In Dialogue with Brazil, Experts of the Committee against Torture Praise Reduction in Provisional Prison Sentences, Raise Issues Concerning Prison Overcrowding and Excessive Use of Force against Afro-Brazilians
The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Brazil, with Committee Experts praising a reduction in provisional prison sentences, and raising issues concerning prison overcrowding and excessive use of force against Afro-Brazilians.
Naoko Maeda, Country Co-Rapporteur and Committee Expert, said it was commendable that since 2015, more than one million pre-trial detention hearings had already been held in the country, and there had been a reduction in the percentage of provisional prison sentences from 40.13 per cent in 2014 to 26.48 per cent in 2022.
However, Ms. Maeda noted that there were challenges due to the dramatic growth of the prison populations leading to overcrowding. There were reportedly detention places with 200 per cent occupation rates or higher and old units that did not follow architectural standards. Brazil had the third highest number of incarcerated persons in the world. The current drug policy had contributed to this overcrowding, boosting incarceration rates of women in particular. What measures were in place to further reduce overcrowding, and improve sanitation and food and water quality? Were there plans to establish alternative measures to imprisonment in conformity with the Tokyo Rules, including in the context of drug crimes?
Ms. Maeda said the Committee was deeply concerned about excessive use of force by law enforcement and military officers against Afro-Brazilians. More than 84 per cent of victims of police violence in 2021 were reportedly Afro-Brazilians. There were reports of impunity for officers who used excessive force against persons of African descent. What guidelines and manuals were used to train law enforcement and security officials in accordance with principles of proportionality, necessity and legality?
Liu Huawen, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Brazil, said the police’s use of force in Brazil was among the most severe in the world. People of African descent were disproportionately targeted by police. Militarised raids were carried out in favellas that had resulted in the deaths and injury of civilians. There were also reports of sexual violence and beatings perpetrated by the police in favellas. What measures were in place to regulate and reduce the use of force by the police? There were also reports of killing of indigenous human rights defenders and endemic violence against indigenous human rights defenders, especially women. What measures were in place to prevent such violence?
Introducing the report, Silvio Luiz de Almeida, Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship of Brazil and head of the delegation, said the Brazilian prison system needed to be comprehensively reviewed and, above all, humanised. The Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship had been making efforts to establish the "Mandela Project", which aimed to advance the fight against systematic violations of human rights in the prison system and promote alternatives to detention through inter-ministerial and intersectoral action.
The delegation added that the National Council of Justice was implementing a programme to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The programme aimed to increase filters for entrance to prisons and alternatives to imprisonment. Alternatives to imprisonment had a restorative focus and included house arrest with electronic monitoring. A system for recording vacancies in prisons was also being developed. In addition, there were initiatives in place to address the drug problem through health-based rather than policing measures. A Government working group had been established to discuss a new policy on drugs, especially relating to women.
Mr. de Almeida said institutional violence in Brazil, particularly against the black and minority populations, was the result of a long history of successive violations, dating back to colonial times. The black population, which constituted more than half of the population, was the main victim of police violence, summary executions, over-incarceration and torture.
The delegation said racial profiling was another important issue in Brazil. There was racial inequality in Brazil that was affecting judicial systems’ compliance with international human rights standards. The Supreme Court was debating recognition of structural racism within Brazilian institutions. The Ministry of Racial Equality was addressing inequality and working to overcome racism across the State.
In closing remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chair, said that Brazil’s participation in the dialogue with the Committee after a long absence was a good sign. It reflected the State party’s will to overhaul its human rights policy. The issues faced by the State party could not be solved overnight. The Committee expressed hope that its concluding observations would be useful to the State party in its efforts to implement the Convention.
Mr. de Almeida, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the dialogue, and expressed the State party’s commitment to upholding human rights and the provisions of the Convention.
The delegation of Brazil consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship; National Council of Justice; National Council of the Prosecution Office; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue concluding observations on the report of Brazil at the end of its seventy-sixth session on 12 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Brazil (CAT/C/BRA/2).
Presentation of Report
SILVIO LUIZ DE ALMEIDA, Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship of Brazil and head of the delegation, said Brazil was reconstructing its human rights policy. The former President of the Republic had worshipped torturers and encouraged abuses of public power against the population. The report that was delivered by the previous Government did not honestly reflect the reality of the practice of torture in the country. Institutional violence in Brazil, particularly against the black and minority populations, was the result of a long history of successive violations, dating back to colonial times. Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery. The black population, which constituted more than half of the population, was the main victim of police violence, summary executions, over-incarceration and torture. The military dictatorship had persecuted, tortured and killed political dissidents, peasants, indigenous peoples and all those who were labelled as enemies of the regime for 20 years.
