Executive editor of Sur | International Journal on Human Rights
Eliana Sousa Silva11. Eliana Sousa Silva is the founder and director of the Redes da Maré NGO and the curator and organizer of the Women of the World Festival – WOW Rio. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Queen Mary University of London and holds a PhD in Social Services from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC/Rio). She has worked at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) for over 30 years. In 2007, together with other local leaders, Silva founded Redes da Maré, an NGO that runs 19 projects in different areas ranging from education, culture, professional training and women’s empowerment to human rights and public security, territorial development and collective memory. Throughout her career, Silva has received several awards, such as Itaú Cultural 30 years award (2018), Women of the Year – social area from the Rio de Janeiro Rotary Club (2005), the Mulher Claudia award in the area of social work from Editora Abril (2004) and the Ashoka Social Entrepreneur Award (2000).
Usha Ramanathan22. Usha Ramanathan is an Indian human right activist and an internationally recognized expert on law and poverty. She studied law at Madras University, the University of Nagpur and Delhi University. She is a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in India. Dr Ramanathan teaches environmental law, labour law and consumer law at the Indian Law Institute. She is a regular guest professor at many universities around the world, a member of Amnesty International’s Advisory Panel on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and also the South Asia Editor of the Law, Environment and Development Journal (LEAD Journal), a peer-reviewed academic journal jointly published by the School of Law of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and the International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC).
Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia33. Luis Gilberto Murillo-Urrutia has more than 30 years of experience in public policy design, implementation and advocacy; particularly, in the areas of sustainable regional development, natural resources, environmental protection, social inclusion and peace building. Murillo-Urrutia is a Mining Engineer with a Master of Science in Engineering. He is currently a Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Scholar and Fellow at MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. In this capacity, Murillo-Urrutia advices and leads applied policy research on the intersection of community and nature-based solutions to climate change and environmental justice. He is also affiliated to the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies (CLALS) at American University in Washington, DC as Research Fellow. He was a central figure in leading the formulation and implementation of the national climate change policy framework under the Paris Agreement, the national climate change management law, the national carbon tax, and the community-oriented voluntary carbon market during his tenure as Colombian Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. Through his various roles in government and civil society, Murillo-Urrutia has been on the front lines of conceiving of and realizing a new and better future for the people of Colombia.
Rafael Zanatta44. Director of the Data Privacy Brazil Research Association. He holds a master’s degree from the University of São Paulo (USP) Law School and is a doctoral candidate at the USP Energy and Environment Institute. He holds a master’s degree in Law and Economics from the University of Turin. Alumni of the Privacy Law and Policy Course at the University of Amsterdam. Research Fellow at The New School (USA). Member of the Latin American Network of Surveillance, Technology and Society (Lavits) and of the Brazilian Institute of Tort Law (IBERC). e Bruno Bioni55. Director of the Data Privacy Brazil Research Association. PhD in Commercial Law and holds a master’s degree in Civil Law from the USP Law School. Trainee of the European Data Protection Board and the Council of Europe’s Data Protection Department. Member of the Latin American Network of Surveillance, Technology and Society (Lavits).
The Covid-19 pandemic caused a global health crisis but fundamentally, it brought to light an economic, political and moral crisis: it exposed the inequality in access to healthcare and the rich countries’ monopoly over technology and supplies needed for the production of medical supplies and to offer quality healthcare. This inequality is marked by racism, necropolitics, the international pharmaceutical industry’s profit-driven agenda and an unwavering defence of individual freedoms over collective rights.
At the end of 2021, the ratio of the number of deaths due to Covid-1966. Number as of January 2022: 5,554,786 deaths. versus the quantity of people vaccinated against the virus (per continent) confirms the severe inequality between the North and the Global South. While 60.2% of the world population had received at least one dose of the vaccine,77. "Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations", Our World in Data, 2022, accessed January 26, 2022, https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations?country=OWID_WRL. only 9.4% of people in low-income countries had had at least one dose. Latin America, thanks to a strong culture of vaccination developed in the last century, has been able to start, belatedly, a successful campaign of vaccine application, mobilizing the social right to health.88. Chase Harrison, Luisa Horwitz and Carin Zissis, "Timeline: Tracking Latin America’s Road to Vaccination". AS/COA, January 18, 2022, accessed January 27, 2022, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/timeline-tracking-latin-americas-road-vaccination.
In addition to the lack of access to vaccines and the delays in the vaccination process, poor countries have felt the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially the people whose access to rights is more restricted: women and girls, migrants and the black and indigenous population, among others. This, together with a sharp drop in economic production and a different (also unequal) capacity to respond to the crisis, the rates of unemployment, poverty, violence and hunger have tripled in these countries.
