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Amnesty International Report 2008 - Brazil

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2008
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2008 - Brazil, 28 May 2008, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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.


Head of state and government: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Death penalty: Abolitionist for ordinary crimes
Population: 191.3 million
Life expectancy: 71.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 34/26 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 88.6 per cent

People in marginalized communities continued to live amid high levels of violence from both organized criminal gangs and the police. Policing operations in such communities resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries and often intensified social exclusion. Death squads linked to the police were also responsible for hundreds of killings.

The criminal justice system failed to bring those responsible for abuses to account and inflicted a wide range of human rights violations on those held in its overcrowded and underfunded prisons and juvenile detention centres. Women held in prisons and police cells continued to experience torture and other ill-treatment.

Landless activists and Indigenous Peoples campaigning for access to land were threatened and attacked by police officers and private security guards. Forced labour and exploitative working conditions were reported in many states, including in the rapidly growing sugarcane sector.

The federal government introduced a new plan to combat urban violence, consolidated its human rights defenders programme and created an independent body for the prevention of torture.


President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva began his second term of office in January 2007, along with new state administrations. The main plank of federal government policy was the Plan for Growth Acceleration (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, PAC) to upgrade basic infrastructure such as the highway network, port facilities and sanitation, and finance a variety of social programmes. National NGOs voiced concerns about the impact of some of the proposed schemes, including the paving of roads and building of dams near Indigenous lands. The federal government's redistributive programme, the family grant, contributed to reductions in extreme poverty. In November, Brazil was included for the first time in a list of countries with a high human development index, according to the UN Development Programme's Human Development report.

Corruption scandals dogged both the federal and state governments. Major federal police investigations uncovered schemes involving illegal gambling, bribes and the siphoning off of money from overpriced government contracts. Federal funds for infrastructure and social projects in two of Brazil's poorest states, Maranhão and Piauí, were among those illegally diverted.

The federal government set up an independent body for the prevention of torture, in keeping with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which Brazil ratified in January. The body has the power to make unannounced visits to prisons and police stations.

In August the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances published The Right to Memory and Truth. The report details 475 cases of torture and disappearance during the military government (1964-85) and marks official recognition that human rights abuses were committed under the regime. However, some military files remained closed and relatives continued to search for the remains of victims disappeared by the state during that period. Brazil remained one of the few countries in the region not to have challenged laws affording impunity to officers of the military regime for grave human rights abuses such as torture.

Police and security services

Poor communities remained trapped between the criminal gangs which dominated the areas in which they lived and the violent and discriminatory methods used by police. As a result, many living in such communities experienced entrenched social and economic deprivation.

The federal and state governments' responses to criminal violence were mixed. The federal government introduced the National Public Security and Citizenship Programme (Programa Nacional de Segurança Pública com Cidadania, PRONASCI) which focuses on crime prevention, social inclusion, rehabilitation of prisoners and improved salaries for police officers. However, despite extensive reports of human rights violations by police, President Lula and leading members of his administration publicly supported certain high-profile militarized police operations, especially in Rio de Janeiro.

At state level, although some governments promised reform most state police forces continued to adopt violent, discriminatory and corrupt methods when combating and containing crime in poor communities with scant oversight or control. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Rio de Janeiro, where early promises of reform were abandoned and the state governor adopted an increasingly draconian and bellicose public stance on issues of security. The policy of large-scale militarized police operations was intensified at the cost of hundreds of lives. According to official figures, police killed at least 1,260 people in the state in 2007 – the highest total to date. All were officially categorized as "acts of resistance" and underwent little or no serious investigation.

  • Scores of people were killed and many more injured during police operations in the Complexo do Alemão – a cluster of 21 socially excluded communities in Rio de Janeiro's north zone housing over 100,000 people – and in neighbouring Vila da Penha. Thousands more faced the closure of schools and health centres as well as cuts in power and water supplies. During the operations there were reports of extrajudicial executions, beatings, vandalism and theft by police officers. Community members alleged that a police armoured vehicle (caveirão) was used as a mobile cell in which police administered beatings and electric shocks.
  • The crackdown culminated in a "megaoperation" at the end of June involving 1,350 civil, military and members of the federal government's elite national police force. Police killed at least 19 alleged criminal suspects, one of whom was 13 years old; a dozen bystanders were injured. Thirteen weapons were seized along with a quantity of drugs; no one was arrested. The Human Rights Commission of the Rio de Janeiro Bar Association and the Special Secretariat of Human Rights of the federal government announced that independent investigations of official forensic reports pointed to strong evidence of summary executions. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who visited Rio de Janeiro in November, criticized the lack of official investigations into the killings and concluded that the operation was politically driven.
  • In October, a civil police operation in the Coréia shanty town in Senador Camará in Rio's west zone left 12 dead: a four-year-old boy allegedly caught in the crossfire, a police officer and 10 "suspects", one aged 14. Film footage broadcast on Brazilian national television showed two men being shot and killed from a helicopter as they tried to flee the scene.
  • Paramilitary-style militias, involving off-duty policemen and firemen, continued to dominate a large swathe of Rio de Janeiro's shanty towns.
  • In April, Jorge da Silva Siqueira Neto, President of the residents' association in the militia-dominated Kelson community in Penha, was forced out of the neighbourhood after receiving death threats. He accused five military police officers of assuming "dictatorial powers" within the community, and lodged his complaint with the police internal investigations unit, the public security secretary and the public prosecutor. Three of the police officers were briefly detained but were released at the beginning of September. Four days later, Jorge da Silva Siqueira Neto was shot dead. An inquiry was launched, but had not advanced by the end of the year.
  • The state authorities in São Paulo once again reported reductions in official numbers of killings by police, though their figures were contested. However, human rights violations at the hands of police officers continued.
  • In the town of Bauru 15-year-old Carlos Rodrigues Júnior was reportedly tortured and killed by a number of military police officers, in his own home. According to forensic reports, he was given 30 electro-shocks while being interrogated about a stolen motorcycle. Six police officers were provisionally detained at the end of the year.