The struggle for truth, memory and justice – vilified in recent years by the previous Government – was still far from being completed in Brazil. As a priority measure, the new Government had reviewed the composition of the Amnesty Commission and was in the process of re-establishing the Special Commission on the Dead and Missing. It was committed to following up on the findings of the National Truth Commission, which finalised its report in 2014. Between 27 March and 2 April 2023, Brazil held the "Week of Never Again" to remember the coup of 1964, during which Government officials met with relatives of victims of systematic torture.
Brazil had unfortunately not fully returned to democracy with the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution. The Brazilian prison system needed to be comprehensively reviewed and, above all, humanised. The Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship had been making efforts to establish the "Mandela Project", which aimed to advance the fight against systematic violations of human rights in the prison system. The project aimed at inter-ministerial and intersectoral action to promote human rights in situations of deprivation of liberty, particularly regarding due process, the fight against torture, and the promotion of alternatives to detention, based on national and international norms, including the Constitution and the United Nations Mandela Rules.
The situation of children and adolescents who were deprived of liberty was another concerning issue. Brazilian society should not condemn children to stigmatisation and a lack of prospects. Violence and violations against detained children were frequent. The current Government had begun re-establishing the Intersectoral Commission for Monitoring the Socio-Educational System, which had been dismantled by the last Government. The Commission would have a fundamental role in reviewing socio-educational policy. The State aimed to promote permanent inter-institutional dialogue and develop socio-educational policies, strategies and measures in full respect for children's rights.
Although it was regrettable that the dialogue was based on a partial and sometimes silent report on the challenges of combatting torture in Brazil, it was very timely to have an honest and constructive dialogue with the Committee at a time of revival of national politics. Brazil was aware of its challenges and fully willing to make good use of the recommendations that would come to reinforce domestically its commitment to combatting torture. In closing, Mr. de Almeida thanked the National Mechanism to Combat Torture and State mechanisms for the invaluable work they provided to Brazil and to Brazilians.
Questions by Committee Experts
NAOKO MAEDA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Brazil, said that the State party’s frank and self-critical attitude was highly appreciated. The Committee commended Brazil for having ratified or acceded to almost all the United Nations core human rights instruments and their optional protocols, for having worked as a member of the Human Rights Council many times, and for having extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Ms. Maeda expressed hope that the dialogue, held 20 years after the first consideration in 2001, would be fruitful and constructive for further improvements of human rights.
Ms. Maeda welcomed the creation of the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, which included the National Committee and National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture. What activities had been carried out and what decisions had been made to combat torture by these mechanisms thus far?
The Superior Court of Justice had repudiated cruel treatment by State agents and established an understanding that “the practice of torture by police officers is an act of administrative impropriety as it violates the principles of public administration”. Was an “act of administrative impropriety” equivalent to a crime?
It was concerning that law 13491/2017 expanded the competence of military courts to crimes provided for in common criminal legislation, including the crime of torture. How did Brazil ensure that violations committed by military agents against civilians were tried by civilian criminal courts?
The Special Rapporteur on torture had expressed concerns about the impartiality of forensic services in a report in 2016. Forensic services were part of the Civil Police and reported to the public security department of the respective state. This led to a lack of independence and impartiality, and undermined fact-findings on cases of death in custody and other closed settings. There was also reportedly a profound lack of training for staff on the Istanbul Protocol and the Minnesota Protocol. What measures were in place to respond to the lack of documentation of torture, ill-treatment and death in custody? Did relevant public officials and medical-legal staff receive training on the Istanbul and Minnesota Protocols?
It was commendable that law 13167/2015 established criteria for the separation of convicted persons in criminal facilities. However, there were challenges due to the dramatic growth of the prison populations leading to overcrowding. There were reportedly detention places with 200 per cent occupation rates or higher and old units that did not follow architectural standards. The current drug policy had contributed to this overcrowding, boosting incarceration rates of women in particular.
It was commendable that since 2015 more than one million pre-trial detention hearings had already been held in the country, and there had been a reduction in the percentage of provisional prison sentences from 40.13 per cent in 2014 to 26.48 per cent in 2022. In 2021, at least 42,000 cases of alleged torture and mistreatment were registered, but only 2.9 per cent of cases were investigated. What measures were in place to further reduce overcrowding, improve sanitation and food and water quality, and provide health care, including psychiatric care, to detainees? Were there plans to establish alternative measures to imprisonment in conformity with the Tokyo Rules, including in context of drug crimes?
