(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

Hundreds of people were killed by police and death squads linked to the security forces in circumstances suggesting extrajudicial executions. Human rights defenders were threatened and attacked. Those responsible for human rights violations continued to benefit from impunity. Several people, including land reform activists, faced criminal charges which appeared to be politically motivated. Torture and ill-treatment by police were reported to be widespread.

On the first anniversary of Brazil's National Human Rights Program in May, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso installed a new National Secretariat for Human Rights within the Ministry of Justice. Legislative bills introduced by the government were under discussion which, if implemented, could reduce impunity for human rights violations. They included reform of the police, the criminal justice system and the judiciary, and the creation of a federal witness protection program.

In March the crime of torture was inserted into the penal code. Since 1989, when it ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Brazil has not submitted any periodic reports, which are required under the Convention.

In December the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a report on its 1995 visit to Brazil, at the invitation of the Brazilian Government. The Commission noted a "wide gap between the constitutional, legislative and institutional structures that have been set up to defend human rights and the persistent abuses and absence of practical guarantees to uphold these rights in certain areas of society and the country." Brazil does not yet recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which could consider individual complaints examined by the Commission.

Hundreds of people were killed by the police or by death squads linked to the security forces in circumstances suggesting they may have been extrajudicially executed. The number of fatal shootings by police in Rio de Janeiro state continued to rise following the state's decision in November 1995 to offer large pay rises to police agents involved in acts of "bravery and fearlessness". A report commissioned by the state legislature revealed that since May 1995 the number of deaths each month resulting from police action had doubled, and that 942 people had been killed by police between January 1993 and July 1996. The report also revealed that the majority of those killed had been shot in the head or back, which suggested that they had not been resisting arrest.

In January five criminal suspects were allegedly dragged from their houses, handcuffed and shot dead by civil police in Cavaleiro in the state of Pernambuco. Nineteen police officers were indicted on charges of homicide in February.

In July eight prisoners in Roger Prison in João Pessoa, Paraíba state, were extrajudicially executed by military police officers. The police stormed the prison before negotiations had been completed for the release of five hostages held by the prisoners. Autopsies on the eight prisoners revealed multiple stab wounds to the head and chest, indicating that police had tortured and killed prisoners after overpowering them. A number had had their throats cut, one had had an eye gouged out and his skull smashed, and another had been shot several times in the groin.

There were continued reports of violent attacks on indigenous communities and landless peasants in the context of land disputes. There was concern at the pattern of impunity for such attacks enjoyed by both police officers and gunmen, reportedly hired by local landowners, who sometimes cooperated with the police during evictions.

In September Teresa Pedroso was shot in the stomach by military police officers; she suffered a punctured intestine and spleen. She was shot when police attempted to disperse a group of landless peasants who were peacefully protesting about the government's agrarian reform policy by blocking a highway in Presidente Epitácio, São Paulo state. A police investigation was opened but no one had been arrested or charged by the end of the year.

In February eight members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (mst) were shot and wounded on the São Domingos ranch in the Pontal de Paranapanema region, São Paulo state, by 12 gunmen attempting to evict an encampment of landless peasants. The son of the ranch-owner and four gunmen were arrested by the civil police and charged, but were then released and fled over the state border into Mato Grosso do Sul state. In August a group of gunmen fired on some of the 900 landless families who had been camped for four months near the Slaviero ranch in Querencia do Norte, Paraná state, killing José Arnaldo Santos. A police investigation was opened, but no one had been arrested by the end of the year.

There were fears for the safety of Nambikwara Indians in the Sararé area of Mato Grosso following the expulsion by federal police of some 8,000 illegal loggers and miners from the area; the authorities did not take adequate steps to protect the community following the expulsion or to prevent the loggers and miners from returning.

Death squads, often composed of off-duty police officers, continued to act with impunity in at least nine states. In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in the border region with Paraguay, 87 death-squad killings were recorded by a local human rights organization in the first seven months of 1997 alone. Local human rights defenders received death threats following the discovery in October of clandestine graves containing the bodies of people allegedly killed by a death squad composed of police officers from the Frontier Operations Division. Edgar Lopes de Faria, a local radio journalist, was shot dead in October, allegedly because he had threatened to broadcast the names of those responsible for killings and "disappearances" in the area.

In June a public prosecutor and assistant lawyer in Espírito Santo state received death threats in connection with their investigations into the alleged death-squad activities of members of a police welfare organization,theScuderieDetetivele Cocq.

Human rights defenders in the Centro de Direitos Humanos e Memoria Popular (cdmp), Centre for Human Rights and Collective Memory, in Rio Grande do Norte state received threats in connection with their investigations into a local death squad. An official investigation into the killing of Francisco Gilson Nogueira de Carvalho, a member of the cdmp, in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997) was closed in September on the grounds of lack of evidence.

In July human rights defenders from the Forum Permanente Contra Violência, Permanent Forum Against Violence, and Grupo Gay de Alagoas, Alagoas Gay Group, in Alagoas state received death threats after pressing for an official investigation into the alleged extrajudicial execution of a transvestite and two homosexual men, and the alleged torture and ill-treatment in detention of three other transvestites, by civil police in June. In October, two environmental activists in Santa Catarina state received death threats in connection with their campaigning.

