Oscar Vilhena Vieira

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2003
Related TopicsHuman Rights & Equality


This profile was prepared when Oscar Vilhena Vieira was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Over his eventful career, Oscar has led many human rights projects.
His newest project is the Pro Bono Institute, which now involves more than 100 leading attorneys who donate their time to defend the most vulnerable groups who would otherwise have no support. In Brazil Oscar has found ways to make high-impact contributions to public interest law, by using innovative and low-cost techniques and by bringing the concept of corporate volunteerism to a profession that had not been particularly supportive of this cause. An international Pro Bono Conference was organized by the Pro Bono Institute in Sao Paulo in November 2003, with the objective of building enthusiasm and support in the legal community for the practice of voluntary advocacy, especially in countries from the Global South..
However, in the human rights area, there are politically sensitive causes that demand immediate response and that leading law firms are not always able to provide. For this reason, Oscar has created “Article 1”, a justice project that fills this gap with in-house lawyers and which ensures that all important cases, even the most controversial, receive an immediate response; consequently, having significant national and international impact.
Working in several Brazilian states, Oscar focuses on paradigmatic cases—with a very large number of beneficiaries—addressing various categories of vulnerable groups: quilombolas[I] (descendents of communities of escaped slaves);minority groups that are victims of racial and/or gender discrimination and of state violence; child rights, etc. This means that the best legal resources in the country are made available for causes involving the public interest and human rights. Oscar’s project is helping transform jurisprudence and legal culture in key areas of human rights.
Oscar is also the Director of an annual Human Rights Colloquium offering a capacity development program to young leaders in the area of human rights from the Global South -Africa, Latin America, and Asia- working with minority groups in rural areas, disadvantaged regions, and the periphery of big centers. In 2003, following its third edition of the Colloquium, an electronic network, called HRDialogue, was created by Oscar through his organization, CONECTAS, bringing together the 300 former participants. The idea is to strengthen the south-south dialogue and exchange of best practices between small human rights organizations that do much of the day-to-day work but fail to receive the same recognition as given to the larger organizations.
In addition, Oscar is currently coordinating a pioneering project called SUR- Human Rights University Network- involving the creation of a network of professors in the area of human rights from the Southern hemisphere. Created in São Paulo in 2002, this network has brought together more than 90 professors, who have participated in meetings in Brazil, South Africa and Chile, and established a common platform of action. In February 2003, in cooperation with Columbia University in New York, Oscar organized a Seminar on the Activities of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. The principal objectives of SUR are to create a voice for current thinking about human rights and social justice in the Southern hemisphere, and to support and develop human rights teaching and research in the universities, as well as promoting cross-fertilization between universities, civil society organizations and UN agencies. To this end, a home page site (www.surnet.org ) to host a databank of academic programs, research, and CVs of specialists in human rights and a trilingual academic journal –online and in print- were created (www.surjournal.org). Oscar is also contributing to the creation of Sur nodes in Africa and Latin America based on his strategy of working through networks
In the future, Oscar intends to invest in legal aid services in universities and encourage the more than 500 law schools to support human rights work. Today they provide legal services only for simple cases and not in a manner that supports long-term collective changes.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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