The Brazilian Criminal Sciences Institute (IBCCRIM) and Conectas Human Rights filed a complaint with the UN this Thursday, April 20, warning of the “serious humanitarian crisis” to which persons deprived of liberty are subjected in the prison system in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
In the complaint, the organizations provide information from the inspections carried out in November 2022 at five prison facilities in the state by MNPCT (National Mechanism to Combat and Prevent Torture). In its inspection report, the independent organization describes overcrowding, unhygienic and dirty conditions, food that is unfit for consumption and of low nutritional value, shortages of drinking water and water rationing, and outbreaks of diseases such as scabies, diarrhea and tuberculosis without proper medical assistance.
“The problem of people suffering from tuberculosis (…) represents an absolute lack of humanity in the prison system of Rio Grande do Norte,” report the organizations in the document submitted to the UN. “Besides the fact that people with serious and contagious diseases are not isolated, there is no ongoing medical follow-up or appropriate treatment and there is a lack of specific medicines,” they added.
The document also contains reports of the systematic practice of torture, mistreatment and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, such as physical punishment with sandals made from tires and electric shocks to the feet, and skin lesions were found on several people in the Alcaçuz prison. In this facility, which was the scene of violent rebellions in 2015 and 2017, reports were presented of an episode in which 84 prisoners who asked for better conditions were all placed in the same cell as punishment without food.
The complaint was filed with Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and with Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on Racism.
In the document, the organizations ask the UN to call on the Brazilian government for measures to comply with the guidelines established in the Istanbul Protocol, to investigate cases of torture in the Rio Grande do Norte state prison system and to provide medical, legal and health assistance to the prisoners. They also draw attention to the need to create and implement a mechanism to combat and prevent torture in the state, among other things.
“This is yet another initiative that we have organized to contribute to the solution of a complex issue that involves human rights violations, the crisis in the prison system and insecurity. The first was the preparation of a propositional agenda, with suggestions for emergency measures to tackle overcrowding, the systematic practice of torture and the deficiency of health care in prison facilities in Rio Grande do Norte, which we distributed to federal and state authorities,” said Alessandro Araújo, State Coordinator of the Brazilian Criminal Sciences Institute (IBCCRIM) in Rio Grande do Norte.
“The practices reported to the UN violate international treaties and Brazilian laws. Therefore, the State has a legal duty to offer dignified conditions to people in custody. We hope that this complaint will broaden the debate on the topic and encourage the government of Rio Grande do Norte to adopt effective measures to combat torture and guarantee rights,” said Roberta Marina, advisor for the program to Combat Institutional Violence at Conectas.
In March, a wave of violence erupted in twenty cities in Rio Grande do Norte, including the state capital Natal. According to local authorities, there were nearly 300 attacks against public buildings, businesses, buses and Military Police brigades. A total of 187 suspects were arrested and nine people were transferred to maximum security federal prisons. One prison officer was shot dead. According to the press, the attacks were motivated by the poor prison conditions.
Local authorities said that the attacks were responses to previous police operations that had seized large amounts of firearms and illegal drugs, causing criminals to rise up against the state’s public security system. The state Public Prosecutor’s Office, meanwhile, has said that the “lack of privileges” inside the prisons could be the main cause of the attacks that occurred.
According to data from the CNJ (National Justice Council), Rio Grande do Norte currently has 28 prison facilities holding 8,572 people, of whom 3,512 are in secure prisons and 2,109 in pre-trial detention. There is a shortfall of 2,237 places in the prison system. In Alcaçuz prison alone, according to MNPCT, there are an average of 40 people held in cells designed for a maximum of 13 prisoners.