By Henrique Napoleão Alves
Law Professor, Lawyer, Writer.
Students of one of the most-renowned Brazilian universities, UFMG (the Federal University of Minas Gerais), decided to call for an extraordinary assembly of their century-old student association – CAAP, “Centro Acadêmico Afonso Pena” – to debate the current Impeachment process against democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff.
The assembly would have taken place last Friday, April 29th, weren’t for a small group of just two raving students and three young lawyers that decided to take action against the assembly through a lawsuit.
In their complaint, they asked the Judiciary to adjudge and declare that CAAP is simply unauthorized to hold meetings about the Impeachment process. They also asked the Judiciary to declare that CAAP is prohibited to take sides or to act on the Impeachment issue (by starting a student strike, for example).
In one of the most antidemocratic legal decisions in the country’s history, Judge Moema Miranda Gonçalves decided to give them reason. The judge’s order was given to the students by court officials and included strict commands prohibiting current or future political meetings as well as student strikes. The order also imposed a daily fine in case of noncompliance.
From a legal point of view, the decision is completely unacceptable as it conflicts with the Brazilian Constitution (BC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). It violates both international human rights and Brazilian constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of thought and conscience (BC, article 5; ICCPR, article 18; ACHR, articles 12 and 13); the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression (BC, article 5; ICCPR, article 19; ACHR, article 13), which includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds (BC, article 5; ICCP, article 19); the right of peaceful assembly (BC, article 5; ICCPR, article 21; ACHR, article 15); the right to freedom of association with others (BC, article 5; ICCPR, article 22; ACHR, article 16); the right to self-determination and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs (BC, article 1; ICCPR, articles 1 and 25; ACHR, article 23.1.a) and the right to strike (BC, articles 9 and 207; ICESCR, art. 8) (understood in general terms as also encompassing student strikes).
The students who filed the lawsuit were defeated in CAAP’s last election – a free, open process through which the students vote to choose their representatives. Interestingly, the defeated candidate for CAAP’s presidency is a leading young member of PSDB, the national party that was defeated in the 2014 elections and now pushes for the impeachment. However, his name was not in the lawsuit.
Everyone is entitled to the same human rights listed above, including the freedom to associate him- or herself to a political party. What no citizen can do though is to violate other people’s rights when Democracy doesn’t please their personal or partisan interests.
When I was a freshman at the same law school, I was told that CAAP can be a kind of laboratory of big deal politics, almost like a “national politics in a nutshell”. Who would have thought how true that statement would turn out to be in 2016. Of course, J. Gonçalves’ decision is openly antidemocratic, but when one compares the national and CAAP’s politics, it is not difficult to realize that, in a way, the small coup against CAAP and the students who democratically elected their representatives was carried out much with the same kind of weapon used against Dilma: questionable legal interpretation.