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Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - Brazil

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 February 2016
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - Brazil, 24 February 2016, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
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.

Federative Republic of Brazil
Head of state and government: Dilma Rousseff

Serious human rights violations continued to be reported, including killings by police and the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Young black men from favelas (shanty towns) and marginalized communities were at particular risk. The security forces often used excessive or unnecessary force to suppress protests. Conflict over land and natural resources resulted in the killings of dozens of people. Rural communities and their leaders continued to face threats and attacks by landowners, especially in the north and northeast of the country. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people continued to face discrimination and violence. Civil society opposition to new legislation and constitutional amendments that threatened to set back sexual and reproductive rights, women's rights and children's rights intensified; young people and women were prominent in these mobilizations. Brazil did not present itself as a candidate for re-election to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.


Public security and the high rates of homicides among black youth remained a major concern. The government failed to present a concrete national plan to reduce homicides in the country, despite having announced in July that it would do so. According to a Brazilian Forum on Public Security report covering 2014, more than 58,000 people were victims of homicides; the number of police officers killed showed a small decrease of 2.5% over the previous year to 398; and more than 3,000 people were killed by the police, an increase of around 37% over 2013.


In 2015, killings during police operations remained high, but a lack of transparency in most states made it impossible to ascertain the exact number of people killed as a result of these operations. In the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo there was a significant increase in the number of people killed by police officers while on duty, continuing the trend observed in 2014. Killings by police officers while on duty were rarely investigated and there were frequent reports that the officers involved sought to alter the crime scene and criminalize the victim. Officers frequently attempted to justify the killings as acts of self-defence, claiming the victim had resisted arrest.

In September, a 13-year-old boy was killed during a police operation in Manguinhos and a 16-year-old boy was shot dead in Maré, both favelas of Rio de Janeiro.[1]

In February, 12 people were shot dead and four others injured by Military Police officers during an operation in the neighbourhood of Cabula in the city of Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia. Residents reported feeling threatened and fearful at the frequent presence of Military Police after the killings. An investigation by the Civil Police concluded that the Military Police officers acted in self-defence. However, organizations working on the case found strong evidence suggesting that the 12 people were extrajudicially executed. The Public Prosecutor's Office condemned the actions of the Military Police officers involved in the killings and called into question the impartiality of the Civil Police investigation.[2]

Eduardo de Jesus Ferreira, a 10-year-old boy, was killed by Military Police officers outside his home in the Complexo do Alemão neighbourhood, Rio de Janeiro, on 2 April. Police officers tried to alter the crime scene and remove his body, but were prevented from doing so by the family and neighbours. Eduardo's mother and family had to leave the city following death threats.

Five young black men aged between 16 and 25 years old were shot dead in the neighbourhood of Costa Barros in Rio de Janeiro on 29 November by military police officers from the 41st Military Police Battalion. The car in which the men were seated was shot more than 100 times by police officers.

There were reports that off-duty officers carried out unlawful killings as part of death squads operating in a number of cities.

In Manaus in the northern state of Amazonas, 37 people were killed in a single weekend in July. In Osasco, a city in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, 18 people were killed in one night and initial investigations indicated the involvement of Military Police officers.

In February, 29-year-old Vitor Santiago Borges was shot by members of the armed forces in Maré favela. He was paralyzed as a result of his injuries. The authorities failed to provide him or his family with adequate assistance or to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the shooting. The army had been performing policing duties in the community since April 2014. Soldiers were deployed to Maré ahead of the World Cup and were supposed to have left soon after the event ended. However, they continued to carry out law enforcement functions in the community until June 2015. Residents reported a number of human rights violations by the military forces during this period, including physical violence and shootings.


Police responsible for unlawful killings enjoyed almost total impunity. Out of 220 investigations into police killings opened in 2011 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, by 2015 only one case had led to a police officer being charged. As of April 2015, 183 of these investigations remained open.[3]

The National Congress established two Parliamentary Commissions of Investigation, one in the Senate and the other in the House of Representatives, to investigate the high rates of homicides of black youth. At the same time, a law to amend the current Disarmament Law in order to allow greater access to firearms gained momentum in the National Congress. Brazil did not ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.

A Parliamentary Commission of Investigation was established in October in Rio de Janeiro's state assembly. Its investigation into police killings was due to be completed in May 2016. The Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro announced that all cases of police killings would be investigated by the Homicides Divisions.


In March, the President nominated 11 experts to the National Mechanism to Prevent and Fight Torture. The group is part of the National System to Prevent and Fight Torture and its mandate will include visiting and inspecting places of detention.

Severe overcrowding, degrading conditions, torture and violence remained endemic in prisons. No concrete measures were taken by the authorities to overcome serious overcrowding and harsh conditions in Pedrinhas prison in the northeastern state of Maranhão. In October, it came to light that in 2013, an inmate of Pedrinhas had been killed, grilled and partially eaten by other inmates.

Prisoner revolts were reported in a number of states. In the state of Minas Gerais, three detainees were killed during a prison revolt in the Teofilo Otoni facility in October and two in similar circumstances in Governador Valadares prison in June. In October, there were disturbances in Londrina prison in the southern state of Paraná.


The juvenile justice system also suffered from severe overcrowding and degrading conditions. There were numerous reports of torture and violence against both boys and girls and a number of minors died in custody during the year.

In August, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Constitution reducing the age at which children can be tried as adults from 18 to 16 years. The amendment was awaiting approval by the Senate at the end of the year. If passed, it will violate a number of Brazil's obligations under international human rights law to protect the rights of the child.


