News Releases

Brazil: Supreme Court has a chance to protect key anti-torture body

News release

Recife-Geneva, 18 March 2022

The Brazilian Supreme Court has a chance to put Brazil back on track with its international obligations against torture. The constitutionality of measures that limited the work of country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) whose role is to monitor human rights in prisons, is set to go on trial starting this Friday.

Since the pandemic, the mortality rate of men in prison has been 98% higher than the general population. Basic rights such as access to water or to leave the cell for a few hours each day have been severely limited. All over the country, social movements alert that independent bodies such as public prosecutors and judicial members, legally responsible for overseeing prison conditions, have not resumed pre-pandemic physical presence at detention centers. A working torture prevention system is a last resort for the protection of detainees, but it has been very damaged by President Jair Bolsonaro’s recent anti human rights measures. In a June 2019 Presidential Decree, Bolsonaro dismissed the eleven members of the NPM, whose role is to inspect prisons and monitor the human rights situation of persons deprived of liberty. The Decree also established that the new NPM would now function on a voluntary and unpaid basis.

Since it began its operations in 2015, the NPM has inspected more than 200 places of detention in all but two of Brazil’s 27 states, issuing policy recommendations and fostering torture prevention on the local and federal levels. The Brazilian NPM has tried to continue its mission amidst pressure from the current government. But since 2019, the lack of financial resources weakened its operations. Basic tasks or unannounced visits became very difficult to organise.

When those in power attempt to dismantle protection systems established by law, national courts have a duty to stop them”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

The current administration has also hampered the work of the National Committee to Prevent Torture, which guarantees the participation of civil society to torture prevention policies. By law, the CNCPT should meet every two months to be consulted on policy issues and follow up on NPM findings. However, it was not summoned for 10 months in 2019 and just recently saw its newly elected civil society members dismissed, following an attempt by the government to bar some representatives. This has left the Committee inactive since August 2021.

On the latest visit to the country, in February 2022, the Subcommittee to Prevent Torture (SPT) found that the NPM is facing “critical challenges” and urged the country to “drop its decision to dismantle it”. After meetings with State officials and civil society, the SPT expressed its hope that a decision of the Supreme Court “in the coming weeks” would decide on the Decree that seriously weakened the system”.

The OMCT and GAJOP urge the Brazilian Supreme Court to protect and guarantee an independent National Preventive Mechanism, as well as to provide the necessary resources to strengthen and expand the National Preventive System in line with the country’s international obligations. The lives of prisoners are at stake.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Claire-Marie German, Digital Communications and Campaigns Officer