Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Brazil

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Brazil, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3e3c.html [accessed 20 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

 

Brazil is a constitutional federal republic comprising 26 states and the federal district. In 1994 voters elected a new President, two-thirds of the Senate, 513 federal deputies, 27 governors, and members of state legislatures. It was the second time since the end of military rule that Brazilians freely chose their President and renewed the legislative bodies in accordance with the 1988 Constitution. Fernando Henrique Cardoso became President on January 1, 1995, and will serve a 4-year term, reduced from 5 years by a 1994 constitutional amendment. Security forces in Brazil fall primarily under the control of the states. State police are divided into two forces: the civil police, with an investigative role, and the uniformed, "military" police, who are responsible for maintaining public order. According to the Constitution, the states' military police must serve as army reserves; they maintain some vestiges of military privileges, including special judicial systems. Brazil's federal police force is very small and plays little role in maintaining internal security. The military police courts (distinct from the armed forces' courts-martial) are overloaded, seldom conduct rigorous investigations of fellow officers, and rarely convict them. The separate system of state military police courts creates a climate of impunity for police elements involved in extrajudicial killings or abuse of prisoners, which is the single largest obstacle to altering police behavior to eliminate such abuses. Brazil exports primary products and has a large industrial sector. Gross domestic product was $456 billion in 1993, and the economy grew at a rate of 5 percent in 1994. The Government issued a new currency in July and brought down the rate of inflation from 50 percent a month to less than 2 percent by September. Large disparities in income distribution continued, with the poorest fifth of the population receiving only 2 percent of the national income, while the richest tenth hold 51 percent.

The most serious human rights abuses continued to be some instances of extrajudicial killings and torture committed by the police. Justice is slow and unreliable, especially in rural areas where powerful landowners use violence to settle land disputes and influence the local judiciary. In urban areas, the police are frequently implicated in killings and abuse of prisoners, but the special police courts rarely investigate effectively or bring the accused to trial. Regular courts did take up two high-profile cases of extrajudicial killing, and both cases were still pending at year's end (see Section 1.a.). The poor, predominantly from racial minorities, bear the brunt of most violence, whether committed by the police or by criminals. Indigenous peoples, despite constitutional guarantees, remain the victims of abuse and neglect, with continued invasions of their land. Laws against forced labor are not adequately enforced, and children are exploited in the sugar and charcoal industries. A free press and active human rights organizations expose abuses and demand action to stop them. The Federal Government has made efforts to respond to human rights abuses.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Extrajudicial killings continued to be a serious problem throughout the country. There are no reliable statistics on the number of people that police, vigilante groups, or hired gunmen murder annually. City morgue statistics frequently fail to distinguish between murder and accident victims. The police investigations in 90 percent of the cases were insufficient for any judicial action, according to a recent study of 3,236 homicide victims in Rio de Janeiro by the Higher Institute for Studies of Religion (ISER). In Sao Paulo, the official statistics on the number of civilians killed by police fail to include those who are wounded and die later in the hospital. According to these statistics, the number of civilians killed by Sao Paulo state's military police dropped from an average of 86 per month in 1991 and 1992 to 21 per month in 1994. No national figures are available, but this drop in killings in Brazil's largest city is significant. Both lethal and nonlethal confrontations with police have fallen steadily since 1991. Human rights groups attributed this decrease to the state government's appointment of a new state secretary for public security who made clear that abuses would have to stop. This leadership, along with courses in human rights, internal transfers, and the threat of punishment reduced the number of killings.

The special police courts have not yet tried the 120 police accused of the 1992 Carandiru prison massacre. The police prosecutor predicted he would conclude this case with convictions in early 1995, but other lawyers following the trial estimated that it would take much longer. (Police courts are special courts with jurisdiction over the state police; see Section 1.e.)In Rio de Janeiro, the execution-style killing of street children continued, according to reliable reports from organizations aiding the youths. Five policemen, indicted for the July 1993 killings of eight street children in downtown Candalaria square, were still in jail awaiting trial by regular courts. Their case was kept out of the special police courts because they were not on duty at the time and apparently did not use police equipment in the crime. Similarly, the regular court system is trying the cases of 33 members of the police gang accused of murdering 21 Vigario Geral residents in 1993, but the number of the defendants and appeals involved means the case is moving very slowly, with no trial date set. One of the defendants escaped from custody of his fellow policemen; two others fled before being arrested. Despite efforts to prosecute the most notorious police crimes and to improve training, the Rio de Janeiro state government made little progress in stopping the high number of murders in Rio de Janeiro. Some crimes appear to be politically motivated, such as the murder of two black Workers' Party (PT) activists June 13. Unknown gunmen killed the two PT members shortly after they denounced police crimes at a party meeting to discuss security issues; police investigating the murder accused a common criminal.

