HRW – Human Rights Watch (Autor)
Human Rights Developments
While cases of violent abuse, including repeated instances of police torture and summary execution of civilians, fatal rural violence, and prison riots made headlines throughout 1999, the failure of judicial authorities to successfully prosecute recent violations in the face of overwhelming evidence constituted the major human rights development in 1999. The most important example was the August acquittal of three military police officers who had commanded an April 1996 operation in which military police killed nineteen landless peasants blocking a highway in Pará state. That incident - in which coroners' reports demonstrated that the police had hacked several of the landless to death with their own farm tools and shot others at point blank range - had become a symbol of the deadly violence by authorities in the context of rural conflicts, and its prosecution was closely followed by Brazilian civil society and the media. Despite the removal of the case to the state capital to assure independent jurors, a Belém jury of seven acquitted defendants Col. Mário Colares Pantoja, Maj. José Maria Oliveira and Capt. Raimundo José Almendra of all charges on August 19.
Efforts to prosecute the military police officers responsible for extreme police brutality in the Favela Naval neighborhood in Diadema, São Paulo state in early March 1997 also suffered setbacks. These images, filmed by an amateur cameraman and broadcast throughout Brazil and internationally, showed police officers extorting, beating, torturing, and shooting persons randomly stopped at a roadblock. In one instance, after beating and humiliating the occupants of one car, Otávio Lourenço Gambra shot at the departing vehicle, killing Mário José Josino. The Justice Tribunal of São Paulo, the state's highest appellate court, overturned Gambra's murder conviction in June.
In August, a Rio de Janeiro jury acquitted former military police officer Roberto do Amaral of twenty counts of homicide and convicted him of just one count for his role in the August 1993 police massacre of twenty-one residents of the Vigário Geral shanty town. Despite overwhelming evidence of Amaral's involvement in the events (the jury found that he was present and that he killed one victim), the verdict assured his release, given the time he had served in pretrial detention prior to the proceedings. A month later, another Rio jury acquitted defendant William Alves of all charges in the case. In October, yet another Rio jury convicted Adilson Saraiva da Hora; da Hora was sentenced to seventy-two years and was expected to appeal the decision. Six years after the incident, only sixteen of the fifty-one defendants in the case had been brought to trial, with a total of four convictions and twelve acquittals.
In June, a trial judge dismissed homicide charges against four military police officers in connection with the killing of three unarmed squatters during a May 1997 police operation to evict several hundred homeless families from an abandoned housing complex in the Fazenda da Juta neighborhood in São Paulo. Despite video images showing that the police responded to the squatters-who were armed only with sticks and rock-with lethal force, the prosecutor and judge ruled that insufficient evidence of the defendants' illegal behavior had been demonstrated.
Police killings of civilians continued at high levels in Brazil's major cities, although some areas showed improvement. Rio de Janeiro police killed fewer civilians after the appointment of a new public security chief, Col. Josias Quintal, and the creation of an ombudsman's office, led by noted prison reformer Julita Lemgruber. During the previous administration of Gov. Marcello Alencar, security chiefs Nilton Cerqueira and Noaldo Alves had promoted and paid bonuses to police officers for "acts of bravery," frequently resulting in the killing of suspects. Rio Governor Anthony Garotinho appointed a special investigative commission after a Rio daily reported in July that 259 of those killed by the police from 1993 to 1996 had no prior police record. At this writing, however, the commission had not determined whether these cases should be reopened.
In São Paulo, figures released by the state secretariat of public security showed that the police killed 317 civilians in the first seven months of 1999, suggesting that by year's end, the number would rise for the third consecutive year. Despite measures taken by civilian authorities in São Paulo in recent years to control police abuse, shocking cases still seized headlines. In the dawn hours of February 17, the last day of Carnival, three young men, Paulo Roberto da Silva, twenty-one, Anderson Pereira dos Santos, fourteen, and Thiago Passos Ferreira, seventeen, disappeared in São Vicente in São Paulo state. Witnesses reported seeing a police vehicle stop the youths; others saw the same vehicle enter an area of dense brush in nearby Praia Grande later that morning. A police search uncovered the bodies fifteen days later. All three had been killed with a single gun shot wound to the head, fired at point-blank range. Authorities arrested seven police in connection with the killings.
