A United Nations Special Rapporteur said Friday that the constitutional PEC 55 reform in Brazil promoted by President Michel Temer was a "radical" measure that will severely impact poor Brazilians, and could constitute a violation of Brazil's international obligations.
The controversial, neo-liberal constitutional amendment proposed by President Temer will freeze public spending in the country for the next two decades, and it has already been approved by the lower house and the Senate.
"This is a radical measure, devoid of all nuance and compassion," said U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston.
"It will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians harder, increasing the levels of inequality in an already extremely unequal society, and definitively points out that for Brazil, social rights will have a very low priority in the next twenty years."
The reform, previously known as PEC 241, ties any increase to social assistance programs to the previous year’s inflation rate rather than GDP. This will effectively limit what all future governments can spend on health, education and social welfare.
"One thing is certain," said Alston. "It is completely inappropriate to freeze only social spending and tie the hands of all the next governments for another two decades. If this amendment is adopted, it will put Brazil in a single category in terms of social retrogression."
The official said the reform violates Brazil's obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the country ratified in 1992 and prohibits the adoption of "deliberately regressive measures" unless there are no other options to deal with a situation in the country.
Alston recommended the Brazilian government guarantee an appropriate public debate on PEC 55, and identify other alternatives to achieve their goals of austerity, which Temer claims is the only way to reduce inflation.
"In the long run, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that these measures will achieve the goals suggested by the government, " said Alston.
According to the U.N. expert, the debate around PEC 55 in Congress was rushed through by the new government and ignored the voices of those who will be most affected. The measures comes from a government that came to power following Workers' Party leader Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and so was never presented as a program to the electorate.
"If adopted, this amendment will block spending at inadequate and rapidly decreasing levels in health, education and social security, thus putting a whole future generation at risk of receiving social protection far below current levels," said Alston.
He said that over the last three decades, Brazil has established an "impressive" system of social protection aimed at eradicating poverty and recognizing the rights to education, health, work and social security.
"These policies have contributed substantially to reducing levels of poverty and inequality in the country. It would be a historic mistake to delay the clock at this point, "he said.