Geneva-Recife, 20 July 2022 – The system built to prevent torture in Brazil is under constant attack, while the situation of detained children has become alarming, a delegation of international experts and human rights advocates said today, following a visit to Brazil early July 2022.
Living conditions in both child detention centres visited during the mission, which are located in Pernambuco state, are particularly concerning. In the Vitória de Santo Antão facility, children are obliged to use water from an untreated artificial reservoir that they store in buckets for washing and other basic needs, while prison staff quarters enjoy access to running water. The facility is located in a remote rural area, which limits access for the children’s families. The experts further concluded that Garanhuns detention centre, where cells lack proper ventilation and are covered in mould, is not fit to house human beings, let alone children. The State Council for the Protection of Children had recommended in 2021 the centre be closed, but the FUNASE, responsible for the facilities, did not follow suit.
In both places, children are locked in their cells the vast majority of the time. According to detention staff, children spend “just one hour in the open air on most days, except for weekends and holidays”. The children reported that “open air” is a brief and uncertain period of playing football on covered courts, with some of them going for weeks without access to this recreation. Despite the presence of teachers in both centres, classes are sporadic.
The use of handcuffs is frequent, in violation of FUNASE rules. Children reported cases of prolonged handcuffing in uncomfortable positions, which can amount to torture. Mission members also found thick wood sticks in the staff quarters at both centres, which is consistent with some children claiming that detention staff beats them with such sticks. The situation has worsened as the levels of access for families and social services have still not returned to pre-pandemic standards.
The mission reported its findings to FUNASE, which led to the removal of the head of security at the Vitória centre. “Our observations in these two centres point to a pattern of ill-treatment of detained children that raises concerns for both the Pernambuco state and the wider country”, said Laure Elmaleh, Coordinator of the Child Protection against Torture programme at the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). “There needs to be a full investigation on the treatment of children in detention, especially the beatings by prison staff. The results must be published.”
The mission raised its concerns regarding the unnecessary imprisonment of children and the fact that, at least in one location, representatives of the Public Prosecutor’s office did not show up throughout the pandemic, despite a legal obligation to do so at least once every two months. In a welcome outcome of the mission, a representative of the Public Prosecutor’s office has now returned to Vitória. The OMCT and its Brazilian partner the GAJOP are looking forward to the office’s findings. They also call for all Brazilian states to closely follow the implementation of a 2019 decision by the Supreme Court limiting overcrowding in places of detention for children.
Another major concern relates to the situation of the anti-torture system. “Over the past three years, the federal government has been frontally attacking the National System for the Prevention of Torture by dismissing its experts and suspending the meetings of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, in which civil society used to participate”, said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT. “The consequences are very damaging, particularly as Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world.”
Although a final decision in April 2022 confirmed the reinstatement of the experts, their work has been severely hampered by a combination between the Covid-19 pandemic, budgetary restrictions and the dismissal of the support staff.
The delegation met with experts from the National and state mechanisms for the prevention and combat of torture, members of Congress, and civil society representatives in Brasilia, then held meetings with the judiciary, public prosecutors, FUNASE and civil society in the state of Pernambuco. The international experts from the GAJOP, the OMCT and Defence for Children International also visited two detention centres for children, Vitória de Santo Antão and Garanhuns, which are run by the Foundation for Socio-Educative Attention (FUNASE).
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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