Brazil is a vast multicultural state and comprises one of the BRIC countries (Brazil, India Russia, China). It is the world’s fifth most populous country and is largely recognized as a thriving democracy with a vast network of sophisticated and well organized civil society groups.
With its economic potential and emerging role in regional and international affairs the focus on Brazil will continue for some time. Given its rising status in the world and its position as one of Latin America’s leading economic and political players it only stands to reason that Brazil is an important site of social, political and cultural exchange.
In October 2010, 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 councilor 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 license in February 2010 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 fulfill their obligations.
Dilma Rousseff won the presidential elections in the second round in October, promising continuity and took office in January 2011. She said that public security, health and the eradication of poverty would be priorities for her administration.
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”. In Rio de Janeiro, further Police Pacification Units were installed in favelas, achieving reductions in violence. However, outside of these projects, police violence, including killings, remained widespread. According to official statistics, police killed 855 people in situations described as “acts of resistance” in 2010.
In November, in response to gang violence, including the burning of more than 150 vehicles and attacks on police posts, police mounted operations across the city. More than 50 people were killed in confrontations between police and drug gangs in the space of a week. Civil Police killed seven people in a single operation in the community of Jacarezinho. In the community of Vila Cruzeiro, a 14-year-old girl was killed inside her house when she was hit by a stray bullet. At the end of the week, over 2,600 men, supported by the army and the navy, staged a major operation in the Complexo do Alemão, a group of shanty towns in the city’s northern zone where Rio’s largest drug faction had set up headquarters. The complex was swiftly taken and at the end of the year was under the control of the army, awaiting the possible future deployment of a Police Pacification Unit. Militias and death squads
Militias (armed paramilitary-style groups) continued to dominate many areas of Rio de Janeiro and a large number of the recommendations of the 2008 parliamentary inquiry into the militias had not been implemented by the end of 2010.
Torture, other ill-treatment and prison conditions
Torture was widespread at the point of detention and in police cells, prisons and juvenile detention systems.
At the end of the year, proposals for a federal law to introduce preventative mechanisms in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture – ratified by Brazil in 2007 – remained stalled in the Office of the President’s Chief of Staff. Meanwhile, two states, Alagoas and Rio de Janeiro, approved laws to implement the Optional Protocol in May and June respectively.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Indigenous Peoples fighting for their constitutional rights to traditional lands continued to face discrimination, threats and violence. The situation was particularly grave in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where Guarani-Kaiowá communities faced persistent persecution from gunmen hired by local farmers. In spite of efforts on the part of federal prosecutors to speed up the process to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples to traditional lands, the process remained stalled.
The Guarani-Kaiowá communities of Y’poí, Ita’y Ka’aguyrusu and Kurusú Ambá in the south of Mato Grosso do Sul state were harassed and attacked by hired gunmen. In the community of Kurusú Ambá, a three-year-old Indigenous boy died after suffering bouts of diarrhoea in September. At the time the security situation had been deemed so dangerous that the Federal Health Agency had suspended visits.
Degrading labor conditions persisted across Brazil. In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery visited Brazil. She concluded that forced labor and “slave-like” practices were most prevalent in the cattle sector, followed by sugar cane plantations. She urged the federal authorities to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow for the expropriation of land where forced labor is used. The amendment, which was proposed in 1999, remained stalled in Congress at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders
By the end of the year the National Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders had expanded its operations to six states. However, inconsistent funding and a lack of co-ordination between state and federal authorities meant that many human rights defenders included in the program remained without protection.
Brazil continued to lag behind the rest of the region in its response to grave human rights violations committed during the military era. In April, the Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to interpretations of the 1979 Amnesty Law. Current interpretations have resulted in impunity for officers accused of grave human rights violations including torture, rape and enforced disappearance during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85).
By the end of the year, President Lula had not fully complied with a 2009 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering that compensation be paid to the family of landless worker Sétimo Garibaldi. According to witnesses, Sétimo Garibaldi was shot dead by hooded gunmen on the Fazenda São Francisco, in Querência do Norte in the north-east of Paraná state, in November 1998.