Brazil’s President Accuses U.S. of Serious Human-Rights Violations

President Rousseff bashed NSA data-collection programs at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, saying that “without the right to privacy, there is no real freedom of speech.”

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a ceremony in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. 
National Journal
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Matt Berman
Sept. 24, 2013, 6:35 a.m.

In the first speech of the 68th ses­sion of the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly, Brazili­an Pres­id­ent Dilma Rousseff im­me­di­ately dug in­to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the U.S. Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s data-col­lec­tion pro­grams — in­clud­ing spy­ing with­in her own coun­try, as re­vealed in the Snowden leaks. Re­fer­ring to the pro­grams through a trans­lat­or as a “glob­al net­work of glob­al spy­ing,” Rousseff said that the ar­gu­ments in fa­vor of the col­lec­tion are “un­ten­able” and that “Brazil knows how to pro­tect it­self.”

“What we have be­fore us is a ser­i­ous case of the vi­ol­a­tions of hu­man rights and civil liber­ties,” she said. “We are a demo­crat­ic coun­try, sur­roun­ded by demo­crat­ic peace­ful coun­tries that re­spect in­ter­na­tion­al law.” The drag­net, ac­cord­ing to Rousseff, is “a case of dis­respect to the na­tion­al sov­er­eignty of my coun­try.”

This isn’t just verbal bluster from Brazil’s pres­id­ent. The rev­el­a­tions about tar­geted spy­ing on Brazil are ab­so­lutely ser­i­ous. They re­portedly in­clude the col­lec­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions from Rousseff her­self. Last week, Rousseff in­def­in­itely post­poned a state vis­it to the United States over spy­ing con­cerns. And at the U.N. on Tues­day, Rousseff im­plied that U.S. freedoms aren’t all they’re cut out to be, say­ing that “without the right to pri­vacy, there is no real free­dom of speech.”

Rousseff ad­ded that her coun­try will “double ef­forts” to pro­tect it­self from the in­ter­cep­tion of its data, and she called for a mul­ti­lat­er­al frame­work for In­ter­net gov­ernance.

Strong state­ments against NSA data-col­lec­tion pro­grams and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion aren’t just about po­s­i­tion­ing Brazil on a glob­al stage. In the wake of mass protests in Brazil this sum­mer over a strug­gling eco­nomy, gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, and the World Cup, these ag­gress­ive state­ments can also help build-up Rousseff’s pres­id­ency at home. That’s es­pe­cially the case in the lead-up to next year’s elec­tions.

And, so far, Rousseff’s role as Amer­ica’s spy­ing foil seem to be work­ing do­mest­ic­ally. In Ju­ly, Rousseff’s pop­ular­ity rate was 49 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Brazil’s MDA Con­sultores. By early Septem­ber, after Rousseff began speak­ing out against NSA data col­lec­tion, that rate had ris­en to 58 per­cent. Tak­ing a strong stance against the U.S. alone isn’t go­ing to help float Rousseff to reelec­tion. But us­ing NSA data col­lec­tion as a way to be a vo­cal glob­al ad­voc­ate for her coun­try can’t hurt.