On October 31, the Government sent in the armed forces to control crime in Rio de Janeiro, placing civil and military police forces under the command of a general. The joint military-police operations to seize arms and drugs in Rio's slums have been essentially nonviolent and popular with the city's residents. Military authorities denied allegations of illegal searches and arrests, saying they have worked closely with judges to obtain the necessary warrants. The authorities are investigating media reports of beatings and mistreatment.

In the state of Sao Paulo, the June 11 murder of a union organizer and his wife, members of the Socialist Party of Unified Workers (PSTU), appeared to be a professional killing, with few clues found by police investigators. Colleagues of the couple in the town of Sao Carlos believe they were killed to prevent a repeat of the successful strike they organized against the local sugar refineries in 1993.

Throughout Brazil, local human rights organizations point to excessive use of force by police. The police killed Fernando Neves, an employee of the Sao Martinho association for street children, shooting him four times as he rode his bicycle home crossing the path of police pursuing a car thief. Neves' family received threats for demanding an investigation, and the police officers identified by an internal inquiry as responsible for the shooting remained on active duty. Rio de Janeiro's governor acknowledged police abuses, including summary executions, in the October 18 raid against drug gangs in the Nova Brasilia slum that resulted in 13 deaths. In the southern state of Santa Catarina, state military policemen were accused of shooting an unarmed, escaped prisoner 12 times. The authorities in Rio Grande do Sul held state military policemen responsible for the killing of a prisoner in his hospital bed; he had been recovering from wounds received in a gunfight that left a policeman dead.

The Luiz Freire Cultural Center/Legal Advisory Service, a prominent human rights group in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, reported the number of murders there were on the increase, with a total of 1,847 between January 1993 and July 1994. In those cases in which the killers could be identified by some evidence, the group attributed 11 percent of the murders to extermination squads and 5 percent to police.

In the northeastern state of Alagoas, the governor's temporary appointment of an army colonel to command police forces in 1993 dramatically reduced the number of murders involving the state military police. The Permanent Forum against Violence in Alagoas, a locally prominent human rights group, implicated the police in only 56 out of the 434 murders in Alagoas in the first half of 1994, in contrast to 1992 when human rights monitors attributed 80 percent of 600 homicides to police forces.

A high crime rate, a failure to apprehend most criminals, and an inept criminal justice system all contribute to public acquiescence in police brutality and killings of criminal suspects. Acts of intimidation, including death threats against witnesses, prosecutors, judges, and human rights monitors, often hindered investigation into these incidents. Sao Paulo state military police prosecutors Stella Kuhlman and Marco Antonio Ferreira Lima received death threats warning them to stop investigating police crimes; Kuhlman found a bloodied doll and a miniature casket left inside her office as a warning. Another Sao Paulo prosecutor investigating police corruption, Eliana Passarelli, was threatened. In Rio de Janeiro, judges, the chief prosecutor investigating police links to organized crime, and workers aiding street children have all received death threats. An international lawyers' committee report emphasized the extraordinarily high rate of threats against judges and lawyers in Brazil.

In rural areas in the north and northeast, landowners often intimidated judges, lawyers, and police by violence and threats of violence. For example, in the northern state of Para, the mayor of Xinguara and several landowners stand accused of plotting the murder of a rural union leader in 1991, but their cases have yet to be tried. In 1994, eight persons were killed, three escaped attempts on their lives, and several families fled Xinguara after learning their names were on the landowners' "death list." These death lists include not just rural union leaders, but anyone believed to be on the side of squatters, such as shopkeepers who sell to them. Landowners also threatened three Catholic priests, including father Ricardo Rezende of the neighboring town of Rio Maria. Local officials, who are linked to the mayor, took no action to investigate the killings or to protect those on the death list.