On August 25, four police officers stopped three youths in downtown São Bernardo do Campo, in the greater São Paulo metropolitan area. The police took the youths -aged fifteen to eighteen-to a deserted area, forced them to undress and shot all three, leaving them for dead. Despite being shot twice, sixteen-year-old Anderson Araújo Silva survived and managed to call for help. The case provoked a significant reaction from São Paulo nongovernmental organizations and the media, as well as discussion about the possible involvement of police in execution-style killings. In São Paulo, through early September, media sources had recorded nearly fifty separate incidents in which three or more persons were killed by police.
A key component in this continued violence was the lack of effective control of abusive military police. A study released by the São Paulo State Police Ombudsman (Ouvidoria) in September demonstrated that the internal review process of the military was especially lax for commissioned officers. From 1971 until July 1999, only twenty-eight officers had been expelled or sanctioned with a loss of rank in São Paulo. Of these, only one held the rank of colonel or higher. At this writing, the National Secretary of Human Rights was working on a constitutional amendment that would allow state governors, rather than the military police themselves, to determine the loss of rank or expulsion of commissioned officers.
Rio police suffered from a similar lack of oversight. A study released in September by the Rio de Janeiro daily O Globo indicated that the internal review procedures to oversee police abuse of civilians were utterly ineffective. Journalists studied all fifty-three inquiries turned over by the internal affairs division of the civil police concerning allegations of torture against sixty-seven officers in the two years and four months between the passage of Law No. 9.455, which created the crime of torture, and August 1999. The inquiries contained statements and other evidence detailing abuses including electric shocks, rape, near-drownings and beatings. In all but one case, the inquiries had not yet been concluded; in the one instance in which a conclusion was reached, the authorities opted to dismiss the case.
The banality of police brutality was highlighted when twenty-year-old Hélio Pereira da Silva Júnior was apparently beaten to death by police in the northeastern state of Alagoas for stealing a soft drink. According to press reports, Silva was arrested on April 8 when, after hitching a ride on the back of a vehicle transporting soft drinks, he opened one of the bottles. After several days in which Silva's family alleged he was held incommunicado and beaten severely, the police released the young man on April 11. Due to the abdominal pains Silva was suffering from the beatings, his family took him to a local hospital a few days later where he died.
On September 22, the Federal Chamber of Deputies voted overwhelmingly to expel Deputy Hildebrando Pascoal from the federal legislature based on his alleged pivotal role in a death squad in the Amazon state of Acre that had claimed as many as 150 lives since the early 1980s. It was reported that Pascoal, a former commander of the Acre state military police had directed the death squad, had maintained close ties to drug trafficking operations, and had participated directly in some killings that had been investigated by federal prosecutors since at least 1997, but little had been done to hold Pascoal responsible for these crimes. In mid-1999, a congressional commission of inquiry to investigate drug trafficking began probing into the charges against Pascoal. The commission heard witnesses who recounted Pascoal's alleged involvement in the killings, including one in which he reportedly directed henchmen who severed the limbs of the victim with a chain saw, and others who told of Pascoal's alleged role in the May 1992 murder of Gov. Edmundo Pinto. A day after Congress' expulsion order (which terminated Pascoal's immunity from prosecution), a federal court in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre state, issued an arrest warrant and federal police took Pascoal into custody in Brasília on September 23.
Pascoal was the second federal deputy expelled from Congress in 1999 based on suspicion of criminal behavior. Earlier in the year, the lower house approved a motion to remove Deputy Talvane Albuquerque, who, as runner-up for a seat from Alagoas state, became a federal deputy when Deputy Ceci Cunha was killed hours after officially assuming the post. Albuquerque was immediately suspected of involvement in the murder; the Chamber of Deputies' investigation found that Albuquerque had hired killers to eliminate Ceci Cunha, elected in October 1998, thus clearing the way for his entrance into the chamber.
The landless rural poor, led by the Movement of Landless Laborers (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), continued to intensify land occupations aimed at forcing the government to accelerate land reform, which resulted in increasing violence directed at the leaders and participants in this movement. According to the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, CPT), from 1997 to 1998, the number of land conflicts rose from 736 to 1,100. In the same period, the number of persons involved in these conflicts more than doubled from its 1997 level of 506,053 to reach 1,125,116 in 1998. Also on the rise from 1997 to 1998 were the number of people killed in land disputes: while thirty were killed in 1997, forty-seven were slain in 1998. In 1998, forty-six more laborers suffered attempts on their lives, eighty-eight received death threats, thirty-five were tortured, 164 suffered physical attacks and 207 others sustained bodily injury. Killings in land conflicts continued in 1999; partial data from the CPT indicated that seventeen had been killed through August.