Death squads

In the first 10 months of 2007, 92 deaths in multiple homicides linked to death squads were recorded in São Paulo – the majority in the city's north zone. Police officers were under investigation in connection with the deaths of more than 30 people in the cities of Ribeirão Pires and Osasco. Killings by death squads were also reported in other states – notably Rio de Janeiro (particularly in the Baixada Fluminense), Espírito Santo, Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará.

  • In August Aurina Rodrigues Santana, her husband Rodson da Silva Rodrigues and her son Paulo Rodrigo Rodrigues Santana Braga were shot and killed by a group of hooded men while they slept in their house in the Calabetão district of Salvador in Bahia State. The attack took place after the family reported that the son and his 13-year-old sister had been tortured by four military police officers.
  • In a positive development, in April, the Federal Police broke up a death squad in Pernambuco State thought to have been responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 people over a five-year period. Another death squad was broken up in November with the arrest of 34 people, among them policemen, lawyers and small traders.

Prisons – torture and other ill-treatment

Severe overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, gang violence and riots continued to blight the prison system. Ill-treatment and torture were commonplace.

  • In August, 25 inmates were burned to death in the Ponte Nova in Minas Gerais State after factional fighting.
  • In Espírito Santo State, amid accusations of torture and ill-treatment, the government barred the State Human Rights Council, an officially mandated body which under state law has the power to monitor the prison system, from entering prison cells.
  • More than 20 people died in the Aníbal Bruno prison, Pernambuco State in 2007. The prison, which was chronically understaffed and housed more than three times the number of prisoners it was designed to hold, has long been the subject of allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Conditions within the juvenile detention system throughout Brazil continued to cause concern. There were further reports of overcrowding, beatings and maltreatment. The director of São Paulo's Fundação Casa (formerly known as the FEBEM), was removed from her post in a ruling which criticized the Tietê facility for poor hygiene and substandard accommodation. Her dismissal was later overruled by the State Supreme Court.

Violence against women

Cases brought under the 2006 "Maria da Penha" law, which criminalizes domestic violence, began going through the courts in 2007. Although the law was a major advance, lack of resources, difficulties in enforcing exclusion orders and poor support services hampered effective implementation.

The absence of state protection in marginalized communities left women at risk of both criminal and police violence. In communities run by drug traffickers, women suffered discrimination, violence and lack of access to basic services. There were reports of women having their heads shaved for infidelity, being expelled from communities because they were HIV positive and being forced to trade sexual favours to pay off debts. Women were often too scared to lodge complaints. Women fighting for justice for relatives in cases of police killings were frequently threatened and intimidated.

Though women make up a small but growing part of the prison population, their needs have been consistently neglected. Torture, beatings and sexual abuse were reported in police stations and prison cells.

  • In November, a 15-year-old girl accused of petty theft was imprisoned in a police station in the town of Abaetetuba, Pará State. She was forced to share a cell with between 20 and 30 men for a month. She was repeatedly raped, reportedly in exchange for food. When this was made public, police officers allegedly threatened her and she was taken into protective care. Her family was also reportedly threatened by the police and was taken into a witness protection programme. The case received wide publicity and several federal bodies opened investigations which revealed numerous reports of women suffering grave human rights violations in detention across the state.

Land disputes

Rural violence continued, often in the context of disputes between large landowners and landless rural workers, Indigenous Peoples or quilombolas (members of communities made up of former runaway slaves). Expanding monocultures, such as eucalyptus and soya plantations, illegal logging and mining, along with development projects such as dams and the proposed São Francisco river diversion scheme were sources of conflict. There were also serious concerns over exploitative working conditions in land clearance, charcoal production and the sugarcane sector.

Forced evictions, often involving threats and intimidation, increased. According to the Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission, across Brazil 2,543 families were evicted from January to September in 2007, a marked rise on 2006.