The Committee was concerned about living conditions of children and adolescents deprived of liberty, with reports that some girls deprived of liberty were pregnant due to the presence of male agents in some of the units visited. Girls in detention were exposed to higher risks of sexual violence. Teenagers were not criminally liable, however, detention centres for adolescents were reportedly similar to prisons in many ways. Adolescents were being tortured in juvenile detention units with weapons such as pepper spray and handcuffs.
What measures were in place to prevent sexual harassment of adolescents by staff in detention facilities? What training courses were provided for such staff? How many cases of torture in juvenile detention facilities had been reported and investigated? What measures were in place to prevent and combat corporal punishment in accordance with the Beijing Rules, and to promote rehabilitation and education for children in conflict with the law? How did the State party ensure that child detainees had access to educational, recreational, vocational, physical or intellectual activities?
Ms. Maeda said the Committee welcomed the establishment of the National System of the Prevention and Combatting of Torture, however, it noted the insufficient operation of its constituent bodies. The National Committee for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture reportedly had not operated since 2021, and the appointment of special security forces to the National Mechanism for Prevention and Combatting of Torture was jeopardising the independence of the Mechanism. The torture prevention mechanism was established in only four states. In addition, the existing mechanisms had struggled with low accessibility to potential victims of torture in closed settings and low human and financial resources.
What measures were in place to increase transparency and accountability measures for victims of torture and their families? What steps were being taken to support the National Mechanism to perform its functions independently and effectively? Were measures being taken to increase the budget and human resources for these mechanisms? Did the State plan to extend the capacity of the Public Defender’s Office to combat torture? What steps would to be taken to establish a national human rights institution expeditiously in accordance with the Paris Principles?
Thousands of Venezuelans, including unaccompanied children, had crossed the border into Brazil in recent years. It was commendable that Brazil had granted refugee status to more than 50,000 Venezuelans. What legal safeguards were in place to enshrine the principle of non-refoulement for asylum seekers and refugees? What was the current number of asylum seekers and the number of asylum and refugee status granted? Did the State provide diplomatic assurances and monitoring to prevent refoulement?
Were there articles of the Penal Code or the criminal procedural law which established universal jurisdiction of domestic courts in line with the Convention? Were there any examples of rulings based on universal jurisdiction? Had any extradition agreements been concluded with other States? Was the crime of torture included as an extraditable offence? Could the Convention be invoked as a legal basis for extradition? Were any extraditions carried out related to the crime of torture? What treaties or agreements on mutual legal and judicial assistance had the State party entered? Had these led in practice to the transfer of any evidence in connection with prosecutions concerning torture or ill-treatment?
The Committee welcomed capacity building measures such as educational programmes for police, security officers, prosecutors, court magistrates, prison staff and doctors. What was the status of ongoing capacity building programmes?
What measures had Brazil taken to ensure that medical examinations in prisons were carried out in any allegation of torture by specifically trained doctors in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol? What training was provided to forensic doctors and medical personnel on detecting torture?
The Committee was deeply concerned about excessive use of force by law enforcement and military officers against Afro-Brazilians, despite previous engagement on this issue by a wide range of United Nations human rights bodies. More than 84 per cent of victims of police violence in 2021 were reportedly Afro-Brazilians. There were reports of impunity for officers who used excessive force against persons of African descent. What guidelines and manuals were used to train law enforcement and security officials in accordance with principles of proportionality, necessity and legality? What measures were in place to ensure the deployment of less lethal weapons during police activities, and revise legislation promoting the impunity of law enforcement officials? What revisions of interrogation rules were planned?
How frequent was inter-prisoner violence? Ms. Maeda asked for data on deaths in custody during the reporting period. How were such deaths investigated? What was the process for informing relatives?
LIU HUAWEN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Brazil, said that Brazil was a large developing country that had made many achievements in the protection of human rights. Efforts had been made to prevent torture and to promote a human rights perspective and a gender perspective within legislation. International human rights law was having an increasing impact on domestic law. Brazil was still facing challenges, however. Brazil had the third highest number of incarcerated persons in the world. There were concerns about the militarisation of law enforcement and threats from private security forces, and discriminatory technology in the justice system. Discrimination within the justice system needed to be eliminated.
There was a lack of data on allegations of torture and prosecutions. The National Information System did not contain specific information on torture. Twenty-two per cent of persons accused of crimes allegedly suffered some form of abuse upon arrest, mainly by military police. The National Committee to Prevent and Combat Torture planned to develop a statistical database on torture but its efforts had been paralysed by a lack of funding. There were reportedly allegations of torture in around 7 per cent of custody hearings, but no data on investigations into these allegations was available. What measures were in place to develop a national database on torture?