On June 23 in Rio Maria, where six rural union leaders have been gunned down since 1985, the authorities tried the man accused of the attempted murder of union leader Carlos Cabral. The defendant confessed to firing the shots, and witnesses testified that he earlier had offered them money to kill Cabral. The local jury ruled the crime was not premeditated, however, and the judge gave the gunman a suspended sentence. In contrast, when a court granted a change of venue from Rio Maria to the state capital of Belem 600 miles away, a jury convicted the ex-policeman hired to kill Cabral's two fellow union leaders. The judge sentenced the killer to 50 years in prison, but he escaped with three other inmates on October 24. The authorities have not brought any of the landowners who contracted for the killings to trial.

However, on December 16 the courts convicted a gunman, and the ranch foreman who hired him, of killing union leader Expedito de Souze in 1991, and sentenced them to 24- and 21-year prison terms. However, the ranch owner--also accused of the crime--failed to appear for trial. Despite a warrant for his arrest, he remains at large (see Section 1.e.).

The Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) reported that land disputes resulted in 52 persons murdered in 1993, and the CPT reported 37 such murders in the first 10 months of 1994.

The high level of crime and the failings of the judicial system also contribute to public tolerance of vigilante lynchings of suspected criminals. Lynchings occurred in all regions of the country, but the state of Bahia had the record number of lynchings--84--in 1993, and mobs killed 15 persons there in the first 8 months of 1994. In Salto de Lontra, in the southern state of Parana, a mob took an accused murderer out of the police lockup in April and killed him while police watched.

There continued to be reports of murders of homosexuals, where the identity of the killers remains unknown. In the Porto Alegre area, such assailants murdered five transvestites, while others have been beaten and robbed. On October 8, a military police court in Sao Paulo reduced the sentence of a policeman convicted of killing a transvestite from 12 to 6 years, noting that being a transvestite was a "high risk" activity. Prosecutors said they would appeal the decision, and several prosecutors and law professors characterized the court's action as illegal.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated abductions. Human rights groups often blamed the police or vigilante groups for the disappearance of street children or persons believed to be criminals.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and contains severe legal penalties for torture or acquiescence in it. Yet the absence of any law defining torture has led to nearly total impunity. On June 23, a divided Supreme Court ruled on a torture case; five justices voted to absolve a policeman, based on the argument that Congress had failed to incorporate torture into the Penal Code, but six justices prevailed to convict the defendant based on the statutes defining norms for juvenile justice, which specify penalties for torture. (The victim was a minor when he was beaten into confessing a crime in August 1991.)There are frequent credible reports that police beat and torture criminal suspects to extract information, confessions, or money. In Rio de Janeiro, law enforcement officials have acknowledged that physical abuse of prisoners is common, and in September the civil police established a special unit to investigate charges of torture. In the state of Ceara, the Bar Association reported that a police inspector charged with one case of torture in 1993 was later found to be involved in 16 other incidents, but the inspector remained on the force while criminal proceedings continued more than a year later.

Brazil's overcrowded prisons held 128,465 inmates in space designed for 51,368. There are often six to eight prisoners in a cell meant for three; some prisoners force others to pay for the use of a bed. The Ministry of Justice reported that rebellions average 2 per day, attempted or successful escapes, 3 per day. The Archbishop of Ceara, Aloisio Lorscheider, after investigating conditions at a prison near Fortaleza on March 15 (and being held hostage temporarily), reported to the city council about torture of prisoners, "food not fit for cockroaches," and lack of hygiene.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or those arrested by order of a judicial authority. The authorities usually respect the constitutional provision for a judicial determination of the legality of detention, although some convicted inmates are held beyond their sentences due to poor record keeping. The law permits provisional detention for up to 5 days under specified conditions during a police investigation, but a judge may extend this period. However, the police sometimes detain street youths illegally without a judicial order or hold them in incommunicado detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is an independent branch of government, but in many instances it is unable to ensure the right to fair trial. The judicial system, with the Federal Supreme Court at its apex, includes courts of first instance and appeals courts. States organize their own judicial systems but must adhere to the basic principles in the Federal Constitution. Brazil also has a system of specialized courts dealing with police, labor, elections, juveniles, and family matters.

