On Friday, March 18, a virtual session of the Supreme Court will start to judge a case that calls for the suspension of the effects of Decree No. 9.831/19, of President Jair Bolsonaro. The decree has obstructed the workings of the MNPCT (National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture), the country’s main anti-torture body.
Drafted by the then Prosecutor-General, Raquel Dodge, the case – ADPF Case No. 607 – challenges the 2019 presidential act that discharged the 11 experts who worked on the MNPCT, transforming their activities into unpaid work. According to the human rights organizations, the decree directly affected the functional independence of the body, which is responsible for monitoring prisons, shelters for children and seniors, psychiatric hospitals, therapeutic communities and youth detention centers.
Since they deal with violations committed by government agents in custodial facilities, the mechanisms to combat and prevent torture need independence to file complaints and notify authorities. The job of the experts includes carrying out inspections and requesting information and forensic reports to prevent, document and promote accountability for torture and mistreatment.
The MNPCT is only functioning today thanks to an injunction granted by a federal court in August 2019. In the Lower House of Congress, legislative bills against the act of the president have been pending for more than two years with little real chance of being voted. It is up to the Supreme Court, therefore, to decide on the legality of the decree in its judgment of ADPF No. 607, a case from 2019 that was only put on the Court’s schedule last week.
In February this year, Brazil received an official visit from representatives of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) of the United Nations, which was also motivated by Bolsonaro’s decree. The international group of experts met with Brazilian authorities, including Minister Damares Alves; the presidents of the Human Rights Committees of the Lower House and the Senate, Humberto Costa and Carlos Veras; representatives of the Supreme Court; and the Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras. The main demand of the SPT was for Brazil to comply with the commitments of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which establishes the requirement to have this mechanism.
“We urge Brazil to drop its decision to dismantle its national torture prevention mechanism,” said Suzanne Jabbour, who headed the SPT delegation that visited the country in February.
Beforehand, in June 2019, the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), a body of the OAS (Organization of American States), had already expressed its condemnation and concern over the presidential decree.
In the Supreme Court, Brazilian and international human rights organizations will participate in the case as amicus curiae (a legal instrument that permits experts to share their knowledge with the court and inform it on matters of public interest). These are the Defense of the Right to a Defense Institute (IDDD), the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), Conectas Human Rights, Justiça Global, the educational inclusion organization Educafro, the National Association of Public Defenders (ANADEP), the Catholic Church’s prisoner outreach service Pastoral Carcerária, the Brazilian Criminal Sciences Institute (IBCCRIM), the Federal Council of the Brazilian Bar Association and the Strategic Action Group of State and District Public Defender’s Offices in the Higher Courts (GAETS).
The organizations will warn the justices about the risks of undermining the main body combating torture in the country, with respect to the worsening living conditions in custodial facilities and the non-compliance with commitments assumed by Brazil in international agreements.