June 26, 2013
Torture is one of the cruelest and most cowardly ways of disrespecting human rights. In Brazil, the use of this medieval practice is routine and almost trivial in many prisons across the country.
Because it is committed behind locked doors, far from the public eye, with the participation or collusion of agents of the state and the omission of the justice system, the practice of torture is virtually invisible to anyone but the victims. This is why Conectas is today commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations in 1997, and is drawing attention to the persistence of this heinous crime in Brazil. Today, the UN published a news release about the date.
“This is an under-reported practice that goes largely unnoticed by most people, as if it did not exist. However, despite the false sense that torture is remote, part of the prison underworld, everyone should know that torture exists in society in a variety of forms. Given its particularly sadistic nature, torture irrigates a fertile underground of traumas, humiliations, hatreds and resentments, generating an endless chain of violence. The eradication of this medieval practice is a priority for us,” said Rafael Custodio, coordinator of the Justice Program at Conectas.
To mark the date, Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas, and Flávia Piovesan, law professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), today published an op-ed on the topic on the website Consultor Jurídico.
The authors draw attention to the bill currently pending in the Senate to create the National Torture Preventive Mechanism provided for in a UN Optional Protocol signed by Brazil. “The bill, as it was approved by the lower house, does not include a public selection process to appoint the experts who will visit the prisons, which undermines the independence of these inspectors. Moreover, it does not give an express guarantee for the mechanism to conduct prison inspections without giving prior notice to the authorities. The lower house, besides removing this express guarantee that was in the original bill, also added the requirement for inspectors to give 24 hours notice to the State Mechanism – if one exists – before visiting a facility. This condition violates the spirit of the Optional Protocol, since it strips the system of its independence and removes the deterrent effect that surprise visits can have,” say the authors.
Read the article:
Stopping torture could be part of everyone’s agenda
The population that has taken to the streets recently appear to be demanding answers to the unkept promises of our democracy. One of these unkept promises is the dignified treatment of all people and the absolute prohibition of torture, whether administered as a punishment or as a means of obtaining information.
Countless international human rights mechanisms have already categorically confirmed that torture in Brazilian prisons is still “widespread and systematic”. Perhaps the most salient corroboration came from Nigel Rodley, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Brazil in 2002. In one of the most evocative passages of his report, Rodley said one of the prisoners told him: “they treat us like animals and then expect us to behave like human beings.”
After Rodley, other UN mechanisms came to the same conclusions. In 2009, the Committee Against Torture, after a long investigation, confirmed that “torture and similar mistreatment continues to be meted out on a widespread and systematic basis”. The most recent visit was made in 2011 by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which said it hoped the Brazilian government would take decisive steps to eradicate torture and mistreatment inflicted on all people detained in the country.
The partial conclusions of a survey currently being conducted by ACAT, Conectas, IBCCrim, NEV/USP and Pastoral Carcerária indicate that torture in Brazil does not reach the Judiciary. Most cases heard by State Appeals Courts deal with torture between private individuals, not mistreatment perpetrated by public agents. Torture committed by public agents is under-reported and not properly investigated. Furthermore, the forensic analysis that could serve as evidence is not performed independently, further weakening any investigation. All this contributes to the perpetuation of torture in Brazil.
Experiences in other countries reveal the importance of installing effective preventive mechanisms. In 2007, Brazil ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and undertook to create a National Torture Preventive Mechanism. The mechanism’s primary objective would be to monitor detention facilities for the purpose of preventing torture. It may interview people, have access to documents and propose recommendations to the proper authorities, with the goal of eradicating torture in the country.
There is a bill to create such a mechanism currently pending in the Brazilian Congress. However, the version that was approved in the lower house does not include a public selection process to appoint the experts who will visit the prisons, which undermines the independence of the inspectors. Moreover, it does not give an express guarantee for the mechanism to conduct prison inspections without giving prior notice to the authorities. The lower house, besides removing this express guarantee that was in the original bill, also added the requirement for inspectors to give 24 hours notice to the State Mechanism – if one exists – before visiting a facility. This condition violates the spirit of the Optional Protocol, since it strips the system of its independence and removes the deterrent effect that surprise visits can have. The bill may still be altered in the Senate. This is indispensable.
Torture today primarily affects the preferred targets of a selective justice system: youth, the poor, blacks and ‘pardos’ (dark-skinned). This being the case, it is yet another item in the long catalogue of injustices the population has risen up against. Brazil is speaking from the streets against these injustices. And today, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, putting a stop to this medieval practice could be part of everyone’s agenda.
Flávia Piovesan is a São Paulo State Prosecutor and Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP)
Juana Kweitel is Program Director at Conectas Human Rights
Bill passed in the lower house does not respect UN Protocol
Torture of 52 prisoners in Espírito Santo: organizations call for concrete action
Men claim they were forced to spend 2 hours sitting, naked, on scorching ground. Photos show severe burns
Conectas in the news:
Prosecutor’s Office requests federal ombuds office against police torture in São Paulo state (O Estado de S. Paulo – February 27, 2013)
Civil Public Action filed following a debate triggered by the killing of an advertising executive by Military Police in July
Time to erradicate torture (O Globo – July 4, 2012)
Article by Juana Kweitel
Why are prisons in Brazil ‘medieval’? (Folha de S. Paulo – November 18, 2012)