In a bill published in the Diário Oficial on Tuesday 11 June, president Jair Bolsonaro discharged eleven MNPCT (the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture) specialists, the government body, connected to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, which is responsible for monitoring torture and ill-treatment in prisons.
As well as abolishing these posts, the bill also states that activities at this government body will now be considered to be “the unpaid provision of relevant public services.”
“In practice, this means the abolition of the principal mechanism that inspects prisons in Brazil. The government is undermining yet another body that is essential in improving the desperate situation in Brazilian prisons,” says Henrique Apolinário, Conectas Lawyer and member of the (National Committee for the Prevention and Combat of Torture).
The Mechanism had been facing serious financial difficulties as well as dealing with a political clash with minister Damares Alves, who, in February, had prohibited the release of funds for specialists’ travel expenses to Ceará to look into claims of torture in the prison and penal system.
Publication of the bill comes around two weeks after a massacre in prisons in Manaus that left at least 55 prisoners dead. The Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture had condemned the precarious conditions and tension at Compaj (Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex), in the Amazonian capital ahead of the massacre that happened in January 2017 killing 56 people. In their report the MNPCT provided federal government with a number of recommendations that could have contributed to avoiding both episodes.
The MNPCT (National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture) is part of the National System for the Prevention and Combat of Torture approved in law 12.847/13. The organ is composed of 11 independent experts who have access to installations of denial of liberty, such as detention centres, penal institutions, psychiatric hospitals, shelters for the elderly, reform institutions and military disciplinary detention centres.
Once a violation has been corroborated, the experts write up a report with recommendations to other relevant authorities who will use these in adopting appropriate measures.
Its implementation meets an international commitment made by Brazil in 2007 with the ratification of the UN Optional Protocol to the Prevention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The system all includes the National Committee for the Combat of Torture, composed of 23 (twenty three) members: 11 representatives from organs of the Federal Executive and 12 from professional committees and civil society organisations. Conectas has been on the Committee since 2016.