What had been the outcome of the investigation into the use of “punishment cells”, places where inmates were reportedly subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?
The State report mentioned that the Public Prosecutor’s Office had the power to investigate allegations of torture against the police. Could the office also investigate allegations against other public officials? There was a lack of data on investigations carried out by the office. Did the State party intend to define the investigative powers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office more concretely? In 88 per cent of allegations of torture, the Public Prosecutor’s Office had made no request to investigate.
Legislation did not clarify investigative jurisdictions regarding crimes committed by military officers against civilians. In 2017, a law was approved that expanded the scope of crimes examined in military courts. Military courts were allowed to try cases of deliberate killing of military personnel by civilians. This was in violation of several international human rights standards. Civilians should not be tried in military courts under any circumstances. What measures were in place to revise legislation to bring the jurisdiction of military courts in line with international standards?
A lack of budget and human resources limited the functions of the Ombudsman. Did Brazil have plans to expand the Ombudsman and increase its budget? What was the number of complaints against police officers registered by the Ombudsman and the number of investigations carried out? What measures were in place to protect complainants from retaliation? Was the State party trying to unify standards regarding the protection of whistle blowers’ identities? How was the witness protection programme initiated, and what protective measures were provided by the State and non-governmental organizations?
A programme for protection of human rights defenders had been established at the federal level, but it was not established in law and lacked measures for providing protection to ethnic minorities and for collecting data on threats against human rights defenders. There were reportedly 47 journalists who had been killed since 2017, but none of these cases had been investigated judicially. The State needed to strengthen this programme to protect human rights defenders. What recent measures had been implemented to protect human rights defenders? Was there a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the programme? Were there plans to develop a law on the protection of human rights defenders?
Did the State party envisage adopting measures to reopen military archives in relation to events occurring between 1961 and 1985, a period marked by widespread torture and killings. The amnesty law was still in force, despite the ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that this law was incompatible with the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. It was welcome that the Superior Court of Justice had ruled that the Civil Justice had competence in cases in which the officer was not working in official status. However, the overall perception of low rates of accountability and increased impunity in the military justice system needed to be addressed.
Since 2012, federal prosecutors had filed charges in more than 50 cases against former agents of the dictatorship. Courts had dismissed most, citing the amnesty law or the statute of limitations. In one case in June 2021, a judge issued a criminal conviction but the ruling was overturned in February 2022. What measures had the State party taken to prevent acts amounting to torture from being subject to any statute of limitations, pardon or amnesty and allow for the civil liability of the perpetrator? How was the State addressing historical violations?
Brazil had not implemented a law to ensure that confessions obtained through torture were not used in judicial proceedings. What measures were in place to establish such a law?
Around 159 police investigations had been initiated related to trafficking of women. Brazil reportedly had the highest number of trafficked women in Latin America. The female prison population had also been increasing. Was the high female incarceration rate related to the high trafficking rate? What measures were in place to support women victims of trafficking? There were no provisions that criminalised trafficking in children for sexual purposes without the use of force. What strategy had the State party adopted to fight trafficking in children and support child survivors of trafficking? There had been close to 600 cases of trafficking in persons reviewed by courts, but no convictions were issued under the anti-trafficking law. Why was this? Collecting comprehensive data on trafficking in persons remained a challenge. Women and children were the main victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, while men were the main victims of labour trafficking. Over 70 per cent of victims were of African descent. What measures were in place to address the various forms of trafficking from a gender and ethnicity perspective, and to collect more comprehensive data on trafficking?
Health care professionals were required to notify police officials when women contacted them seeking abortions because of rape. Efforts from the federal administration to provide adequate access to legal abortions were lacking. Abortion was legal only when it was necessary to protect the mother’s life or when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Would the State party consider reforming its abortion legislation, considering the World Health Organization 2022 guidelines on abortion?
Between 2019 and 2022, there had been a 38 per cent increase in the number of homeless people. Children were the most vulnerable group of people in street situations. They were reportedly subjected to violence and crime, and placed in detention and stripped of their belongings by the police. What measures were in place to protect the rights of children in street situations?
In March this year, 523 people were reportedly rescued from situations of slavery. There were reports that forced labour was still a major issue in the State. Last year, the Labour Inspection Office had rescued 2,575 workers from forced labour. This was commendable. Most survivors were of African descent. Did the State impose harsh penalties against employers to discourage forced labour and contemporary slavery? Was there a national plan to eliminate forced labour?
