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Will the culture of human rights overcome hatred?

Coauthor André Bakker da Silveira

Seventy-five years on from the birth of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is astonishing to note that the climate of hatred, oppression, and violence that instigated the development of this important document is still alive and influencing the political field, including the development of our public policies. In particular, young people today are an easy target for extremist discourses that seek to destabilize institutions, especially those aimed at building and disseminating a culture of citizenship, democracy, and respect for human rights: schools.

As data from the survey  Raio-x de 20 anos de ataques a escolas no Brasil (X-ray of 20 years of attacks on schools in Brazil), carried out by the Sou da Paz Institute, shows, attacks have unfortunately become frequent in Brazil and have therefore gained a great deal of attention. Behind these events are a range of situations, such as cooptation by extremism, emotional health issues, and the growing dissemination of hate speech by influential political actors.

Given these factors, which ultimately involve implementing public policies (education, security, health, etc.), it is unavoidable to mention that the Brazilian state has been failing over the last 20 years to implement a fundamental policy: building a culture of respect for human rights. A policy that must have young people at its center.

According to a survey by the Open Society Foundations, in 2023, 26% of young Brazilians aged between 18 and 35 will not believe that democracy is the best form of government. In the average of the 30 countries in which the survey was carried out, this figure rises to 43%.

This culture of hate, which operates in public and private spaces and is intentionally based on values contrary to plurality and human rights, takes people by the way of the affections but sells itself as being strictly technical and rational.

These are the memes and jokes that are sexist, racist, and fascist; the ideas that put the economy as having priority over life; and the authoritarian outbursts that advocate invading spaces such as schools and universities to control what is said and taught. Recently, these events have become public policy, which is also why they have become part of the current cultural melting pot.

This strategy of moral panic is only fruitful because it finds fertile ground in real problems in our society. In the case of schools, it is important to stress that they live with episodes of violence daily, often going unnoticed or unduly naturalized. Discrimination, bullying, interpersonal conflicts, and physical aggression are just a few examples of what students and education professionals experience. Tackling the violence that affects schools requires action at different levels and involves different players.

Among the public policies that need to be strengthened in the fight against violent extremism in schools, we highlight Human Rights Education. Research by the Aurora Institute shows that this area was weakened during Jair Bolsonaro’s government, with vital structures being discontinued, — as is the case of the National Committee for Human Rights Education.

Not surprisingly, Human Rights Education is mentioned in the reports of the two working groups created by the Federal Government to study and propose actions on the issue of violence against schools and hate speech, together with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship, respectively.

According to the documents, it is necessary to strengthen and expand the presence of Human Rights Education in educational and training spaces; to train public agents; to revise documents; and to expand spaces for listening and participatory dialog on the subject.

A revised and updated public policy on Human Rights Education should be able to strengthen initiatives that promote a culture of respect for human rights.

In addition to education, there is a great deal of emphasis on public security, which is a duty of the state and a right that should be offered to all and, based on this, needs to be understood as a public policy that needs to articulate the different levels of government and carry out multidisciplinary actions, making it possible to prevent crimes and violence; not just repress them. 

In Brazil, repressive action is commonly used. It is no coincidence that we are dealing with a high number of young people killed, most of them people of color, by agents of the state. This institutionalized action is called necropolitics. It is clear that the dimension of crime control and repression is important, but it requires planning, intelligence, and investment. Investing in violence prevention policies should be a priority, i.e. resources should be focused on the causes of the problem and on promoting more effective solutions, not just on combating them after they have occurred.

Considering that attacks on schools committed with firearms have resulted in three times more fatalities than those committed with bladed weapons and that in 60% of cases committed with firearms, the aggressor acquired the weapon in his home (a result of the Bolsonaro government’s policies to facilitate access to firearms), a first step is to implement control and inspection measures for the purchase and possession of firearms. Restricting access to firearms for aggressors is fundamental, as well as reinforcing the requirement for a safe for the weapon, reducing the chances of children or teenagers gaining access to the weapon.

Another important measure is the training of state civil police officers in recognizing extremist ideologies and groups that promote hate crimes, as well as research methodologies in the digital environment (where these crimes are traditionally planned, fomented, and celebrated). The focus on mapping and dismantling groups that co-opt teenagers and young people is time-critical. By monitoring social networks, numerous people have been arrested this year, others are still being investigated, and possible actions motivated by extremism, racism, and misogyny have been dismantled, showing the effectiveness of this investigative and intelligence action.

At the same time, it is possible to monitor school incidents and civil police reports that show signs of escalating violence, to take more urgent action in these units, guided by Human Rights Education. If we are to have a society without extreme attacks on schools, we need to consider preventing violence at all levels, starting with everyday school practices and involving all public policies, such as health, culture, and social assistance.

Such social inequality and lack of public investment in access to quality public services contribute to disbelief in institutions and the breakdown of life in society. Public policies that guarantee access to basic rights are strategic in containing public policies based on a culture of hate, and only in this way will we be able to promote a culture of respect for human rights.

*This text is part of the project (Re)connecting: bringing people together to overcome violence in schools, carried out by the Aurora Institute, with institutional support from L21. To support the initiative, visit: 

André Bakker da Silveira, research and project manager at the Aurora Institute for Human Rights Education. He holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the Federal University of Parana (UFPR) and is a full member of the Curitiba Municipal Human Rights Commission.

Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Portuguese 



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