The content of this edition of the Sur Journal reflects our interest in discussing the impacts of the pandemic on the Global South, while acknowledging that they affect indigenous peoples, black/Afro-descendant communities and the environment differently. We also draw attention to the way contexts of political and health uncertainty like the current one increase the use and abuse of surveillance technologies that threaten freedom, privacy and other human rights.
The contributions to this edition of Sur also reflect the resilience, creativity and the constant collective efforts of civil society, especially of the most affected populations, to confront not only the crisis caused by Covid-19, but an unequal global system.
As part of its efforts to expand and diversify the voices in the journal and strengthen its internal affirmative action policy, in August 2021, Conectas announced its second call for applications for writing grants for articles and essays to be published in Sur 31, which was aimed specifically at black and indigenous people living in Brazil. During the grant period, each recipient received financial support99. The value of each grant was R$5,000.00 (five thousand reals). and the mentorship of Dr. Vera Rodrigues (UNILAB/ABPN).1010. Vera Rodrigues is a professor of the Programa Associado de Pós-graduação em Antropologia UFC-Unilab. Lecturer at the specialized seminar “Contemporary Brazil from the perspective of black thinkers: what we have to say about democracy, fascism and racism” promoted by the Certificate on Afro-Latin American Studies, Harvard University. Coordinator of the outreach programme entitled “Black Women Resist: theoretical-political training process for black women”. Member of the Comitê de antropólogos(as) negros(as) da ABA – Associação Brasileira de Antropologia. Director of Academic Areas of ABPN – Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros(as).
During the selection process, 1,203 applications were received from black people and 216 from indigenous peoples, for a total of 1,419 applications – an increase of approximately 40% in comparison to the offering of grants for the 28th edition of Sur in 2018. Candidates from the five regions of the country were behind this impressive number. They touched on a variety of experiences and lines of research under the themes of human rights, vigilantism and environmental issues in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We hope that the four articles published in this edition of Sur as a result of this process represent the wealth of geographic, racial and gender perspectives observed in the selected proposals. Having said that, the four grants offered mark the end of an enriching and challenging process for Conectas and the Sur team in a special way. The internal collaboration and commitment of Conectas’ Working Group on the Fight against Racism were of utmost importance, and we would like to give special thanks to all members of the group.
To complement this brief analysis. Dr. Vera Rodrigues highlights that besides the practical aspects of offering writing mentorships, the process was about building ties of affection and theoretical and political networks, which led her to reflect on her own trajectory: “As a black woman and professor at a public university, I had the opportunity to accompany the development of the reflections and writing of black and indigenous women. I often wished that I had experienced something like this – something that was not offered to me during my academic training, for example, but that now has been concretized in other meeting spaces. The publication of these women’s work is a political act, as Conceição Evaristo would say”.
In the first article, Felipe González Morales (Chile) and Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão (Brazil) draw attention to the risks that the pandemic has posed to migrants, as well as the challenges that the exacerbation of the vulnerability in which this population already lives have raised for international protection mechanisms. The authors highlight the creation of a Working Group on Covid-19 and the efforts of the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to urge governments to urgently follow the recommendations and take concrete measures to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on the migrant population.
Vivek Divan, Gargi Mishra, Disha Verma, Siddharth Peter de Souza, Varsha Aithala, Naomi Jose, Conor McGlynn, Teresa Sebastian and Vaibhav Bhawsar (India) present the “Covid-19 and the Constitution timeline” project, which documents India’s legal and political responses to the pandemic through an online tool and in relation to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. This project organizes the main actions that the Indian government has taken to deal with the health emergency caused by the pandemic on a timeline. One unique feature is the way the timeline juxtaposes these actions with people’s stories, the majority of which are illustrated as posters to illustrate the impacts of Covid-19 in a more human, accessible and dynamic way.
Yara Pinho de Lima, an indigenous woman from the Macuxi people (Brazil) and one of the four authors who received grants for this edition, reports on the experience of the indigenous peoples of the Boca da Mata village (state of Roraima) during the pandemic. In the article, in addition to showing how the measures of isolation and social distancing have deeply affected the values and practices that are fundamental to daily life in the communities, the author describes the challenges that the vaccination programme faced in the villages.
In general, and in spite of the unprecedented global health crisis, over the past two years, we have witnessed the resilience of social movements and the emergence of various forms of collective organizing aimed at both mitigating the negative impacts on impoverished communities in the peripheries and pursuing structural change at the regional and international level. In this section, we present three experiences where the response to the pandemic was based on efforts to strengthen local capacity and an active dialogue with the territory.
