Brazil: respect for human rights must be central to the new administration's agenda


Geneva-Sao Paulo, 30 September 2022

On Sunday, 2 October 2022, the people of Brazil will be going to the polls to elect a president, a vice-president, and the members of the National Congress. We urge the incoming administration to put human rights at the centre of its political agenda and commit to the following points.

People deprived of liberty

Over the last 20 years and under multiple administrations, the prison population in Brazil has risen from 200,000 to over 830,000, while the country fails to provide minimum living conditions for the detained. The Supreme Court recognised that the situation in the prison system was unconstitutional. Brazil also received international condemnation on several occasions. The main driver of this surge in the prison population was the 2006 Drug Act, which rightly aimed to reduce the number of people detained for simple drug possession. Instead, the failure to adequately fund alternatives to incarceration means imprisonment is the primary response to petty criminality. In recent years, Brazil promoted private drug treatment centres, significantly increasing the number of people deprived of liberty in religious facilities with little oversight.

The new government must end this wave of mass incarceration by amnestying and decriminalising non-violent drug offences and implementing alternatives to detention. Custody hearings must immediately be guaranteed throughout the country. Drug treatment should be strictly voluntary and integrated into non-custodial social services.

Torture prevention

The National Preventive Mechanism - a crucial tool to prevent torture in detention - has been under attack since day one of the Bolsonaro administration, with Court orders ensuring only its minimal subsistence. During the pandemic, the 11 experts on the Mechanism struggled to maintain a presence in detention facilities, as judges and prosecutors were allowed to stop on-site oversight practices.

The new government should make torture prevention a central policy, empowering civil society groups that advocate for people deprived of liberty. The National Preventive Mechanism must be adequately funded and strengthened, with its importance enshrined in the Constitution. Preventive mechanisms should be established in all 27 states, with ample civil society participation.

Human rights defenders

The National Protection Programme for Human Rights Defenders has long been insufficient in funding and scope, and this has worsened during the current administration. Vulnerable groups such as indigenous peoples, the LGBTIQ+ population, rural reform movements and favela activists have been facing increased attacks as the government allowed large calibre guns to be sold without scrutiny. During the pandemic, these groups were the most affected by the lack of adequate federal public health policies, with several human rights defenders losing their lives to Covid-19.

The new government should immediately impose controls over firearms sales and take the necessary steps to limit the availability of ammunition. Brazil must implement its National Programme for the Protection of Human Rights defenders with adequate financial support and reverse the dismantling of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which has primary responsibility for protecting indigenous peoples. Brazil must protect the right to protest with clear protocols for security forces and independent mechanisms tasked with police oversight.

Militarisation and use of force

Since the World Cup in 2014, the role of the armed forces in public security has constantly been rising. To make matters worse, local governments focus on military policing as the primary tool for curbing criminality. In 2018, a new law established that military courts, formed chiefly of military officials, would rule over crimes committed by law enforcement, including torture and homicide. Brazil has one of the largest rates of killings by the police in the world, with Black people particularly targeted.

We urge the government to remove the armed forces from policing activities for which they have not been trained. The new administration must reestablish civil authority over all investigations and trials for human rights violations, while civil society must have a prominent role in monitoring the activities of the security forces. Finally, forensic independence and capacity must be guaranteed, and the examination guidelines must undergo an in-depth review.

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.

For more information, please contact:
Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications

+41 79 539 41 06