Although figures for 1999 were not yet available, CPT data for 1998 indicated that the trend toward reduction of forced labor had not abated. The number of registered instances of forced labor fell from seventeen to fourteen, while the number of people involved fell from 872 to 614. These figures were well below the tens of thousands of laborers found to have been forced into labor in the mid-1990s. The reduction in reports of forced labor were attributed to an effective federal investigation program and joint government-civil society efforts to inform rural laborers of their rights.
Detention conditions continued to violate international norms as severe overcrowding, abysmal sanitary facilities, and lack of legal and medical assistance provoked riots in police lockups, jails and penitentiaries throughout the year. The latest census figures -from 1997-showed that while Brazilian prisons had capacity for just over 74,000 inmates, they held more than 170,000. Unofficial estimates suggested that growth in the prison population since 1997 outpaced prison construction. This mismatch resulted in the continued use of police lockups-designed for short-term detention-as long-term facilities. Throughout the year, prisoners rioted, took hostages or initiated hunger strikes to demand that minimally humane conditions of incarceration be provided or that they be transferred from police lockups to penitentiaries. On July 19, in Unaí, Minas Gerais state, 317 prisoners took twenty hostages and demanded that their cases be reviewed to determine whether they should be freed or paroled, that a judge be present, and that they be transferred to other detention centers. A few days earlier, 150 detainees at the anti-narcotics police station in Belo Horizonte began a hunger strike to demand a population reduction at the severely overcrowded facility, as well as the reinstatement of visits, which had been suspended.
The lack of space in detention facilities continued to be extreme even in São Paulo, which was scheduled to complete by the end of 1999 an ambitious prison construction program that included twenty-four facilities with more than 18,000 spaces. By mid-1999, the number of prisoners in police lockups and jails, the majority of whom were supposed to be transferred upon inauguration of the new facilities, reached 30,000, the same figure as mid-1997. Despite the construction, prison capacity in São Paulo, where roughly 40 percent of the nation's prisoners were held, could not keep pace with the growth of the prison population, condemning the state to the continued use of makeshift detention centers run by the police authority.
In November 1998, Congress passed Law No. 9.714/98, expanding the universe of convicts eligible for non-prison sentences. Though an important legal measure to reduce overcrowding, the law had little impact on sentencing for several reasons. First, the percentage of convicts eligible for non-prison sentences remained relatively small; second, most states lacked the requisite infrastructure to supervise community service and similar non-prison sentences; and third, most judges preferred to mete out prison terms. In São Paulo state, for example, according to the United Nations' Latin American Institute for the Prevention and Treatment of Offenders (Instituto Latino Americano das Nações Unidas para a Prevenção do Delito e Tratamento do Delinqüente, ILANUD), fewer than 200 of a total of 1,700 available slots for non-prison terms were being utilized in September.
Conditions of detention for juveniles also remained well below international standards as well as the minimum guarantees established in Brazil's progressive Children's and Adolescents' Statute (Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente). A series of riots in detention facilities for adolescents in São Paulo demonstrated the state's inability to maintain security in the facilities or guarantee minimum standards of decent accommodations for the youths held there. In May, juveniles took two hostages in a riot that lasted nine hours at the Tatuapé complex in São Paulo. In July, two days of rioting facilitated the escape of 280 juveniles from the same complex, whose thirteen centers held 1,400 inmates in space meant for roughly 800. In August, fifty detainees escaped from the Imigrantes detention center in the southern zone of São Paulo. In September, some 500 detainees escaped from the Imigrantes center during two days of rioting. At the time of the riots, the center held more than 1,300 juveniles in space designed for fewer than 400. In the midst of the September rioting, footage from television camera crews overflying the center showed guards at these detention centers using batons to beat juveniles who had already been subdued and stripped to their underwear.
Also in September, military police caught Paulo Roberto de Souza, the director of the Instituto Padre Severino (IPS), a detention center for juveniles in Rio de Janeiro, mostly naked in his office with a detainee, aged seventeen, who was completely naked. The police arrested de Souza and then released him a few days later pursuant to a judicial order. Other boys at the facility told reporters that de Souza frequently sexually abused juveniles held there; three gave statements to police detailing sexual abuse they had suffered at the hands of de Souza. Juveniles held at the IPS and another Rio de Janeiro juvenile detention center (the Escola João Luis Alves) had reported sexual abuse involving supervisory staff since at least 1996. Human Rights Watch, in conjunction with a group of Rio-based nongovernmental organizations, reported these abuses to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in May 1996, yet little had been done to improve conditions at the facilities.
