Brazil: Anti-terrorism bill a tool to repress fundamental rights and freedoms


  • Brazilian authorities are debating a restrictive bill which amends the Anti-terrorism law (2016)
  • If passed, the bill will severely impact on the rights of expression, assembly, association and privacy
  • Concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteurs about the impact of the bill have largely been ignored

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, expresses serious concerns over restrictive amendments to Brazil’s anti-terrorism bill (2016) that will empower security agencies to covertly monitor individuals or civil society organizations and severely curtail civic freedoms. The bill was hastily approved by the special committee of the chamber of deputies on 16 September 2021 and is under consideration in the Parliament. On 8 December 2021, lawmakers defeated an attempt to fast-track the bill, which would have made meaningful consultations with the public and civil society impossible. While the rejection of urgent consideration procedures is a positive step, we call on representatives to shelve the proposed law.

The bill No 1595/2019 expands the concept of ‘terrorism’ and the actions that can be considered ‘terrorist’ as it uses vague language that surpasses what is generally understood as terrorism under international law. For example, it stipulates that actions taken by individuals or collectively with the appearance of ‘intent’ to intimidate the public or impact on public policies may be subjected to criminal actions. The vague nature of these provisions may allow the authorities to subjectively interpret the bill and use it to target individuals or groups involved in peaceful protests.

“These new measures proposed by the Brazilian authorities come on the heels or large-scale restrictions on the rights of expression, association and assembly in Brazil. The bill further empowers the state to restrict the activities of human rights defenders, social movements and civil society organisations under the guise of combating terrorism. The passing of the bill will also set a dangerous precedent for the region and may soon be replicated in other countries,” said Débora Leão, CIVICUS Monitor Research Officer for the Americas.

The bill further introduces new surveillance mechanisms and monitoring techniques for those suspected of terrorism or those suspected of associating with terrorist activities. It proposes new government agencies including the National Counterterrorism System and Counterterrorist Strategic Units that report directly to the Executive. The bill empowers these agencies to infiltrate groups or individuals suspected of terrorist activities and carry our other covert operations against them. The lack of transparency or oversight mechanisms in the operations of these agencies may restrict the ability of journalists and civil society groups to obtain information needed for their work, force many to self-censor and curtail the work of human rights defenders.

“Empowering state agencies to covertly infiltrate communications of individuals or groups will only force many to resort to self-censorship,” Leão continued.

In its current form, the bill presumes legality for actions taken by the state and the new agencies to fight terrorism and justifies such actions without effective mechanisms of accountability in relation to illegal interventions that may be committed in the process of implementing the bill. Further, it authorizes investigations and accompanying punishments for what it calls “preparatory acts” and empowers security forces to intervene to prevent such acts even when no crime has been committed as mere ‘intentions’ can be considered crimes. In this regard, peaceful demonstrations can be criminalized as the definition of terrorism in the law is vague and makes it subject to selective interpretations by the authorities.

The fact that the bill has been approved by the Special Committee of the Chamber of Deputies in its current form means the Brazilian authorities ignored concerns and recommendations made by several UN Special Rapporteurs and are intent on getting the legislation passed.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Brazil as Obstructed.