Special police courts have jurisdiction over the state military police; the record of these courts shows that punishment is the exception rather than the rule. A human rights group in the northeast, studying police crimes against civilians judged in police courts over two decades (1970-1991), found only 8 percent of the cases resulted in convictions. In Sao Paulo, another study found that only 5 percent result in convictions. The courts (which are separate from the courts martial of the armed forces, except for the final appeals court) are composed of four ranking military police officials and one civilian judge. With too few judges for the caseload, there are backlogs, and human rights groups report a lack of zeal among police charged with investigating fellow officers. An attempt in Congress to pass a law giving ordinary courts jurisdiction over police crimes against civilians remained stalled in 1994.

Defendants are entitled to counsel and must be made fully aware of the charges against them. In cases in which a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court must provide one at public expense; courts are supposed to appoint private attorneys to represent poor defendants when public defenders are unavailable, but there is often a de facto lack of defense. Juries try only cases of willful crimes against life; a judge tries all others.

The right to a fair public trial, as provided for by law, is generally respected in practice, although in rural areas the judiciary is less capable and more subject to the influence of local landowners, particularly in cases related to indigenous peoples and rural union activists. Local police are less zealous in investigating, prosecutors are reluctant to initiate proceedings, and judges find reasons to delay when cases involve gunmen contracted by landowners to eliminate squatters or rural union activists. The need for judicial reform is widely recognized because the current system is inefficient, with backlogs of cases and shortages of judges. In Manaus the authorities took no action in 80 percent of the crimes against life that should have gone to juries, due to insufficient police action to gather evidence. Out of 176 townships in the northeast state of Pernambuco, 73 do not have a judge. Low pay, combined with exacting competitive exams that in some years eliminate 90 percent of the applicants, makes it difficult to fill vacancies on the bench. Due to the backlog of cases, under the Brazilian system where a trial must be held within a certain period of time from the date of the crime (similar to a statute of limitations), old cases are frequently dismissed. According to a former judge, this encourages corrupt judges purposely to delay certain cases so they can be dismissed.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for freedom from arbitrary intrusion into the home. There were no reports of illegal entry for political reasons, but illegal entry into homes without a warrant occurs in searches for criminal suspects. A women's rights group in the city of Porto Alegre reported suspected police involvement in five break-ins at its offices--each time its files on spousal abuse and finances were ransacked. Wiretaps are unconstitutional except when authorized by a judicial authority for purposes of criminal investigation and prosecution. The inviolability of private correspondence is respected.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The 1988 Constitution abolished all forms of censorship and provides for the right to free speech and to a free press. The authorities respect these rights in practice. The press and broadcast media routinely discuss controversial social and political issues and engage in investigative reporting. Most radio and television stations are privately owned; but the Government controls licensing authority and politicians frequently obtain the licenses. Eighteen television and 115 radio stations are owned by current or former congressmen, some of whom are or were members of the committee overseeing communications. Newspapers and magazines, which are privately owned, vigorously report and comment on government performance.

Congress is considering changing the penalty for libel under the 1967 Press Law--a prison term--which judges consider extreme. The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper called current legal regulation of the press "an archaic and authoritarian press law inherited from the military regime." The 1994 Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) report on freedom of the press in Brazil said, "there has been increasing recourse to the (1967) press law, especially by the executive and the judiciary, against journalists." According to the report, the courts tried seven journalists and a labor leader for libel and defamation of character under this law after complaints by the executive branch; they jailed one and freed the others as first-time offenders. Lucio Flavio Pinto, an independent journalist in Belem, Para state, had to close his weekly newsletter in order to defend himself against the suits brought by the owners of the city's major newspaper for libel and defamation under the 1967 press law. The IAPA also called for an investigation into the February killing of a newspaper publisher in Vitoria da Conquista, Bahia state. In the state of Sergipe, four journalists received death threats after criticizing the police in their newsletter.

