Annual Report: Brazil 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Brazil 2011

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Head of state and government: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
Population: 195.4 million
Life expectancy: 72.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 33/25 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 90 per cent

Communities living in poverty continued to face a range of human rights abuses, including forced eviction and lack of access to basic services. Although some cities saw a reduction in homicide rates, high levels of police and gang violence in shanty towns further entrenched inequalities. Torture, overcrowding and degrading conditions continued to characterize the prison and juvenile detention systems where lack of effective control led to riots resulting in a number of deaths. Indigenous Peoples, Quilombolas (members of Afro-descendant communities) and landless workers faced threats, intimidation and violence in the context of land disputes. Human rights defenders remained at risk and often had difficulty accessing state protection.

Background

As Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ended his second and final term as President, Brazil was enjoying a surging economy, political stability and a high profile on the international stage. Considerable progress had been made in reducing poverty, but stark inequalities remained. Dilma Rousseff won the presidential elections in the second round in October, promising continuity and was due to take office in January 2011. She said that public security, health and the eradication of poverty would be priorities for her administration.

President Lula approved a modified version of the Third National Human Rights Plan in May, amid criticisms that references to the decriminalization of abortion, mediation in agrarian conflicts and sections relating to crimes committed during the military regime (1964-85) had been removed.

In October, in a landmark ruling, the Brazilian High Court of Justice voted to bring the investigation and judicial proceedings relating to the killing of Manoel Mattos, a former councillor and human rights activist, under federal jurisdiction. This was the first time a case had been moved to federal jurisdiction since a 2004 constitutional amendment allowed for cases of grave human rights abuses to be heard at the federal level. Manoel Mattos had exposed the activities of death squads in the border region of Paraíba and Pernambuco states and investigations into his death were hampered by threats against witnesses.

The controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project on the Xingu River in Pará state was granted an environmental licence in February by the Brazilian environmental agency amid opposition from Indigenous and other rural communities, human rights and environmental groups and federal prosecutors. Local NGOs argued that the dam project could displace thousands of families, and flood vast tracts of traditional Indigenous lands. In October, in a positive step, the federal government issued a decree providing for the creation of a socio-economic register including a public record of all those affected by dams.

In February, Brazil approved a constitutional amendment which added the right to food to existing economic, social and cultural rights. In November, Brazil ratified the International Convention against enforced disappearance. However, Brazil did not recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive complaints from or on behalf of victims or states when the national authorities fail to fulfil their obligations.

Public security

Criminal and police violence continued to be a serious problem in Brazil's largest cities. In a progress report, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions wrote that "the norm remains that citizens, especially residents of favelas (shanty towns), remain hostage to violence from gangs, militias and the police" and that "extrajudicial killings remain widespread".