Brazil: Firm action needed to stop torture

Published at a time when the Brazilian government is launching a campaign to combat torture , the report documents its widespread and systematic use against criminal suspects and detainees at all levels of the Brazilian criminal justice system, from the point of arrest, through detention in police stations, to incarceration in prisons and juvenile detention centres.

'The extraction of confessions under torture is apparently a routine practice - so much so that it has become a de facto replacement for modern policing and investigative techniques in the context of strong pressures on the authorities and the judiciary to fight the soaring crime rates,' Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International's report also highlights the plight of the thousands of men, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights detained in the country's terminally overcrowded penitentiary system, which was exposed to the world's attention in the past 12 months as a result of a series of prison riots nationwide.

'Torture and ill-treatment are regularly meted out as the only means to control inmates in a prison system on the brink of collapse,' the organisation added.

Only a few weeks ago, detainees in the Santo Andres pre-trial detention centre in Sao Paulo told Amnesty International delegates about two separate incidents in different facilities in which an estimated 62 detainees were violently beaten by guards. In one of these incidents, in the Belem 2 pre-trial detention centre, detainees were removed from punishment cells at night, taken to a small room, hooded and beaten for over half an hour. This was repeated over three nights.

The situation in the Sao Paulo FEBEM juvenile detention system is also particularly worrying, with continuous reports of detainees being beaten and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment.

'In the past 12 months, at least 1,000 cases of beatings by prison guards have been reported in FEBEM facilities, yet not one of the guards responsible for these abuses is known to have been charged under the Torture Law,' Amnesty International said, adding that the same pattern of torture and impunity is repeated all over the country.

'Impunity - the failure to bring those responsible to justice - is one of the main factors contributing to the prevalence of torture in Brazil,' the organisation continued, noting that while the country has had a law against torture in place for four years, its implementation is virtually non-existent, due to ignorance of its provisions or reluctance to put it in practice.

Amnesty International acknowledges that the Brazilian government has been frank and forthright in addressing the issue of torture in international fora - most recently before the United Nations Committee Against Torture - and welcomes the announcement of measures to combat this scourge.

'However, it is essential that the government does not limit itself to purely cosmetic measures, and undertakes a fundamental reform of the criminal justice system, targetting all the elements and stages within it which facilitate incidents of torture and ill-treatment and contribute to the impunity of those responsible,' the organisation said.

The report puts forward a series of detailed recommendations on concrete steps to be taken to eradicate torture. These include:

* ensuring that laws such as the Torture Law and the Statute for Children's rights and Adolescents (ECA) are fully implemented, to protect detainees against torture and ill-treatment;

* enhancing the professionalism of police forces by giving them the training and resources needed to enable them to do their job effectively without resorting to human rights violations;

* setting up effective complaints procedures, ensuring that complainants are examined by a doctor in the presence of an independent witness and guaranteeing the adequate protection of complainants and witnesses, including the provision of effective legal aid to all those who may need it;

* strengthening mechanisms for the investigation of torture complaints;

* reforming the prison system to ensure that inmates are treated humanely and in conformity with Brazilian law and international standards. This includes separating different categories of prisoners, providing adequate funding and training to prison staff and setting up a dedicated, effective and independent monitoring body.

'The Brazilian federal government must accept its responsibility and ensure that all of the country's 26 states and the Federal District duly and effectively implement all the necessary reforms,' Amnesty International said.

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