In April the first trial was held in Rio de Janeiro in connection with the Vigário Geral massacre in August 1993 in which 21 people were killed (see Amnesty International Reports 1994 and 1997). The first of the 48 military police officers charged with involvement in the massacre to be convicted was sentenced to 449 years' imprisonment. In November a second officer was convicted and sentenced to 441 years' imprisonment. However, the trial of the remaining officers had to be postponed after crucial ballistic evidence, which indicated the involvement in the massacre of a police officer who had previously been exonerated in February 1996, was delayed. A military policeman convicted in November 1996 in connection with the Candelária massacre in Rio de Janeiro in July 1993, in which seven street children and one youth were killed (see Amnesty International Reports 1993 and 1997), retracted his confession and was cleared of most charges at his automatic retrial in June. Trials in both cases exposed serious flaws in the investigation of human rights violations and the prosecution of those responsible. Vital evidence was withheld and witnesses were not adequately protected. By the end of the year some victims and relatives had still not received state compensation.

The 22 Rondônia state military police officers allegedly involved in the killing of 10 peasants in Corumbiara in August 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996) remained on active duty and had not been indicted by the end of the year.

In November Pará state military police officers were indicted on a charge of aggravated homicide as co-authors of the killing of 19 landless peasants in Eldorado de Carajás in April 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Land reform activists continued to be held under preventive detention orders and to have politically motivated criminal charges brought against them. A possible prisoner of conscience was convicted of murder following an unfair trial. In June, José Rainha Júnior, a leader of the mst, was convicted of the murder in 1989 of a landowner and a military police officer in the state of Espírito Santo. He was tried in the rural municipality where the murders took place, and sentenced to over 26 years' imprisonment. The trial did not meet international fair trial standards. There were serious concerns about the impartiality of members of the jury, some of whom had personal connections with the murdered landowner, and there appeared to be no convincing evidence of his involvement in the killings. At the end of the year José Rainha Júnior was at liberty awaiting an automatic second trial. If the guilty verdict against him is upheld under similar circumstances and he is imprisoned, he would be considered a prisoner of conscience.

In February, five members of the mst in the Pontal de Paranapanema region of São Paulo state were, for the third time, placed under preventive detention orders on charges of "forming a criminal band". The federal Higher Court of Justice had ruled in 1996 that such a charge should not be used against those supporting land occupations (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). Márcio Barreto, who was arrested under a preventive detention order, was released following a successful habeas corpus petition to the federal Higher Court of Justice.

Reports of torture and ill-treatment in police custody were widespread. Criminal suspects were routinely ill-treated by police. In February, 15-year-old Magnaldo de Aguiar was stopped in the street by military police in Recife, Pernambuco state. He was allegedly beaten and then thrown into a nearby tank containing an acid solution. He suffered third-degree burns on his face and lower body.

Ten military police officers were arrested following the showing on television in March of a video in which military police officers in Diadema, São Paulo state, were seen stopping and extorting money from motorists and torturing them. Jefferson Sanchez Capute was beaten with police truncheons on the soles of his feet. One man, Mario José Josino, was shot dead by police in his car. Ten police officers were arrested, charged and awaiting trial at the end of the year. Another video, broadcast in April, showed six military police officers beating criminal suspects in the Cidade de Deus area of Rio de Janeiro. Six officers were arrested and four expelled from the police force. In October Anali Filartiga Speratti and Evelio Miranda Barrios were arrested by police in Caçapava in São Paulo state, accused of sexual assault of minors. Evelio Miranda Barrios was allegedly beaten with rifle butts by officers at the police station, sustaining injuries to his head and face. Anali Filartiga Speratti was reportedly beaten by fellow detainees in the women's prison in which she was held, allegedly at the incitement of the police

There were continuing reports of ill-treatment in prisons. In January around 80 women prisoners were beaten by guards in the Santa Rosa de Viterbo Prison in Altinópolis, São Paulo state, following a protest by inmates. One woman reportedly suffered a miscarriage and another sustained a broken arm. In March, 15 inmates at the women's prison in São Paulo city were beaten by guards; some women were reported to have vomited blood as a result of the beatings. Conditions of detention remained harsh in police stations and prisons, with severe overcrowding, poor hygiene and lack of medical care. Convicted prisoners continued to be held with remand prisoners in police stations owing to overcrowding.

Throughout the year Amnesty International called for investigations into human rights violations, including killings by police and police-backed death squads; attacks on indigenous communities and landless peasants; and torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. The organization sent an observer to the first trial relating to the Vigário Geral massacre. It also participated in the second national human rights conference in May, and commented on the progress of the National Human Rights Program. Amnesty International representatives also met federal, state and municipal authorities during their visits to the country.

The organization published several reports, including Brazil: Candelária and Vigário Geral – justice at a snail's pace, in June; and Brazil: Politically motivated criminal charges against land activists, in August.

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