Foreign publications are widely distributed in Brazil; prior review of films, plays, and radio and television programming is practiced only to determine a suitable viewing age. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, and this right is respected in practice. Permits are not required for outdoor political or labor meetings, and such meetings occur frequently.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no favored or state religion. All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize, although the Government controls entry into Indian lands.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on movement within Brazil, except for the protected Indian areas, nor are there any restrictions on emigration or return. Some towns in the south, however, were reported to be trying to block the entry of poor migrants from the north. Brazil admits few immigrants, does not formally accept refugees for resettlement, and is selective in granting asylum.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government through free elections, and citizens exercised this right in 1994, filling executive and legislative offices throughout the country. Brazilians chose the President, two-thirds of the Senate, 513 federal deputies, 27 governors, and members of state assemblies from a multitude of parties and alliances. Voting is secret and mandatory for all literate Brazilian citizens aged 18 to 70, except military conscripts who may not vote. It is voluntary for minors aged 16 to 18, for the illiterate, and for those aged 70 and over.

Women have full political rights under the Constitution, and they are becoming active in politics and government. In the 1994 elections, voters elected 1 female governor and 34 women to the Chamber of Deputies (out of 513 seats). Five women serve in the Senate (out of 81). The 1988 Constitution gave Indians the franchise, but their ability to protect their own interests is severely limited (see Section 5). Eight Indian candidates ran for office in 1994, but none was elected.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Brazilian nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) actively investigate allegations of human rights violations and often initiate legal proceedings. Several international NGO's either maintain offices in Brazil or visit periodically. Government entities, such as the Ministry of Justice's secretaries for citizenship and human rights or the federal prosecutor's office, respond readily to inquiries about human rights cases and launch their own investigations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, and nationality is unconstitutional, yet women, blacks, and indigenous people continued to experience discrimination.

Women

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex in employment or salaries and provides for 120 days of paid maternity leave. The provision against wage discrimination is rarely enforced, however, and, as a reaction against the maternity leave law, some employers seek sterilization certificates from prospective employees or try to avoid hiring women of childbearing age. There is a high incidence of physical abuse against women, and 125 cities have established special police offices to deal with crimes against women. One Rio de Janeiro office reported that more women were submitting complaints, which increased from 80 per month in 1993 to 300 per month in 1994, and that 80 percent of the complaints involved spousal abuse. Both Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, which has 120 police offices for women, found a similar trend of more women reporting complaints. The women generally asked police to talk to their husbands, rather than taking legal action. In rural areas, women have little recourse since there are no specialized police offices available to them. Men who commit crimes against women, including sexual assault and murder, are unlikely to be brought to trial. Although the Supreme Court struck down in 1991 the archaic concept of "defense of honor" as a justification for wife murder, courts are still reluctant to prosecute and convict men who attack their wives.

Children

Despite progressive laws to protect children and a growing awareness of their plight through media and NGO campaigns, the Government still has not been able to help millions of children who fail to get an education, who work to survive, and who suffer from the poverty afflicting their families. A 1994 report issued by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics indicated that upwards of 2 million children between 10 and 13 years of age work, many of them together with their parents, under conditions approximating forced labor or debt bondage (see Section 6.d.). Many other children are found begging on the streets of cities.

There are no reliable figures on the number of street children, some of whom are homeless, but the majority of whom return home at night. In Rio de Janeiro, an organization aiding street children estimated that 30,000 frequent the streets by day, but less than 1,000 probably sleep there. NGO's have made enough shelters available for homeless children, but some prefer the freedom and drugs that street life offers. In Sao Paulo, a survey of street children published in March found 4,500 on the streets by day and 900 at night, but the survey's methodology has been criticized because surveyors worked from cars, without walking into dark alleys. The Government response to the plight of street children has been slow and ineffective. For example, the Sao Paulo State Council for the Rights of Children has never acquired meeting space nor have its government members been named.

The report of a congressional investigating committee on child prostitution, published in June, called for more targeted social programs, changes in the Penal Code, and enforcement of existing laws to protect children, noting police complicity in child prostitution in most states. The committee concluded that there was no evidence to back the claim that an estimated 500,000 minors are involved in prostitution in Brazil, but they found appalling cases in all 10 states visited. In Rio de Janeiro, a study cited by the committee found 500 girls between the ages of 8 and 15 involved in prostitution, all of them glue sniffers or drug users, most first raped at an early age.

