U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Brazil
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Brazil, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa23a.html [accessed 1 March 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BRAZILBrazil is a constitutional federal republic composed of 26 states and the federal district. The federal legislative and judicial branches of government exercise authority independent of the executive branch. In 1994 voters elected a new president, two-thirds of the Senate, and 513 federal deputies. It was the second time since the end of military rule in 1985 that citizens freely chose their president and elected the legislative bodies in accordance with the 1988 Constitution. All parties are able to compete on the basis of fair and equal procedures. Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president on January 1, 1995, and is serving a 4-year term, reduced from 5 years by a 1994 constitutional amendment. The judiciary is independent but inefficient and subject to political influence. Police forces fall primarily under the control of the states. State police are divided into two forces: The civil police, who have an investigative role, and the uniformed police, known locally as the "military police," who are responsible for maintaining public order. Although the individual state governments control the uniformed police, the Constitution provides that they can be called into active military service in the event of an emergency, and they maintain some residual military privileges, including a separate judicial system. In September the Justice Ministry created a public security secretariat to coordinate efforts to reorganize and modernize the police forces. The federal police force is very small and plays little role in maintaining internal security. The state police forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Brazil has a market-based, diversified economy. The Government, which traditionally played a dominant role in shaping economic development, is encouraging greater private sector participation in the economy through privatization of state enterprises, deregulation, and removal of impediments to competition. Industrial production, including mining operations and a large and diversified capital goods sector, accounts for approximately 34 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); agriculture contributes about 13 percent. Brazil exports both manufactured and primary goods. Among the principal exports are coffee, soybeans, textiles, leather, metallurgical products, and transportation equipment. Per capita GDP was about $5,000 in 1997, and the economy grew at a rate of 3.5 percent. Although income distribution improved slightly in 1997, the poorest tenth of the population received only 1 percent of national income while the richest tenth received 48 percent. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but numerous serious abuses continued. State police forces committed many extrajudicial killings, and officials reportedly tortured prisoners. The police also were responsible for abductions for ransom and instances of arbitrary detention. The state governments concerned did not effectively punish perpetrators of these abuses. In many cases, special courts for the uniformed police were overloaded, rarely investigated effectively or brought fellow officers to trial, and seldom convicted abusers. This separate system of special state police courts contributes to a climate of impunity for police officers involved in extrajudicial killings or abuse of prisoners. Legislation enacted in 1996 gave civil courts jurisdiction over intentional homicide committed by uniformed police officers, but left control of the initial inquiry in the hands of the police, which can preempt investigation and prosecution of cases. The poor bear the brunt of most violence. Prison conditions range from poor to harsh. The judiciary has a large case backlog and is often unable to ensure the right to a fair trial. Justice is slow and often unreliable, especially in rural areas where some powerful landowners use violence to settle land disputes and influence the local judiciary. Violence against women, minorities, and homosexuals, and discrimination against women and minorities are problems. Child prostitution is also a problem. Despite constitutional provisions safeguarding the rights of indigenous people, they continue to be victimized by outsiders who encroach on Indian lands and to be neglected by governmental authorities. The authorities do not adequately enforce laws against forced labor, including that by children. Child labor is a serious problem. In April the Government created a human rights secretariat in the Justice Ministry to oversee implementation of its 1996 Action Plan to address human rights abuses. The Government also passed a law defining and penalizing torture and expanded scholarship programs to reduce child labor. However, because of jurisdictional and resource limitations, the increased commitment by the national Government did not have a significant impact in some of the states where human rights violations are most common.