  • In November, rural workers occupying a farm near the town of Santa Teresa do Oeste in Paraná State came under attack from 40 gunmen, reportedly hired by a security company working for the farm's Swiss-based multinational owner. They killed landless leader Valmir Motta de Oliveira, shooting him in the chest. A security guard was also shot dead in unclear circumstances. Eight others were injured in the attack, including Izabel Nascimento, who was beaten unconscious. The killing formed part of a long-standing pattern of violence and intimidation perpetrated by rural militias in Paraná state.
  • Cases of forced labour were reported throughout the country. In December, the Ministry of Labour updated its list of employers found to be subjecting workers to exploitative conditions. The list included 185 employers from 16 states, involving not only workers employed in forest clearance and ranching on agricultural frontiers of the central savannah (cerrado) and Amazonia, but also labourers in plantation monocultures in the wealthier states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul.
  • Exploitation in the growing sugarcane sector continued. In March, attorneys working for the state Ministry for Labour rescued 288 workers from forced labour at six sugarcane plantations in São Paulo State. In the same month, 409 workers, 150 of whom were Indigenous, were rescued from the ethanol distillery Centro Oeste Iguatemi, in Mato Grosso do Sul. In November inspection teams found a further 831 Indigenous cutters lodged in overcrowded, insanitary and substandard accommodations on a plantation in Brasilândia, also in Mato Grosso do Sul.
  • Over a thousand people working in conditions analogous to slavery were released from a sugar plantation owned by ethanol producer Pagrisa in Ulianópolis, Pará State in June. Following the raid, a senate commission accused the inspectors of exaggerating the workers' poor conditions. As a result, the work of the inspection team was briefly suspended by the Ministry for Labour for fear that the allegations would undermine the credibility of the inspection team's work. Inspections resumed in October.
  • The government took some steps to improve labour conditions in the sugar sector. In São Paulo State, which accounts for over 60 per cent of Brazil's cane production, the State Prosecutor on Labour was proactive in initiating inspections and prosecutions.
  • At the federal level, the government promised to introduce a social and environmental accreditation scheme aimed at improving working conditions and reducing the environmental impact.

Indigenous Peoples

The state of Mato Grosso do Sul remained the focal point for violence against Indigenous Peoples.

  • In January, Kuretê Lopes, a 69-year-old Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous woman, died when she was shot in the chest by a private security guard during an eviction from farmlands that the Guarani-Kaiowá occupied as they claim them as their ancestral lands. In September, four Guarani-Kaiowá leaders involved in the occupation were sentenced by state courts to 17 years in prison for the alleged theft of a tractor, a sentence seen by local NGOs as disproportionate, discriminatory and politically motivated. An appeal was pending at the end of the year.
  • In June, the Indigenous leader Ortiz Lopes was shot dead in his house in Coronel Sapucaia. As the gunman opened fire, he reportedly told Ortiz Lopes that he had been sent by the farmers to settle a score. An active defender of Guarani-Kaiowá land rights, Ortiz Lopes had previously received death threats.
  • In August, the federal government announced its decision to declare 11,009 hectares in the region of Aracruz, Espírito Santo State, Indigenous land. The ruling followed a long-running dispute between the Tupinikim and Guarani Peoples and a paper pulping company.


Violators of human rights enjoyed impunity as a result of failures at every stage of the criminal justice system, except in cases with international ramifications.

  • The authorities took steps to investigate, prosecute and convict those responsible for the murder in February 2005 of the US missionary Sister Dorothy Stang. In May, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, a farmer accused of ordering the killing, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In October, Rayfran das Neves Sales, one of the gunmen involved, was sentenced to 27 years' imprisonment, but the conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal.
  • The prosecution remains atypical in a state in which impunity is the norm for land-related violence. According to the Pastoral Land Commission, of the 814 people murdered between 1971 and 2006 in Pará State, 568 cases remain unsolved. Ninety-two criminal cases resulted in just one imprisonment.
  • During the wave of violence initiated in May 2006 by criminal gangs in São Paulo State police killed more than a hundred criminal suspects; in a further 87 cases there were indications that death squads with links to the police may have been involved. According to the state Public Prosecutor, by the end of 2007 no one had been prosecuted.

Human rights defenders

The federal government's human rights defenders programme established a national coordination body. However, lack of resources and coordination continued to hamper implementation of the national human rights defenders plan.

Defenders continued to be threatened and intimidated.

  • Indigenous leader Marcos Ludison de Araújo (Marcos Xucuru) received death threats in July. Because of a long history of intimidation by the federal police, who are constitutionally responsible for providing protection, Marcos Xucuru requested protection by trusted members of the military police instead – a measure allowed for under the rules of the defenders programme. However, he remained at risk for several months while negotiations between the state and federal governments took place.
  • NGO worker Marcia Honorato, who repeatedly denounced death squad activity in the Baixada Fluminese, an extremely violent region on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, received a series of death threats, including in one case having a gun pointed at her head.

Amnesty International visit/reports

  • Amnesty International delegates visited Brazil in May and June.
  • Brazil: 'From burning buses to caveirões' – the search for human security (AMR 19/010/2007)
  • Brazil: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review – First session of the UPR Working Group, 7-11 April 2008 (AMR 19/023/2007)
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