Indigenous People

Brazil's approximately 250,000 Indians, who speak 170 different languages, have a constitutional right to their traditional lands. In practice, however, the authorities allow most indigenous peoples only limited participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. The 1988 Constitution charged the Federal Government with demarcating 519 indigenous areas within 5 years, but the authorities have yet to complete more than half the demarcations and entitling decrees. The lower house of Congress passed a law in 1994 to implement constitutional provisions with respect to Indian rights, but the Senate took no action. The Constitution provides Indians the exclusive use of the soil, waters, and minerals found in their lands, subject to congressional authorization. The legal regulations necessary for economic exploitation are still pending before the Senate as part of the Indian rights bill. Illegal mining, logging, and ranching are a constant problem on Indian lands, as an estimated 84 percent of them have been occupied by non-Indians. Approximately 2,500 gold miners reentered the Yanomami reserve in the state of Roraima in 1994, causing another surge in the number of Indians dying from malaria and other diseases. Malaria killed at least 26 Yanomami, in part due to the Federal Government's failure to provide adequate medical care for indigenous peoples.

The 1993 case against the Brazilian gold miners who killed 16 Yanomami on the Venezuelan side of the border remains mired in legal problems. None of the accused miners are in custody. Yanomami witnesses failed to recognize two of the accused, and other witnesses have disappeared. Also in Roraima state, four Macuxi Indians were murdered in the Raposa-Serra do Sol area, which is still not demarcated because the order has been stalled in the Justice Minister's office for more than a year.

The Catholic Church's Indigenist Council reported in 1993 that more than 7,400 Indians were trapped into forced labor (see section 6.c.). The majority were Guarani Indians in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. With 10 Guarani communities embroiled in legal battles for their land, there were a few victories in 1994. The Sete Cerros Guarani won a federal Supreme Court order to stop a local federal judge from granting ranchers the right to occupy demarcated Guarani land. The regional appeals court in Sao Paulo ruled in favor of the Jaguari community, ordering FUNAI to restore the Guarani to their homeland and evict the non-Indians. FUNAI carried out the order with police assistance. In Para state, the Xikrim Indians won a court injunction blocking two major logging firms from extracting mahogany from their lands.

In the absence of government action, indigenous groups have begun to take matters into their own hands. Xerente Indians in Tocantins successfully stopped the state government from building a road into their territory by seizing the site. (The state government had ignored a federal injunction supporting the Xerente.) In September Kayapo Indians decided to expel 2,000 gold miners from their territory, forcing the local government and federal authorities to deal with the problem.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although racial discrimination has been illegal since 1951, darker-skinned Brazilians frequently encounter discrimination. Most black Brazilians are found among the poorest sectors of society. Even though nearly half of Brazil's population has some African ancestry, very few senior officials in government or the armed forces are black. There are few blacks in senior private sector management positions. Black consciousness organizations challenge the view that Brazil is a racial democracy with equal treatment regardless of skin color. They assert that racial discrimination becomes most evident when blacks seek employment, housing, or educational opportunities.

The news magazine Veja reported that whites in the predominantly black city of Salvador, Bahia, earn on average three times more than blacks, while in the southern city of Curitiba, whites earned 1.5 times the black average. The magazine attributed the difference between the two cities to better public education in the south. In many southern cities, however, municipal governments try to prevent the migration of poor families from the northeast, who are often identified by their color. For example, city officials in Blumenau, Santa Catarina state, routinely screen incoming bus passengers and strongly encourage those who are nonwhite and without employment to leave on the next bus.

Racism, as a crime, is difficult to prove in courts, although both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have designated special police units to investigate it. When a black activist, Jane Makebe, was told by a friend that she lost a job with a cellular phone company because the owner did not want any black employees, she filed a complaint with Sao Paulo's racial crimes police. However, the witness, Makebe's friend, refused to testify for fear of losing her job.

People with Disabilities

The 1988 Constitution contains several provisions for the disabled, stipulating a minimum salary, educational opportunities, and access to public buildings as well as public transportation. Groups that work with the disabled, however, report that state governments completely failed to meet the legally mandated targets for educational opportunities and work placement. The elimination of architectural barriers to the disabled made little progress; the mayor's office in Recife (Brazil's sixth largest city) conducted a survey of 30 public buildings, finding none with adequate access for the handicapped.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Labor Code provides for union representation of all workers (excepting military, military police, and firemen) but imposes a hierarchical, unitary system, funded by a mandatory "union tax" on workers and employers. Under a restriction known as "unicidade" (one per city), the Code prohibits multiple unions of the same professional category in a given geographical area. The 1988 Constitution freed workers to organize new unions out of old ones without prior authorization from the Government but retained other provisions of the old Code. Elements of Brazil's labor movement and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) criticize the retention of unicidade and the union tax.