First, Lizeth Sinisterra (Colombia) describes the Pacifico Task Force project, an alliance of civil society actors who worked together to address the inequalities and injustices affecting the black population in the Colombian Pacific region that the pandemic exacerbated. By incorporating a differential approach that takes race into account and a methodology that speaks directly to the specificities of the territory, the project was able to bring improvements to the communities’ material well-being and consolidate their existing capacity by generating processes that enable them to adapt and respond to similar situations in the future.
Then, we have the experience of Redes da Maré in confronting the pandemic in Rio de Janeiro. In a format that mixes institutional profile and reflection, the article elaborated in collaboration with Eliana Sousa Silva (Brazil) describes the main lines of action of a campaign against Covid-19 that was highly successful in terms of scope and effectiveness in the biggest favela complex in Rio. In addition to the positive results obtained through hard work and years of fighting for access to rights in the periphery, the article highlights the institutional impacts and challenges that the organization faced during the pandemic. The third article introduces another perspective, again in the territory of the favelas of the Maré. Another grant recipient of this edition, Angélica Ferraz (Brazil), proposes a different point of view by sharing reports that reflect the voices and experiences of women who shape everyday life in the favela, especially in relation to both the impacts of the pandemic and the responses that are imagined and experienced from the inside out.
Artistic expressions are also part of the responses or strategies for dealing with these new times. Photography can be a privileged means for portraying daily life during the pandemic, but also for elaborating and redefining aspects such as suffering, death, memory and hope. Based on this understanding, we are pleased to include a work by the visual artist Zarra (Brazil), which consists of an enigmatic collage of photographs entitled “The yellow cross”. The polysemy of the signs captured through the camera’s lens – an “X” on the sidewalk, which was originally used to mark social distancing in public spaces – is juxtaposed with the artist’s interpretation, which pays homage to Covid-19 victims in Brazil from a critical, racialized and empathetic point of view.
In December 2020, the United Kingdom became the first country in the West to begin vaccinating people against the new coronavirus. A year later, it had vaccinated almost 70% of its population. In the meantime, in December 2021, around 7% of the population on the African continent had been vaccinated. Inequality in the production, distribution and access to the vaccines is a problem that health authorities and the scientific community have been trying to explain since the beginning of the pandemic: low vaccination rates are a threat and a challenge to global immunization, as they increase the possibility of new variants appearing anywhere in the world.
Two articles in this edition critically analyse the problem of the vaccines at the international level. Alan Rossi Silva, Clara Alves Silva, Felipe de Carvalho Borges da Fonseca, Pedro Villardi and Susana Rodrigues Cavalcanti van der Ploeg (Brazil) show how the intellectual property system has been a major barrier to controlling Covid-19 in the world and therefore, it is a threat to public health. They reaffirm the importance of defending initiatives such as the TRIPS Waiver to guarantee human rights in this context. Along the same lines, in an interview with Sur, Fatima Hassan (South Africa) criticizes what she calls the vaccine apartheid, which arises from a situation of inequality whose systemic reasons place her continent in a situation of neglect. She draws attention to the serious consequences for human rights (and the high cost of human life) of the refusal of big pharmaceutical corporations and rich countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to temporarily suspend the intellectual property rights on the vaccines. In the interview, it is clear that since the beginning, the fight for access to Covid-19 vaccines has been a struggle against the rules of the global trade system and its inequality and it is therefore a matter of justice and human rights.
Human rights issues such as climate and environmental issues, indigenous rights and the global migration crisis continue to be urgent and have been particularly challenged over the past two years by the escalation of violations due to the pandemic. Kamutaja Silva Ãwa (Brazil), also a grant recipient for this edition of Sur, gives us a first-hand account of the struggle of the Ãwa people for the right to exist in a country that has always denied them this right. Covid-19 only added to the genocidal policy of the Brazilian state and the historic difficulties they face in accessing their ancestral land, which combined to aggravate the situation of vulnerability of her people who, in the absence of territory, were denied autonomy in dealing with the health crisis. Despite the reality of suffering and pain that the indigenous struggle implies, the article shows the power of a people who refuses to give up the good life, or memory and territory as fundamental rights.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) of 2021 was held in the midst of urgent planetary challenges. The struggle for climate justice has the potential to bring together the concern for nature and the recognition of multiple forms of oppression, including issues of gender and race. For Luis Gilberto Murillo and Marcela Angel Lalinde (Colombia), racial justice is intimately linked to environmental justice, as they are indivisible categories. In an analysis of their participation in Glasgow, the authors question the failure to recognize the importance of Afro-descendant communities and the fundamental role they play in the planetary socio-ecological transition needed to overcome the climate and biodiversity crises. They also highlight the creation of an Afro-Interamerican Forum on Climate Change.
