Annual Report: Brazil 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Brazil 2010

View More Research

Torture and prison conditions

Detainees continued to be held in cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions. Torture was regularly used as a method of interrogation, punishment, control, humiliation and extortion. Overcrowding remained a serious problem. Gang control of detention centres resulted in high levels of violence between prisoners. Lack of independent oversight and high levels of corruption contributed to perpetuating entrenched problems of violence in the prison system, as well as in the juvenile detention system. Mechanisms for the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture had still not been put in place by the end of the year.

Some of the harshest conditions of detention continued to be reported from Espírito Santo state. There were reports of torture, as well as of extreme overcrowding and the use of shipping containers (known as "microwaves") as cells. There were reports of prisoners dismembering other prisoners. Following extensive pressure from local human rights groups and official state and national monitoring bodies, some building projects were initiated. In March, an illegal ban on monitoring visits to the prison system was finally lifted.

In December, after evidence of torture and attempted homicide in the Urso Branco prison in the state of Rondônia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a new resolution – its seventh since 2002 – calling on the Brazilian government to ensure the safety of the prisoners held there. A decision on the Attorney-General's call for federal intervention in October 2008 was still pending before the Supreme Court at the end of 2009.

Land disputes

Conflict over land continued to generate human rights abuses committed by both gunmen hired by farm owners and police officers. According to the Church based Pastoral Land Commission, between January and mid-November 2009, 20 people were murdered in land-related conflicts in Brazil.

  • In Rio Grande do Sul state, landless worker Elton Brum da Silva was shot dead by military police in August during an eviction from the Southall ranch in São Gabriel municipality. In the aftermath of the eviction, local NGOs accused police of torture – including beating with batons, kicks, punches and the use of Tasers.
  • In August, 50 military police evicted a group of landless workers from the Pôr do Sol farm in Maranhão state, beating up several landless leaders and threatening others verbally. They set fire to houses and destroyed personal belongings, including documents.
  • In October, 20 armed, hooded men reportedly led by a local farmer attacked a settlement of 20 families in the municipality of São Mateus, in Maranhão state. Threats from gunmen to kill any families settled in the area continued following the attack.

Workers' rights

Workers' rights, especially in the agricultural sector, continued to be violated. Despite extensive efforts to combat the practice, thousands of workers were found to be held in conditions deemed analogous to slavery under national law.

In November, in a landmark ruling, a federal judge in Pará state sentenced 27 people to prison sentences ranging from three years and four months to 10 years and six months for using slave labour. The prosecutions followed reports issued between 1999 and 2008 by labour prosecutors, responsible for monitoring the implementation of labour law.

In June, the government presented the National Accord for the Improvement of Working Conditions in the Sugar Sector – a voluntary agreement between the government, industry and unions for minimum standards. The Accord followed persistent criticisms of workers' rights violations in the sugar cane industry.

Right to adequate housing

Urban homeless groups suffered threats, attacks and excessive use of force at the hands of the police. In São Paulo a series of forced evictions suggested that a policy of slum clearance to make way for development projects was being pursued without regard for the rights of those made homeless as a consequence.