In practice, unicidade has proven less restrictive in recent years, as more liberal interpretations of its restrictions permitted new unions to form and--in many cases--to compete with unions and federations that had already enjoyed official recognition. The sole bureaucratic requirement for new unions is to register with the Ministry of Labor which, by judicial decision, is bound to receive and record their registration. The primary source of continuing restriction is the system of labor courts, which retain the right to review the registration of new unions and to adjudicate conflicts over their formation. Otherwise, unions are independent of the Government and of political parties.

Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the Brazilian work force is organized, with just over half of this number affiliated with an independent labor central. Intimidation of rural labor union organizers by landowners and their agents continues to be a problem (see Section 1.a.).

The Constitution provides for the right to strike (excepting, again, military, police, and firemen, but including other civil servants). Enabling legislation passed in 1989 stipulates that essential services must remain in operation during a strike and that workers must notify employers at least 48 hours before beginning a walkout. The Constitution prohibits government interference in labor unions but provides that "abuse" of the right to strike (such as not maintaining essential services, or failure to end a strike after a labor court decision) is punishable by law.

Federal police, federal customs inspectors, bankworkers, autoworkers, oilworkers, teachers, and federal and state government employees went on strike in 1994. Formerly, the courts ruled virtually automatically that strikes were abusive; in recent years, however, the courts have applied the law with more discretion. The 1989 strike law prohibits dismissals or the hiring of substitute workers during a strike, with certain exceptions, provided the strike is not ruled abusive. Although the law makes no provision for a central labor organization, three major groups have emerged: the Sole Workers Central (CUT), the General Workers Confederation (CGT), and Forca Sindical. The centrals do not have legal standing to represent professional categories of workers, but all three centrals can effectively acquire such standing by affiliating with existing statewide federations or nationwide confederations, or by forming new federations and confederations, challenging the old structure. The status of the federations and confederations created since 1991 remains in doubt, however, as a result of a challenge in the labor courts by the old organizations.

Unions and centrals freely affiliate with international trade union organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to organize. With some government assistance, businesses and unions are working to expand and improve mechanisms of collective bargaining. The scope of issues legally susceptible to collective bargaining is narrow, however, and the labor court system exercises normative powers with regard to the settlement of labor disputes, thus discouraging direct negotiation. Existing law charges these same courts, as well as the Labor Ministry, with mediation responsibility in the preliminary stages of dispute settlement. In many cases, free negotiations set wages; labor court decisions set them in others. The International Labor Organization (ILO) notes that important differences in wages continue to exist to the detriment of women and blacks, particularly in the rural sectors (see Section 5). Beginning in 1990, the Federal Government attempted to control salary increases in order to limit inflation. After introducing the new currency unit and an economic stabilization plan in mid-1994, the Government took an active role in auto industry negotiations to minimize the negative effect of a wage settlement on the economy.

The Constitution incorporates a provision from the Labor Code which prohibits the dismissal of employees who are candidates for or holders of union leadership positions. Nonetheless, dismissals take place, with those dismissed required to resort to a usually lengthy court process for relief. In general, the authorities do not effectively enforce laws protecting union members from discrimination. Union officials estimate that only 5 percent of such cases reaching the labor court system are resolved within days through a preliminary judicial order. The other 95 percent generally take 5 to 10 years (and sometimes more) to resolve.

Labor law applies equally in the free trade zones. However, the unions in the Manaus free trade zone, like rural unions and many unions in smaller cities, are relatively weaker vis-a-vis industry as compared to unions in the major industrial centers.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although the Constitution prohibits forced labor, there were credible reports of forced labor in many parts of Brazil. The Federal Government admits that existing enforcement resources are inadequate. In 1994, the Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission denounced 29 cases of forced labor, involving a total of 19,940 workers, an increase from the 16,442 reported in the previous year. The CPT reported cases of forced labor in 12 different states, including many Guarani Indians in Mato Grosso do Sul. Forced labor is common on farms producing charcoal for use in the iron foundries and steel industries, and in the sugar industry (see also Section 6.d.).