As already mentioned in the first article presented in this letter, the issue of migration is a rights agenda strongly affected by the current global Covid-19 crisis. The essay by Margarida Lunetta (Brazil) and Ilan Vuddamalay (Switzerland), from the Laudes Foundation, contributes with a discussion on the role of philanthropics in achieving significant changes together with civil society. Recognizing advocacy as one of the most effective means for changing dominant structural systems, attitudes and behaviours, the authors highlight the new Law on Migration of 2017 as a historical victory for Brazil and the fight for the rights of migrants and an example of the potential of collaborative action between funders and civil society.
The accelerated development of technologies and software specialized in tracking and surveillance has increasingly facilitated unlimited access to data and the centralization of information by governments and the private sector without effective oversight mechanisms. In an interview with the Sur Journal, Usha Ramanathan (India) describes in detail the hard work – before the Supreme Court – against the Unique Identification (UID) system in India. According to Usha, the UID served to monitor and control citizens while excluding and making the poorest population invisible at the same time. In the conversation, Usha Ramanathan further explained her criticism of technology and its capacity to overstep all limits and shared her strong suspicions on the effectiveness of the data protection laws in preventing violations of the right to privacy.
As part of the reflections in this area, we have included analyses of laws that generate exceptional data collection regimes and of particularly invasive forms of surveillance and investigation adopted under the pretext of the war on terrorism – and more recently, Covid-19. Also in dialogue with Sur, Jamila Venturi and Michel Souza (Brazil), from Derechos Digitales (Chile), explain the risks of the use of facial recognition technologies in Latin America, which has a history of social inequality, rights violations and the criminalization of social movements. The interview highlights the lack of transparency in the acquisition of surveillance technology, problems related to data usage and storage policies and the economic and political implications of the relationship between developers/sellers (most of which are from the Global North) and the buyers of these technologies in the South. As members of an organization that defends human rights in the digital environment, Venturi and Souza express their concern with the indiscriminate use of these technologies and the risks of vigilantism, repression, tracking of citizens and, especially, the racial prejudice in the algorithms used for facial recognition.
Even though the use of control and monitoring software and technologies is not new, the pandemic sparked a debate on technological resources that have become more widely used in this context. This is the case of eProctoring, a software that mixes facial recognition, biometrics and artificial intelligence to conduct student evaluations online in the distance learning mode. In his article, Carlos Guerrero (Peru) analyses the impact of the use of eProctoring and the dangers it poses to students’ right to privacy and the protection of their data, especially in Latin America where only a few regulations apply to these programmes.
The article by Mariah Rafaela Silva (Brazil), another grant recipient in this edition of Sur, concludes this section. In her article, Mariah explores the intersection between the discussion on technology, facial recognition, citizen control and monitoring systems and the gendered and racialized experience of historically subordinated people. In her view, algorithm-based technologies not only threaten democracies around the world, but they also subject bodies and subjectivities to constant examination and control and reinforce discriminatory patterns based on racial and gender identity biases. By overcoming conventional analyses, the author introduces new concepts for a critique of technologies of social control and control of bodies.
It should be noted that this 31st edition of Sur was planned and produced during the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, which we had hoped would be better than the previous one, as we would be better adapted to the conditions that this “reality” imposed on us. Unfortunately, the hallmarks of 2021 were unstable social isolation formats; an exacerbated exposure to information (generating a kind of “infodemic”); the need to reinvent ways of living, working and experiencing death and bereavement; the attempts to normalize global chaos in the midst of physical and mental exhaustion, and constantly frustrated hopes. This edition of the journal inevitably bears these marks.
Therefore, we would like to acknowledge and thank all the people who, in the midst of the planetary crisis underway, contributed with their knowledge, background, work, voice, time and contacts to make this publication possible.
No edition of Sur would be possible without the support of some funders. We especially thank the Open Society Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Oak Foundation, as well as private and anonymous donors who support Conectas’ human rights advocacy work.
We would also like to thank the following people for their collaboration in this edition: Andréa Blum, Arquias Sófocles Guimarães Soares Cruz, Carla Cole, CA Beltrán Acero, Celina Lagrutta, Gustavo Hupes, Helena Secaf, Fernando Campos Leza, Fernando Sciré, Jane do Carmo, Karen Lang, Letícia Coelho, Lucas Gomes, Luis Misiara, Marina Rongo, Naiade Rufino Silva, Pedro Maia Soares, Raissa Belentani, Sandrio Cândido, Saulo Padilha, Sebastián Porrua Schiess, Valéria Pandjiarjian and Vitor Henrique Pinto Ido.
Finally, a special thanks to the entire Conectas team for their constant support and collaboration in this edition, especially the Communications team and the Working Group on the Fight against Racism.