The police’s use of force in Brazil was among the most severe in the world. People of African descent were disproportionately targeted by police; 81 per cent of victims of police violence in 2021 were of African descent. Militarised raids were carried out in favellas that had resulted in the deaths and injury of civilians. There were also reports of sexual violence and beatings perpetrated by the police in favellas. What measures were in place to regulate and reduce the use of force by the police?
There were reports of killing of indigenous human rights defenders and endemic violence against indigenous human rights defenders, especially women. What measures were in place to prevent such violence?
Anti-terrorism legislation defined “terrorism” in broad terms. There were concerns about revisions to this law that aimed to criminalise human rights defenders. Could more information on this be provided?
The National Mechanism against Torture had visited over 40 psychiatric institutions, identifying abuse by staff, poor conditions, sexual violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and forced labour. Legislation to promote deinstitutionalisation had been adopted recently. What measures were in place to implement this legislation and improve conditions in institutions?
Brazil was a party to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. What measures were in place to combat corruption in places of deprivation of liberty and in the police force?
How did the State party ensure the right to health of detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic? The pandemic had exacerbated the low enrolment rate in schools. In 2022, five million children reportedly had no access to schools. Some 71 per cent of persons who had not completed education were reportedly of African descent. What measures had the State party taken to address these issues?
Another Committee Expert asked about reports by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights about children detained in educational rehabilitation centres. There was concerning data on the treatment of children in these centres. What follow-up measures had been taken in response to these reports?
One Committee Expert asked about children’s access to medical care and hygiene products in detention and to the complaints’ mechanism. What was the availability of psychologists and education staff in these centres? What measures were in place to reduce violence in the centres, and to provide alternatives to detention for minors?
The Committee had received reports indicating an insufficient number of prison staff and of corruption in prisons. Prison officers were also victims of violence, assault and hostage-taking in prisons. What measures were in place to increase staffing of prisons and increase the budget for staff training programmes that incorporated a human rights approach?
Brazil had made great strides in combatting domestic violence, femicide and gender-based violence, passing ground-breaking legislation that criminalised such violence. However, there was still much to be done to tackle the phenomenon at the sub-national level. There were persistently high levels of violence against women and femicides. Twelve women per day were reportedly killed in Brazil. Violence against women had reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why was there a discrepancy between legislative advances and the experience on the ground? What measures were in place to prevent gender-based violence and domestic violence, including to investigate cases and provide shelters for survivors? How many shelters for victims were fully functional?
A Committee Expert asked how many prisons had been outsourced to private management. Did privately managed prisons employ their own guards, and were such guards authorised to inflict harm? How did the State oversee the training and performance of such guards?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said a Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship had been newly established, as well as a Ministry for Racial Inequality and a Ministry for Women. The Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship addressed care policies related to homeless populations, among various other mandates related to human rights. These Ministries’ budgets had been supplemented to allow them to implement their mandates, but there was a need to strengthen these budgets further. The Government was committed to providing material resources to allow its Ministries to implement human rights policies. All Ministries were required to take into consideration the promotion and protection of human rights.
Torture had been institutionalised as a governance mechanism during the dictatorship era. The current Government was promoting transitional justice. The Supreme Court had issued a decision on the non-constitutionality of the amnesty law. There were various measures promoting memory and truth implemented by the National Commission of Truth. A Commission on Amnesty and a Dead and Disappeared Persons Commission had been established to investigate human rights violations occurring during the dictatorship and to promote justice for victims.
The National System to Prevent and Combat Torture sought to combat torture by promoting the exchange of information and good preventative practices. The National Secretariat for the Defence of Human Rights aimed to strengthen actions by states and committees against torture through budget support and guidance. National summits were held with state-level mechanisms to exchange plans and best practices.
Fifteen states had committees against torture, nine of which had been created through legislation. The central Government could not create state-level committees. The central Government had found that seven of these committees were not functioning adequately. Only three committees were connected to the National Mechanism against Torture. State legislation and other factors limited access to detention centres for some of these bodies. The judiciary and bodies connected to the National Mechanism also conducted visits to detention centres to supplement the oversight system.
The questions posed by the Committee had shed new light on the problems faced by Brazil. Law 9455 categorised torture as a crime in Brazil. Under this law’s definition, torture could be committed by both public and private agents. If a crime was committed by a public agent, the conviction was increased by one-sixth to one-third and the public agent was stripped of their office. The practice of torture by public agents constituted an act of administrative impropriety.
