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  • Brazilian riot police break up protest in central Brazil.

    Brazilian riot police break up protest in central Brazil. | Photo: AFP

Published 27 February 2016

Critics say the proposed anti-terrorism law could be used against activists.

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights in South America criticized Brazilian lawmakers on Friday following the approval of a much-debated anti-terrorism law, which the U.N. warns could “infringe upon civil rights.”

"The bill includes provisions and definitions that are too vague and ambiguous, which are ultimately incompatible with the international human rights standards," said Amerigo Incalcaterra, OHCHR Representative in South America.

The bill, passed by the Senate on Wednesday and awaiting President Dilma Rousseff's approval, defines a terrorist act as as one that, "infringes upon persons, through violence or serious threat, and is motivated by political extremism, religious intolerance or racial, ethnic, gender or xenophobic prejudice, in order to cause widespread panic."

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The United Nations Represenative expressed concern that the vaguely worded legislation could allow officials to criminalize acts of social protest. Under the proposal, individuals convicted of terrorism can receive a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

Brazil's largest social movement, the Movement of Landless Peasants (MST), has also denounced the bill, which was approved earlier thie week. In a statement, the movement said the bill "will be used by conservative sectors of society against legitimate demonstrations of various social movements."

Similarly, Brazilian NGO Conectas, along with several other social movements, issued a joint statement on Thursday criticizing the proposed law. 

“For human rights organizations, the bill represents a serious setback for democracy because, under the justification of protecting the country, the law aims to criminalize social movements and activists fighting for their rights," the groups said.

The bill, authored by President Rousseff's administration, stems from pressure imposed by a U.S.-led anti-terrorism body known as the the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF.

In 2010, FATF drafted a report urging the Brazilian government to create a counter-terrorism criminal law framework in the lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The group has the authority to impose economic sanctions on governments that do no comply with its directives. 

Leading up to the congressional vote, government minister Ricardo Berzoini issued a strong appeal to lawmakers, warning them that if Brazil did not approve the measure it would face sanctions from the FATF for failing to comply with its recommendations.

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