UN recommendations to combat torture in Brazil

United Nations Committee against Torture makes suggestions for Brazil to demilitarize the police, end mass incarceration of Afro-Brazilians and guarantee access to legal abortion

The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) has released its conclusions on the review of Brazil and the measures that should be taken to combat torture in the country.

In April, Brazil was assessed by the experts from CAT, a procedure that all signatory countries to the United Nations Convention Against Torture undergo periodically. The previous Brazilian review occurred 20 years ago on account of delays by the State submitting its reports. 

See the main points in the UN report on torture in Brazil

The report noted that torture and other violations related to this practice are still common in various parts of Brazil, especially in prisons and peripheral urban and rural areas, and that Afro-Brazilians, indigenous and quilombola people, women and the LGBTI+ community are the main victims. The Committee asked Brazil to provide, by 12 May 2024, information on the measures adopted in response to its recommendations, especially on four points: 

1 – Take urgent measures to end the use of excessive force, especially lethal force, by law enforcement and military officials. 

2 – Pursue efforts to eliminate overcrowding in all detention centers.

3 – Bring the juvenile justice system fully into line with international standards and promote alternatives to detention, ensuring that detention is used as a last resort.

4 – Establish a network of preventive mechanisms against torture in all states and ensure that these bodies have the necessary resources and independence.

Excessive use of force by the police

According to the experts on the Committee, Brazil must take urgent measures to end the use of excessive force, especially lethal force, by the police and military authorities. In this regard, the demilitarization of the police is an important step. As such, the UN Committee against Torture recommends to Brazil: the use of less lethal weapons during policing activities, particularly in areas densely populated with civilians; the strengthening of independent oversight mechanisms of law enforcement officers, ensuring that all complaints of excessive use of force are investigated; and the guarantee of reparations for victims and their families in the event of violations. 

Mass incarceration

The UN report states that Brazilian prisons are spaces marked by human rights violations. In this regard, it says that to combat torture in Brazil, the country needs to provide adequate training to police officers and prison guards, implement measures to prevent torture in detention facilities, create independent monitoring mechanisms and ensure that victims of torture have access to the necessary legal and medical assistance.

The document also warned about the “overcrowding in prisons and the extremely high incarceration rate, even in pre-trial detention, of young Afro-Brazilians of both sexes for drug-related crimes”. On this same point, the experts expressed concern about the use of racial profiling during police stops, which it characterized as systemic racial discrimination.

Treatment of people under investigation

The CAT experts criticized the online pre-trial custody hearings that were introduced during the most acute stage of the covid-19 pandemic and that continue to this day. In view of this, the UN recommended the immediate resumption of custody hearings with the physical presence of the detainee, before a magistrate and in a judicial setting. The Committee said this procedure is a necessary and essential safeguard to assess the legality of the detention, to bring the person under judicial control and to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability in all cases of torture or mistreatment. 

The report expressed concern about the lack of procedural safeguards in Brazilian legislation for detainees. The UN listed as problematic: cases of lawyers not authorized to meet with their clients during the period of the investigation, delays in the right to notify a relative or a person of one’s choice and the lack of independence of forensic examiners. 

Sexual and reproductive rights 

The Committee also expressed concern over sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil. It drew attention to the high rate of maternal mortality, in particular among Afro-Brazilian, indigenous and quilombola women, and the continued criminalization of abortion, except in cases of rape, threat to the life of the mother, or anencephalic fetus, “which results in many women and girls resorting to clandestine and unsafe abortions”. Obstetric violence also featured among the concerns of the UN. 

Therefore, the international body recommended that the Brazilian State continue its efforts to improve women’s access to sexual and reproductive health, review the Criminal Code to decriminalize the voluntary termination of pregnancy, considering the World Health Organization guidelines, and also increase anti-racism and human rights-based training for all health-care professionals involved in the provision of sexual and reproductive health care, particularly to Afro-Brazilian, indigenous and quilombola women. 

Brazilian commitment

“The conclusions of the CAT are a reminder of the need to combat torture in all its forms and to ensure that victims receive proper assistance and justice,” said the lawyer Carolina Diniz, coordinator of the program to Combat Institutional Violence at Conectas. She recalled that during the review process at the UN, in April, the Brazilian government committed to taking effective measures against these violations. In his statement to the CAT experts and members of Brazilian civil society, the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, Silvio de Almeida, said that combating torture is fundamental for Brazilian democracy.

“Therefore, we expect the Human Rights Ministry to proceed with these proposed measures and to work effectively and together with other bodies, such as the National Justice Council and the National Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which both participated in the delegation of the Brazilian government in Geneva,” she added. 

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