The Brazilian legislator had established mitigated universal jurisdiction. Courts could request extradition for crimes committed on Brazilian territory by foreign nationals. Extradition case 1192 was granted on the basis of the Convention. Extradition case 1327 was rejected as the crime had already been tried in the country of origin. There were extradition requests that had been denied on the basis of non-refoulement.
The federal programme of assistance to threatened victims was a protection programme managed by the Public Defender’s Office and other entities. A deliberative council with representatives from the judiciary and non-governmental organizations decided on whether protection would be provided. Protected persons needed to agree to join the programme. There were currently approximately 500 people in the programme, the majority of whom were black people. Around 30 per cent of protection orders related to the crime of torture. The creation of the federal protection programme occurred in 2016. There were also state-level protection programmes. The federal programme had been extended to cover journalists and environmental rights defenders. The Government aimed to create a bill on the protection of human rights defenders. The State recognised the endemic violence faced by indigenous human rights defenders. It had implemented measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, including the establishment of the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples.
Femicide and violence against women were serious problems that required immediate countermeasures. The maximum penalty for homicide crimes against women had been increased from 20 to 30 years imprisonment. Data on femicide was being collected; 1,400 femicides had been recorded in 2022. The pandemic had led to an increase in violence against women. Hotlines had been created to report gender-based violence. There were 84 shelters for victims of violence in Brazil. The Government would survey the conditions of these shelters. It also planned to establish 40 additional protection homes. Victims of gender-based violence were guaranteed dignified treatment at medical centres.
Law 14344 of 2022 had been approved to combat violence against children. The law increased penalties for violence against children and established a national day promoting the protection of children. Specialised units had been established within the Public Defender’s Office to respond to violence against children and prevent the phenomenon. There was also a federal protection programme for child victims of violence.
There was a relationship between the increased incarceration rate for women and the rate of trafficking in women. Human trafficking was related to vulnerability. There were many women from poor areas who were targeted by sex and drug traffickers. Women used as drug mules often remained in incarceration. The State had an extensive plan to prevent slave labour.
The National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture inspected prisons and carried out state-level institutional actions. The budget for the mechanism covered resources for prison inspections, participation in capacity building courses, and cooperation with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The mechanism assisted with providing support for victims of torture. The experts of the mechanism were not under the public administration system. There had been a decree that transferred management of the mechanism from the Ministry of Human Rights to the Ministry of Economy and ended payment to experts. However, the Supreme Court had suspended this decree.
The Government was committed to strengthening the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture. The National Committee to Prevent and Combat Torture had 23 members, including 11 from the judiciary and 12 from civil society. The committee was presided by the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship. The Minister had proposed including representatives of women and racial minorities on the committee. The budget for the committee was formerly not enough to hold frequent meetings, so this had been increased by the current Government. The Government needed to improve monitoring systems and strengthen funding of the National System to comply with its recommendations.
The National Ombudsman’s Office was part of the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship. It carried out activities to combat torture, including dialogue with the justice system and monthly visits to prisons. It aimed to raise awareness among judicial branches of alternatives to detention. It was also monitoring police activities. The Ombudsman received around 35 complaints from detained persons and their family members daily regarding their human rights situation. A Human Rights Observatory had been established to raise awareness of human rights.
Legislation stipulated that all arrested persons were required to be presented before a court within 24 hours, and to have a private meeting with a lawyer. Families of arrested people were also notified of the arrest. Since 2015, 1.5 million custody hearings were held, 482,000 people were released and 720,000 were arrested on a preliminary basis. The State had implemented a system to streamline data collection on custody hearings. The National Bank of Prisons had also been created to store documents on sentences. Data on thousands of proceedings had been stored in recent years.
Law 13491 extended the list of military crimes to include acts of torture, but such trials were presided over by civilian judges. However, some states such as San Paulo had specialised military courts that heard cases involving torture. The military justice rarely assessed crimes of torture, which were mostly committed by State police officers. There had been a motion to shift competencies to the Criminal Court but this only applied to very serious crimes. Evidence obtained through torture was not admitted in courts. The methodologies of the Public Prosecutor’s Office followed the Istanbul Protocol and other international norms. The Office had signed a cooperation agreement with the Government to improve protection programmes for victims. It had also created a programme to support minor victims of abuses.
There were 654,000 prisoners in Brazilian prisons; 95 per cent of these prisoners were male. There were over 80,000 persons under house arrest. There were 42 penal units managed by private contractors. Prisons had primary healthcare teams, including doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and pharmacists. The national school of penal services provided training for prison officers that promoted peace and respect for human rights. Criminal police academies would be launched in June of this year to boost capacity building for the police service.
