Brazil’s torture exam (Part 2)

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part look at Brazil’s recent review by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

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.

Throughout its inspection, the SPT observed situations of overcrowding. “In almost all facilities visited the number of inmates exceeded the facility’s maximum capacity.” Extreme overcrowding was also reported in vehicles during the transportation of detainees.

With the exception of a few positive cases, persons detained in police facilities are often held in “dilapidated, filthy and stuffy cells, with inadequate or no sanitation, and inadequate or no bedding provided. In the case of prolonged police detention, there are consistent allegations of deprivation of food and  water, as well as the lack of access to fresh air and exercise.”

The military and civil police were reported to threaten, kick and punch. Such beatings “take place in police custody, but also on the street, inside private homes, or in secluded outdoor areas, at the moment of arrest. The torture and ill-treatment was described to the SPT as gratuitous violence, as a form of punishment, to extract confessions, and as a means of extortion.”

Children reported similar beatings and a female prisoner reported that she had been raped by two police officers while in police custody.

As for treatment in police custody, one inmate stated to the SPT that the methods of torture used during his interrogation included suffocation by placing his head in a plastic bag, electric shocks and psychological threats.

“…one detainee stated that while in the custody of the civil police for a period of two days he was held in a dirty cell of approximately 8 m² holding 20 men, and deprived of food and water. When the detainees complained and requested food and water, they were beaten.”

According to the Subcommittee, this is not the first time these recommendations have been made to Brazil. Even though progress is clear in several areas, many of the problems encountered by the SPT are similar to the ones found in past visits.

Are things going to change?

Brazil will soon respond to the SPT report – it is expected to be submitted by the Brazilian government by 8th August.

According to Ana Paula Moreira, general-coordinator for the fight against torture at the department of human rights, several Brazilian ministries have been coordinating action on this front. A particular focus is the national support program to the prison system, which aims at ending some of the problems pointed out by the SPT, namely that of prison overcrowding. For this goal, Brazil will invest approx. 440 million Euros.

There are grounds to believe Brazil will pursue the recommendations in the report. The publication of the report itself is a key step and demonstrates Brazil’s commitment against torture and willingness to engage in dialogue with the SPT.

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

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