Torture in Brazil: what changed in a decade?

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) recently visited several Brazilian penitentiary and police institutions, as well as detention facilities for children and juveniles in the states of Espírito Santo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Four months after the visit, its confidential preliminary observations were presented to the Brazilian government.

At the time of the visit, President Dilma Rousseff, a torture survivor herself, was being pressed to get on with a national mechanism to fight torture. This mechanism is based on the recommendations by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, following his visit to Brazil in 2000. His report pointed out the need to end the Brazilian cultural tolerance to torture and highlighted the poor treatment of prisoners in “massively overcrowded” police jails.

Nearly a decade on, the 2009 UNCAT report again raised concern about the systematic practice of torture in Brazil along with “endemic overcrowding, filthy conditions of confinement, extreme heat, light deprivation and permanent lock-ups”. Earlier reports also highlighted the inefficiency of police investigations and to the extreme impunity that prevails in the country, to which judges contributed by ignoring the law defining crimes of torture. According to Conectas, a human rights organisation, the Brazilian government admits a serious problem of torture in the country and admits its own fault in failing to produce systematic data on this abuse.

Many things have changed in Brazil in the past decade. Most notably the consolidation of its status as a global economic power and the outstanding poverty reduction that came with it. While in 2003, 36% of Brazil’s population lived below the national poverty line, that rate fell to 21% in 2009. Torture is, in fact, a cause and effect of poverty. Does this mean we can hope for positive signals in the SPT report? We shall see. That is, if Brazil decides to make the SPT recommendations public.

In the spirit of transparency, which should be a cornerstone of any detention system, we call on the Brazilian government to do so.

Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.

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  1. Brazil’s torture exam (Part 1) « World Without Torture

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