A protest held on 29 April in the state of Paraná against changes in the rules governing teachers' social security benefits and retirement was met with unnecessary or excessive use of force by Military Police. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. More than 200 protesters were injured and at least seven people were briefly detained. The Public Defender's Office and the Public Prosecutor's Office took legal action against the government as a result of the incident. The case was pending at the end of the year.[4]

In October, the Senate approved a bill making terrorism a separate crime in the Criminal Code. There were fears that if passed in its current form, the law could be used to criminalize protesters and label them as "terrorists". The bill was pending final approval by the House of Representatives at the end of the year.


Since Rio de Janeiro was chosen in 2009 to host the 2016 Olympic Games, thousands of people have been evicted from their homes in connection with the building of infrastructure for the event. Many families did not receive proper notification, sufficient financial compensation or adequate resettlement. Most of the 600 families of the community of Vila Autódromo, located near the future Olympic Park, were evicted by the municipality. In June, members of the municipal guards assaulted remaining residents who were peacefully protesting against the evictions. Five residents were injured, including Maria da Penha Macena who sustained a broken nose. At the end of the year, the remaining residents were living in the shadow of ongoing demolition work and without access to basic services such as electricity and water.

In the city of Rio de Janeiro, the majority of condominiums that were part of the "My house, my life" housing programme for low-income families were controlled by milícias (organized criminal groups largely made up of former or off-duty police, firemen and military agents) or organized criminal gangs. This put thousands of families at risk of violence, many of whom were forced out of their homes as a result of intimidation and threats.


The National Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders failed to deliver the protection promised in its provisions. Lack of resourcing continued to hamper implementation, leaving defenders at risk, and the absence of a legal framework in the Programme also undermined its effectiveness. A bill to create a legal framework to support the co-ordination of federal and state governments in the protection of defenders was pending before Congress at the end of the year.

Conflicts over land and natural resources continued to result in dozens of deaths each year. Rural communities and their leaders were threatened and attacked by landowners, especially in the northern and northeastern regions. In October, five people were killed in Vilhena in the state of Rondônia in the context of land conflicts in the area.

Raimundo Santos Rodrigues, also known as José dos Santos, was shot and killed on 25 August in the city of Bom Jardim in the state of Maranhão. His wife, who was with him at the time, was shot and injured. Raimundo Santos Rodrigues was a member of the Board of the Biological Reserve of Gurupi, an environmentally protected area of the Amazon forest in the state of Maranhão. He had reported and campaigned for several years against illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon and worked to defend the rights of his community. He was also a member of the Rural Workers Union of Bom Jardim. He had received several death threats, which had been repeatedly reported to the authorities by the Land Church Commission and a local human rights organization. However, no action had been taken to protect him.

Cases of threats, attacks and killings targeting human rights defenders were rarely investigated and remained largely unpunished. There were concerns that those responsible for the killing in October 2010 of Flaviano Pinto Neto, a leader of the Charco Quilombola community in Maranhão state, would not be brought to justice. Despite a thorough investigation, in October the courts dismissed the charges against the accused and blamed the victim for his own death. At the end of the year it was unclear whether this decision would be appealed against by the Public Prosecutor's Office.

The 5 November collapse of the Samarco company mining dam, controlled by Vale and BHP Billiton in the state of Minas Gerais, was considered to be Brazil's biggest ever environmental disaster. It resulted in deaths and injuries and other serious human rights violations including insufficient access to clean water and safe housing for affected families and communities, and lack of reliable information. The river of toxic sludge also violated the right to livelihood of fishermen and other workers who depend directly or indirectly on the waters of the Rio Doce river.


The demarcation process of Indigenous Peoples' lands continued to make extremely slow progress, despite the fact that the federal government had both the legal authority and the financial means to progress implementation. Several cases remained pending at the end of the year. Attacks against members of Indigenous communities remained widespread and those responsible were rarely brought to justice.

There was increasing concern at the dramatically deteriorating situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá community of Apika'y in Mato Grosso do Sul. An eviction order that could have left the community homeless was temporarily suspended in August. However, at the end of the year, the risk of eviction remained.[5]

On 29 August, local ranchers attacked the Indigenous community of Ñanderú Marangatú in the municipality of Antonio João, state of Mato Grosso do Sul. One man, Simião Vilhalva, was killed and several women and children were injured. No investigation was initiated into the attack and no measures were put in place to protect the community from further violence.

An amendment to the Constitution transferring responsibility for demarcating Indigenous lands from the executive to the legislature, where the agribusiness lobby is very strong, was approved by a special Commission of the House of Representatives in October. The amendment was awaiting approval by a Plenary of the House at the end of the year. If passed, it would have a significant negative impact on Indigenous Peoples' access to land.


New legislation and constitutional amendments under discussion in Congress posed a serious threat to sexual and reproductive rights and women's rights. At the end of the year, the National Congress was considering bills that proposed to criminalize abortion in all circumstances, for example the so-called Bill of the Unborn Child. Another proposal would effectively prevent access to safe and legal abortions in the public health system even in those cases currently allowed under Brazilian legislation, such as when the woman's life is at risk or the pregnancy is a result of rape. If passed, the measure would also end emergency assistance to victims of rape.

[1] Brazil: Police operation kills two and injures others (AMR 19/2424/2015)

[2] Brazil: Twelve people killed by Military Police (AMR 19/002/2015)

[3] Brazil: "You killed my son" – homicides by the Military Police in the city of Rio de Janeiro (AMR 19/2068/2015)

[4] Brazil: Military police attack protesting teachers (AMR 19/1611/2015)

[5] Brazil: Indigenous community faces forced eviction (AMR 19/2151/2015)

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