Update on 21/06/2012
Brazil has had a law on the books since Wednesday (May 16) that guarantees any citizen broad access to information from the government. Law no. 12527/2011, on Freedom of Information, will regulate and uphold the fundamental right of access to information, recognized in article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution – and, among other effects, it will undoubtedly make government more open and transparent.
Conectas has been closely following the implementation of the new law and it has already requested information from the government on not only issues of domestic justice and human rights, but also on Brazilian foreign policy (read about each of the requests at the bottom of the page).
The transparency process will not be easy. “Passing new laws is always less complicated than changing cultures or prevailing over firmly entrenched colonial-era bureaucracies,” explained Rafael Custódio, coordinator of the Justice Program at Conectas in an article published in the Sunday (May 13) edition of the Aliás section of the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.
The Freedom of Information Law was sent to Congress back in 2009 and was approved towards the end of 2011. Barring some exceptional circumstances provided for in the law on the need for secrecy, transparency will be the rule – as the Constitution itself has recognized since 1988 – and secrecy must be the exception.
Among the areas where transparency needs to be improved, as far as Conectas is concerned, is the São Paulo prison system, where almost a third of the country’s prisoners are held. The system presents significant information shortfalls, primarily in relation to female prisoners. “This data deficit precludes an in-depth and meaningful discussion on the subject, since the picture of the situation that is portrayed is blurred, if not incomplete,” said Custódio.
Another example is the federal government’s failure to release the report of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which was produced after a visit to Brazil last year in order to monitor the situation of torture and mistreatment in the country’s prison system. The publication of this document will certainly contribute to a more constructive debate between government and civil society on the matter, representing a major opportunity for the country to finally address the issue firmly and openly. (For more information, read here the update. Only in Portuguese).
The new law explicitly states that “all information or documentation addressing conducts that involve human rights violations perpetrated by public agents or at the behest of public authorities may not be classified as restricted”. The success of what today is still only on paper will depend on the capacity of Brazilian society to monitor the actual implementation of what is intended by the law.
+ About the requests
Based on the Freedom of Information Law, Conectas is requesting access to the telegrams of the Ministry of Foreign Relations with the OAS. Conectas wants to know how Brasília instructed its diplomats in the process to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System. (Read it in Portuguese).
The situation of female prisoners in São Paulo is the subject of a request for clarification by Conectas, based on the Freedom of Information Law. The organization wants access to precise data on capacity, in addition to the hygiene and health conditions in women’s prisons. (Read it in Portuguese).
Invoking the Freedom of Information Law, Conectas is requesting for the third time from the federal government access to information on torture. For three months now, the government has resisted releasing the report produced by UN specialists. (Read the original version in Portuguese or click here to read the update on this issue).