Annual Report: Brazil 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Brazil 2013

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São Paulo state saw numbers of homicides increase dramatically, reversing the reductions achieved over the previous eight years. Between January and September there was a rise of 9.7% over the same period in 2011, with 3,539 killings registered. Killings of police officers also rose steeply: more than 90 were killed by November alone. The police, academics and the media reported this rise in the context of increased confrontations between police and the state’s main criminal gang, the First Command of the Capital (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC). A joint federal-state initiative was announced to combat the violence, under the control of a newly appointed State Secretary for Public Security.

  • In May, three members of the Military Police’s Shock Troop were arrested. They were accused of the extrajudicial execution of a suspected member of the PCC during a police operation in Penha, in the east of São Paulo, the same month. A witness described how the officers detained one of the suspects, beat him and shot him dead in a police vehicle.

Police involvement in corrupt and criminal activity persisted. In Rio de Janeiro, while there were some advances in the provision of public security, the milícias (groups made up of active or former law enforcement agents) continued to dominate many of the city’s favelas.

  • In October, members of the League of Justice (Liga da Justiça) milícia reportedly issued death threats to the owners of one of the city’s informal bus companies, warning them to stop working in four areas of the city. This effectively cut off transport links for up to 210,000 people. The threats occurred as the group attempted to wrest control of transport services in the west of the city.

Torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions

In July, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture expressed concern at the widespread use of torture and the failure of the authorities to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions. Efforts by the federal authorities and some state authorities to combat and prevent torture were made within the Integrated Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Torture. Central to this was pending federal legislation for the creation of a National Preventative Mechanism, in line with the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. However, human rights groups were concerned by a change to the legislation that allowed the President alone to select the members of the National Committee to Prevent and Combat Torture. This was seen to violate the requirements of the UN Optional Protocol and the UN Principles relating to the Status and Functioning of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (the “Paris Principles”).

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture praised Rio de Janeiro’s state mechanism for the independence of its selection criteria and structure and the mandate it had been set. However, there were concerns that it was not receiving full funding.

The number of people detained continued to rise. A shortfall of over 200,000 places meant that cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions were commonplace. In Amazonas state, detainees were held in foetid, overcrowded, insecure cells. Women and minors were detained in the same units as men, and there were numerous reports of torture, including near-suffocation with a plastic bag, beatings and electric shocks. These reports mostly involved members of the state military police.

Land rights

Hundreds of communities were condemned to live in appalling conditions by the authorities’ failure to fulfil their constitutional rights to land. Land activists and community leaders were threatened, attacked and killed. Indigenous and Quilombola communities were at particular risk, often as a consequence of development projects.

The publication by the Attorney General’s Office of a controversial resolution (Portaria 303) in July prompted protests by Indigenous Peoples and NGOs across Brazil. The resolution would permit the establishment of mining, hydro-electric schemes and military installations on Indigenous lands, without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. At the end of the year, the resolution was suspended, pending a Supreme Court decision.