Governor Alckmin refuses to meet with UN representative
Emílio Ginés, member of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, wanted to discuss the establishment of a state-level prevention mechanism
September 4, 2013
Three weeks ago, video evidence of torture against minors at the Fundação Casa youth reform center in São Paulo, broadcast on the widely-viewed television show Fantástico, exposed a serious situation, but one all too familiar to human rights organizations: the constant violations that occur in detention centers across Brazil. At the time, São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin said he was prepared to install cameras inside prisons to curb torture.
However, the governor’s concern comes across as empty rhetoric when one considers that a bill to create a State-Level Torture Prevention Mechanism, in the molds of the law signed by President Dilma Rousseff in August, has been stalled in the São Paulo State Justice Department for more than a year. The lack of interest in the bill, prepared over the course of a year of meetings with civil society organizations (including Conectas), became even more evident last week, when Alckmin refused to meet Emilio Ginés, a member of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), who was in Brazil.
“It is vital for São Paulo to create a torture prevention mechanism as quickly as possible,” Ginés told Conectas. “It is an instrument of collaboration with the authorities. It is not reactive or complaint-based. It is about dialogue to resolve a common problem.” According to Rafael Custódio, coordinator of the Justice Program at Conectas, “the lack of political will to discuss such a delicate matter with international actors is regrettable, even more so when we know that this is a daily practice in the state’s prisons,” adding that “we do not understand the reason for the refusal.”
In 2012, organizations such as Conectas, the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Carcerária prison care service, the Public Defender’s Office, the Regional Psychology Council, Action by Christians Against Torture (ACAT) and the Práxis Human Rights Institute mobilized around the Working Group established by the São Paulo State Department Justice and Defense of Citizenship to improve the draft of the bill presented to the state in 2011.
The meetings, however, were abandoned by the government in March after a report by the State Attorney General’s Office asserting that the creation of the National Mechanism should precede the creation of the State Mechanism. Despite ignoring examples such as the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has had its own mechanism since 2010, the São Paulo State Justice Department accepted the report’s argument and halted all attempts by the organizations to resume dialogue.
In early August, when President Rousseff signed Law 12,847 that establishes the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, the São Paulo government ran out of excuses. Revealing that the problem is primarily political, and not technical, Alckmin ignored the open letter sent shortly afterwards by 34 organizations and 16 individuals requesting the bill to be submitted to the State Legislative Assembly. The organizations are still awaiting a response.
What the law says
The main clause of article 24 of the São Paulo State Constitution asserts that “the initiative of supplementary and ordinary laws is within the competence of any member or committee of the Legislative Assembly, the State Governor, the Court of Appeals, the State Attorney General and the citizens, in the manner and in the cases provided for in this Constitution.”
Paragraph two of the same article establishes the exclusive competence of the governor to submit bills involving (i) the creation and extinction of public positions, functions or jobs in the direct administration and in public organizations, as well as the fixing of the respective remuneration; and (ii) the creation and extinction of State Departments and public administration bodies.
“In other words, it is not an option for the governor to submit such a bill, but a duty,” said Vivian Calderoni, a lawyer at Conectas. “Otherwise, the state of São Paulo – which concentrates more than a third of the country’s prison population and has the most adolescents serving time in reform centers – will not have a mechanism to prevent the kind of torture that has shocked the population in recent weeks.”
Rousseff signs law to combat torture
Conectas commends the approval of the National Mechanism, but calls for commitment and transparency in setting up the new body