There is a burgeoning literature on the history of human rights which is confronting traditional narratives that offer linear and celebratory explanations. This new line of research seems more concerned with intellectual trajectories of rights within certain projects and political agendas. The paper Clashing frames: human rights and foreign policy in the Brazilian re-democratization process published in the issue 1/2017 of Revista Brasileira de Relações Internacionais (Volume 60 – N. 1) participates in the on-going historical exploration of human rights by emphasizing its sources and uses, contextualizing them in a precise moment and location. It highlights the specificities of the Brazilian process of regime liberalization at the end of the dictatorship and how two interpretations regarding rights competed throughout it. The non-universalist perspective facilitates a critical edge to the article.

The paper is divided into two main parts. First, it argues that there was a new usage of human rights in the 1970s that facilitated foreign involvement by NGOs, international organizations, and other states through various practices, such as naming and shaming. Human rights gradually start to turn into a vocabulary that allowed transnational agency. Such vocabulary (focused mainly on political and civil rights) was put forward by organizations like Amnesty International, activists and dissidents from the left, but it really gained more momentum during the Jimmy Carter administration. This new frame of human rights jarred with the traditional interpretation the Brazilian military regime had of rights.

The second part of the article is an analysis of how the Ernesto Geisel administration resisted the new interpretation of human rights and debunked it as a mere external intervention. Drawing from a comprehensive archival work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), the author details the strategies, actors, and decisions involved in the process. It argues that the novel use of human rights was understood as a possible threat to the controlled liberalization conducted by the military (the “Abertura” process) and that the regime’s foreign office was designated as a primary battle frontline. The usage of human rights as advocated by the Carter administration and the NGOs could be a potential disabling factor to the control the regime had over the transition process.

Finally, the article also sheds light on a more nuanced narrative regarding human rights in the history of Brazilian foreign policy. The first time the military regime developed a systemic articulation to face accusations of human rights was in 1975, hence two years before the Carter administration, as a response to NGOs, activists and international organizations. It included, amongst other strategies, the political articulation with other target countries, limited cooperation with international institutions and no dialogue with NGOs or activists. Such process was intensified with Carter’s election in 1977 and human rights gained further prominence on the Brazilian foreign policy agenda. Moreover, the paper shows how the Brazilian diplomacy successfully managed to repel many initiatives against it and was able to archive cases at the Inter-American Commission and the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Read the article

Roriz, João Henrique. (2017). Clashing frames: human rights and foreign policy in the Brazilian re-democratization process. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(1), e019. Epub November 13, 2017.

About the author

João Henrique Roriz – Universidade Federal de Goiás, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais, Goiânia – GO, Brazil. (

Cite this note

Cite this article as: Editoria, "Transition without justice: the struggle for rights in the Brazilian re-democratization process, by João Roriz," in Revista Mundorama, 17/11/2017,

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