The National Council of Justice was implementing a programme to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The programme aimed to increase filters for entrance to prisons and alternatives to imprisonment. It was being implemented in 29 states. Alternatives to imprisonment had a restorative focus and included house arrest with electronic monitoring. A system for recording vacancies in prisons was being developed. The National Council had also developed rights-based procedures for the treatment of persons with medical disorders. In 2020, there were 129 prisoners under the disciplinary policy regimes for detainees. The judiciary aimed to centralise the issuance of release orders and monitoring of prisoners.
Punishment cells were of concern to the judiciary. National Council of Justice was working with the Association for the Prevention of Torture to increase monitoring of the use of such cells and to discourage prisons from using them. A study into the use of these cells had been carried out and final data was currently being prepared.
The National Council of Justice had published guidelines on accompanying children and adolescents who had been deprived of liberty, and supporting them to re-integrate into the community and to access sport, culture, leisure and education. This programme had been established in eight states and would be expanded in future.
The National Council of Justice had created a national registry of inspections of juvenile detention centres. The Council had called on inspectors to examine the situation of girls in detention carefully. It routinely received complaints of torture from adolescents and responded to these. Eighty-two per cent of adolescents were held in an open environment. Medical care was provided for all inmates. A decree had been approved to ensure the free supply of sanity pads to promote menstrual dignity for girls deprived of liberty.
The National Council of Justice had established guidelines for response to allegations of torture in correctional facilities that were in line with the Istanbul Protocol. Medical examinations were carried out to identify evidence of torture. Age, ethnicity, gender and other relevant factors were taken into consideration. Examinations were carried out by multi-disciplinary teams to consider both physical and psychological signs of torture. There were plans to map all forensic experts within Brazil to ensure that experts could attend all investigations.
A national curriculum had been developed to build the capacities of law enforcement agents. This informed the curricula of all regional capacity building services. The curriculum reinforced the need to face structural racism. It also covered the use of less-lethal weapons, the use of force and international norms. There were in-person and long-distance courses provided. In 2022, an education policy for the penitentiary system had been implemented to align and strengthen capacity building efforts. The Ministry of Justice worked with civil society organizations to develop education policies and curricula. In 2023, courses on the defence of human rights and the defence of indigenous peoples would also be offered. Specialised courses were offered to agents who worked with children. The Government planned to conduct a survey on the use of force in juvenile socio-education centres.
A programme to place cameras on law enforcement officials was in place. There were already some police officers who carried cameras. The programme aimed to better monitor police actions, promote less-lethal weapon use, and protect women and minors. Police violence had decreased by 64 per cent between 2020 and 2022 through the use of cameras.
The State recognised high levels of violence against the black population and was implementing targeted regional measures to tackle the phenomenon, including cameras for police officers.
Questions by Committee Experts
NAOKO MAEDA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Brazil, said that the Committee appreciated the detailed, updated data provided by the delegation.
Brazil’s dysfunctional drug legislation and policies had long been a direct cause of prison overcrowding. There was a dramatic race and class bias in the application of this legislation. The vagueness of the current drug legislation left it up to law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges to decide whether a certain amount of a drug was to be considered as being for personal consumption or trafficking. There was reportedly a tendency that a young black person from a poor neighbourhood found with the same amount of the same drug as a white person was more likely to face prosecution as a trafficker, harsh sentencing and degrading conditions.
The impact of drug policy was even more pronounced when applied to women. While for the overall population, drug-related offences represented 48 per cent of arrests, in the case of women they accounted for over 66 per cent of arrests, mostly for micro-trafficking. Thus, the Committee believed that a review of the current drug policy was extremely important, including a race- and gender-sensitive approach. Did the State party have any strategies for changing the drug policy in law and practice?
The Committee was concerned that people of African descent were disproportionately affected by violence, including police violence. Reports showed that racial profiling was embedded in policing and law enforcement. Although police lethality had decreased over recent years at the national level, the improvement had only affected white people. Brazil needed to quickly reactivate measures to ensure the livelihood of young people of African descent, who represented most victims of police intervention. Structural racism should be eliminated.
Under special circumstances, the Armed Forces could be deployed in policing during “operations to ensure law and order”, which had already happened in favellas in Rio de Janeiro. The current legislation allowed for military officers of the Armed Forces to be tried by military courts for all crimes, including those committed against civilians and against their lives, if perpetrated in the context of subsidiary activities of the Armed Forces, which included operations to ensure law and order. This had been challenged as unconstitutional in the Supreme Federal Tribunal already in 2013, but the resolution was still pending. Moreover, there were concerns about a recent proposal to further increase the jurisdiction of military courts for police abuses and to prosecute civilians that offended military officers in times of peace. These changes, if adopted, could further jeopardise efforts to combat torture and ill-treatment and to ensure accountability for victims. What was the status of consideration of the constitutionality of the current and proposed legislation?
