Brazil’s torture exam (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part look at Brazil’s recent review by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. For more info, please read our earlier story, published just after members of the Subcommittee visited Brazil.


The United Nations examination of Brazil’s detention system is over, and in the spirit of transparency, Brazil has released the report produced by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).

The SPT first examined the country’s legal and institutional frameworks, healthcare system, impunity, corruption, and reprisals. It then inspected Brazil’s detention system and the conditions of penitentiary institutions.

While the legal framework in Brazil is, according to the Subcommittee, “adequate”, there is a worrying gap between the legal framework and its application in practice; the Subcommittee saw most of the rights and guarantees within the legal framework being widely ignored.

As noted by the Special Rapporteur on Torture following his visit in 2001, many of the recommendations in their report would merely require the authorities to abide by existing Brazilian law.

The SPT expressed the concern that “the current institutional framework in Brazil does not provide for sufficient protection against torture and ill-treatment.”

On the one hand, the public defence system lacks autonomy, as well as the necessary financial and human resources. On the other hand, the country’s judges aren’t asking questions about detainees’ treatment during interrogation, and continue to use evidence obtained through torture.

Furthermore, the country’s forensic doctors are subordinated to the state, undermining the independence of forensic medical documentation, a powerful source of evidence against torture.

In terms of healthcare, the situation is “extremely worrying”. The overall concerns include the lack of financial, material and human resources and the subordination of health services to the security services. All detainees should be offered a medical examination as soon as possible after their initial detention, and such examination must be independent, free of charge and conducted in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, writes the SPT.

“Impunity for acts of torture was pervasive and was evidenced by a generalized failure to bring perpetrators to justice, as well as by the persistence of a culture that accepts abuses by public officials.”

The SPT was seriously concerned about the allegations of corruption. Examples included “detainees bribing policemen 10,000 Brazilian reais (approx. 4000 Eur) to be freed; police officers stealing evidence; detainees paying bribes in order to satisfy basic needs, such as access to fresh air, relatives having to pay in order to be able to visit detainees; etc.”


Look for Part 2 of Brazil’s torture exam next week.


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


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  1. Brazil’s torture exam (Part 2) « World Without Torture

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