State and federal authorities have generally not conducted timely investigations of reports of compulsory labor, claiming lack of resources. Local police admit that overseers or owners of many farms withhold pay from migrant laborers and use force to retain and intimidate them, but the jurisdiction for such violations falls to the Ministry of Labor, which has only 2,300 inspectors for all Brazil. Labor organizations alleged that in mining and the rural economy thousands of workers, including minors, are hired on the basis of false promises, subjected to debt bondage, with violence used to retain or punish workers who attempt to escape.

The Labor Ministry conducted investigations at the 29 alleged sites of forced labor the CPT reported to the International Labor Organization, and said it found no proof of forced labor. The inspectors, however, did report violations of the Labor Code and subhuman working conditions. The CPT noted that the delay--in some cases years--in investigating these sites, and the fact that employers were often alerted before the arrival of inspectors, made confirmation of forced labor unlikely, emphasizing the need for timely, surprise inspections. In March the Labor Ministry issued regulations to guide inspectors in documenting forced labor, but NGO's and federal prosecutors report that enforcement remains a problem.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum working age under the Constitution is 14 years, except for apprentices. Judges can authorize employment for children under 14 years of age when they feel it appropriate. The authorities rarely enforce legal restrictions intended to protect working minors under age 18, however, and the problem is widespread. The law requires permission of the parents or guardians for minors to work, and they must attend school through the primary grades. The law bars all minors from night work, work that constitutes a physical strain, and employment in unhealthful, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions.

Despite these legal restrictions, official figures state that nearly 3 million 10- to 14-year-old children (or 4.6 percent of the work force) were employed. Many children are forced to work along side their parents in cane fields, cutting hemp, or feeding wood into charcoal ovens; frequent accidents, unhealthy working conditions, and squalor are common in these cases. At sawmills in the state of Rondonia, 20 teenagers lost fingers or suffered other accidents but were not entitled to compensation because they were employed illegally.

Independent shoe manufacturers in Franca (Sao Paulo state) continue to employ thousands of children under age 14, in violation of the law. Public prosecutors brought suit in November against five major Franca shoe manufacturers for illegally subcontracting work which led to the exploitation of child labor. Sugar cane growers illegally employ children and adolescents from 7 to 17 years of age, many cutting cane with machetes. Specific reports of minors working illegally also involve orange growers in Sao Paulo, street vendors in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and mining and logging industries in the Amazon region.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws, but it has too few inspectors to do so effectively. The widely held view that it is better for minors to work than to be involved in street crime also hampers enforcement efforts.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Prior to July, the Government adjusted the national minimum wage every month. With the midyear introduction of the economic stabilization plan, it set the minimum wage at $83 (70 reals) per month. The Interunion Department for Socioeconomic Studies and Statistics estimated that the minimum wage is less than one-fifth that necessary (based on a standard set by the 1988 Constitution) to support a family of four. The most recently available national survey (for 1990) showed that 35 percent of economically active individuals, including minors from 10 to 14 years of age, earned no more than the minimum wage. Many workers, particularly outside the regulated economy and in the northeast, reportedly earned less than the minimum wage.

The 1988 Constitution limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The Constitution expanded pay and fringe benefits and established new protections for agricultural and domestic workers; however, the Government does not enforce all of these provisions.

Unsafe working conditions are prevalent throughout Brazil. Incomplete figures from the Government's Social Security Administration for workplace accidents and fatalities in 1993 showed 412,293 reported accidents; 3,110 resulted in fatalities and 16,875 caused permanent disabilities. Fundacentro, part of the Ministry of Labor, sets occupational health and safety standards. However, the Ministry has insufficient resources for adequate inspection and enforcement of these standards. There were also credible allegations of corruption within the enforcement system. If a worker has a problem in the workplace and has trouble getting relief directly from his employer, he or his union can file a claim with the regional labor court, although in practice this is frequently a cumbersome, protracted process.

The law requires employers to establish internal commissions for accident prevention in workplaces. The law protects employee members of these commissions from being fired for commission activities. Such firings, however, do occur, and legal recourse usually requires years for resolution.

Search Refworld

Countries