of state sovereignty in international relations) , to broadly accepting the legitimacy of the international human rights regime, as well as accepting international scrutiny of its domestic human rights record. Brazilian foreign policy has traditionally been dominated by the Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) that tended to view international human rights suspiciously as a cloak for foreign intervention in domestic affairs. However, as Brazilian foreign policy has democratized – with increasing civil society input – and as Brazil has emerged as a pivotal player in global governance, the engagement with international human rights by Brazilian foreign policy has increased. This shift has created the necessary policy conditions for a more active Brazilian role in the international human rights regime on the one hand, and a more prominent role for human rights in Brazilian foreign policy more generally, on the other.

Yet, Brazil’s foreign policy in the area of human rights remains uneven, raising fundamental questions regarding the future role of Brazil in the international human rights regime. This is due to a combination of internal and external factors, including: a fragile domestic social order with continuing human rights violations; a foreign policy process that tends to privilege narrow conceptions of national interest; and continuing uncertainty over the role of emerging states in the international human rights regime. These uncertainties notwithstanding, the rise of Brazil in international relations has generated increasing expectations on Brazil to play a prominent role on the international arena, including with regards to the international human rights regime. It remains unclear, however, how Brazilian foreign policy will respond to these expectations. Although Brazil has become increasingly embedded in the international human rights regime, Brazilian foreign policy on human rights remains uneven and ambivalent.

The chapter proceeds as follows. The first section briefly reviews the explanations for why a country would (and should) adopt human rights as objectives for its foreign policies. The second section maps Brazil’s increasing engagement with the international human rights regime since the transition to democracy and up until the end of the Cardoso government in 2002. The third section assesses the extent to which human rights influence Brazil’s formulation and pursuit of foreign policy objectives while situating human rights in the broader context of Brazil’s foreign policy process during the Lula administrations (2003-2010). The concluding section seeks to evaluate the importance of human rights concerns for Brazilian foreign policy. It also provides some tentative reflections on present and future trends in Brazilian foreign policy with regards to human rights.

Suggested Citation

Engstrom, Par, Brazil: Human Rights in the Foreign Policy of an Emerging Power (2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2005208 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2005208

Par Engstrom (Contact Author)

Institute of the Americas, University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris Cedex 07, 75337
France

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