The Committee strongly urged the State party to strengthen the framework of the National System for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture. Reactivating the Council of Prevention and Combatting of Torture should be a priority. It was vital for the new Government to guarantee that the national prevention mechanism could function properly, with adequate funding and structure to fulfil properly its mandate according to the Optional Protocol.
LIU HUAWEN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Brazil, said that the Committee wished to hear more information about rights holders to gain insight into the effectiveness of public policies. Economic, social and cultural rights were relevant to many of the issues being discussed. Development and human rights were interrelated. A new approach to human rights was needed. Preventative mechanisms, such as poverty reduction policies, were needed as well as investment in the prison system. Brazil needed to pay attention to the restorative function of criminal law and to the protection of victims. It needed to consider why there was such a large female prison population.
Afro-Brazilian women were reportedly reluctant to go to hospitals for obstetric services for fear of discrimination. It was easier to change laws than to change cultural practices and beliefs. Mr. Liu called for more information on efforts to change such beliefs. The humanisation of State structures was a welcome, ongoing process. Implementing the Convention should be part of the Government’s efforts to improve the lives of its citizens.
Another Committee Expert said the Committee appreciated the State party’s efforts to respond to the needs of prisoners and other vulnerable groups. The Expert asked for information on the number of femicides per year. What measures were in place to prevent gender-based violence and domestic violence, and to prevent torture of black women and girls? Obstetric violence affected more black women than white women. How was the State tackling obstetric violence? What services was the State offering for redress and rehabilitation?
One Committee Expert said many state-level torture preventative mechanisms did not function adequately. The autonomy of states did not give the Federal Government immunity from its responsibility to uphold its international obligations. Did the State party plan to take additional measures to ensure the functioning of state-level prevention mechanisms?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said Brazil was aware that past drug policies had failed. The drug issue was an issue of public health connected to economic conditions, inequality and structural racism. The State party would continue to promote development and human rights to address these issues. There were initiatives in place to address the drug problem through health-based measures rather than policing measures. A Government working group had been established to discuss a new policy on drugs, especially relating to women. The working group aimed to develop a policy based on international best practices.
Racial profiling was another important issue in Brazil. There was racial inequality in Brazil that was affecting judicial systems’ compliance with international human rights standards. The Supreme Court was debating recognition of structural racism within Brazilian institutions. The Ministry of Racial Equality was addressing inequality and working to overcome racism across the State.
Brazil was not shying away from its international responsibilities. It was working to overcome the challenges it faced. The National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture served as a model for implementation in all Brazilian states, and the Federal Government aimed to support the implementation of similar mechanisms in all states.
A national policy for people in street situations had been developed, and a committee to implement the policy had been established. The former Government had reduced the number of members of this committee, limiting its capacity to monitor implementation of the policy. The current Government was restructuring the committee, increasing its membership and including representatives of civil society, homeless people, women, black and indigenous peoples. The committee would hold dialogues with state-level committees to promote better implementation of the policy. The National Council for Children and Adolescents had implemented a resolution in 2017 to address the issues of homeless children and establish guidelines for caring for them. Another resolution from the National Council of Justice ensured access to justice and integrated care for the homeless within the justice system. An inter-ministerial group was promoting housing and health initiatives for the homeless. A decree to fight hostile behaviour towards homeless people would also soon be enacted.
The Military Public Prosecutor’s Office did not include members of the military. It was entirely made up of civilians. It was mandatory for all court proceedings to be held in-person. The delegation was concerned about efforts to broaden the scope of military justice, and would call for the reassessment of such efforts.
There had been a five per cent increase in femicides in 2022 compared to 2021. Budgets for policies to prevent violence against women had been reduced by 90 per cent by the previous Government. The current Government was strengthening police units that worked to prevent violence against women and provide support to victims. An umbrella institution had also been created to deal with all crimes against women.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chair, said that Brazil’s participation in the dialogue with the Committee after a long absence was a good sign. It reflected the State party’s will to overhaul its human rights policy. The issues faced by Brazil could not be solved overnight. The Committee expressed hope that its concluding observations would be useful to the State party in its efforts to implement the Convention.
SILVIO LUIZ DE ALMEIDA, Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship of Brazil and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the dialogue, and expressed Brazil’s commitment to upholding human rights and the provisions of the Convention.
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