The transnational human rights narrative has long been built upon the assumption that human rights were inspired and led by actors and institutions of the Global North. To challenge such assumptions, this research returns to the birth of transnational human rights, during the 1960s-1980s, and investigates the possibility of a Brazilian – as part of the Global South – influence upon globalized notions of human rights at the time.
Based on the theory that the human rights ontologies of liberation theologians and 'Oppressed' rights theorists offered new definitions of universal rights, this research seeks to highlight the dialogue that took place between Brazilian actors and human rights activists in Europe during their 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Rather than simply taking on the human rights discourses and narratives that were being offered to victims of Brazil’s regime by the developed world, this research suggests that solidarity activism provided a space in which Brazilian actors could translate and transpose their unique and localised experience as victims into more universal terms, and consequently, into the realm of transnational human rights.
Dialogues between the victims of and opposition to the military dictatorship, and solidarity activists in Europe, offers us a glimpse of intellectual exchange regarding human rights outside the dominant spheres of large institutions and organizations. Through a narrative analysis of letters, political ephemera, campaigns, posters, meetings’ minutes and, particularly, newspaper articles, I present an analysis of the definitions, practices and wider norms that Brazilian actors contributed to the wider debate about human rights at the time. By employing a narrative of ‘oppression’ and ‘oppressed rights’, I argue that Brazilian activists contributed to our current human rights regime of third generation and ‘new’ human rights by promoting the struggles of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, students, and political prisoners, as well as denouncing repression, inequality, environmental damage, foreign national interests and the rise of multinational companies.