The federal government appointed João Batista Campelo to head the federal police despite credible reports of his involvement in torture during the military dictatorship. Prior to the June 15 ceremony that confirmed Campelo as the head of the federal police, credible reports surfaced, including contemporaneous medical records and witness statements, alleging that Campelo had overseen torture sessions inflicted on former priest José Antonio Magalhães Monteiro in 1970. Further evidence indicated that he coerced other witnesses and manipulated police inquiries in the same investigation. Monteiro stated in numerous fora, including the Human Rights Commission of the Federal Chamber of Deputies, that Campelo was aware of the torture that he suffered (which included electric shocks and beatings) and that on one occasion Campelo helped place Monteiro on the "parrot's perch," a torture device common in Brazil. President Cardoso was obliged to request Campelo's resignation after just three days in his post.
A vast network of human rights organizations, religious groups, neighborhood associations, and unions worked to document and denounce violations of human rights without formal legal impediment throughout the year. Nonetheless, several who demonstrated the courage to accuse officials responsible for abuses faced intimidation, including meritless law suits, harassment, threats, and even murder.
A November 1998 federal police raid of land owned by former police officer Otávio Ernesto Moreira, witnessed by Human Rights Watch, turned up the murder weapon used to kill human rights attorney Gilson Nogueira in Rio Grande do Norte state in October 1996. The ballistic test results, made public in January 1999, resulted in the arrest of Moreira, an immense step forward in the struggle against impunity in the Nogueira case. Just two months later, however, one of the key witnesses in the case, Antônio Lopes, a transvestite known by the name Carla, was murdered. Events in this case reportedly led to several lawsuits against Human Rights Watch in Rio Grande do Norte state, although at this writing notice had not been served. Apparently, the lawsuits alleged defamation and were related to Human Rights Watch's reporting on this case.
The passage of federal legislation facilitating the protection of witnesses in danger constituted an important legal measure in the fight against impunity. The legislation, signed into law on July 13, authorized change in identity for witnesses whose testimony places them at risk and permitted sentence reductions for defendants who cooperate with prosecutors. However, the law excluded those with past convictions from its benefits. By year's end, the federal government was expected to establish joint civil society-government witness protection programs based on the PROVITA system already in existence in Pernambuco state in Pará, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro.
Human rights commissions of state, municipal, and federal legislative bodies, though governmental by definition, acted with notable independence throughout 1999, reviewing allegations of abuse, overseeing police, prisons and other state agents, and denouncing abuses to prosecutors and the media. The human rights commission of the Federal Chamber of Deputies reclaimed its central place in the defense of human rights nationally with the reelection of Deputy Nilmário Miranda to its presidency in March. Miranda and other members of the commission and staff worked closely with nongovernmental organizations throughout Brazil to publicize violations and pressure local authorities to investigate and punish those responsible. This commission provided a forum for denunciations of Campelo's role in torture during the military dictatorship and prompted President Cardoso's decision to revoke his appointment.
The European Union continued to finance a range of nongovernmental organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights in Brazil in 1999. Member states of the E.U., both individually and collectively, privately encouraged Brazil to comply with international human rights norms through regular meetings with federal officials in Brazil and on official government trips to Europe.
The Swedish government, the Dutch Red Cross, and the International Committee of the Red Cross continued to finance and implement a national police training program with the cooperation of Brazilian federal and state government authorities. The second phase of the program, completed in December 1998, instructed 324 military police officers on professional policing techniques, including non-lethal methods of response to violent situations, and human rights, with the goal of enabling them to return to their home states as instructors on these matters. The third phase, to be concluded by June 2000, will train an additional 400 instructors from all twenty-six Brazilian states and the federal district.
In 1999, the U.S. gave relatively little direct assistance to Brazil. For fiscal year 1999, Congress approved US $1.2 million in counternarcotics assistance For fiscal year 1999, Congress approved $225,000 for Brazil through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program; only $206,000 had been spent at this writing. The administration requested $225,000 for IMET for fiscal year 2000.
During the year, the U.S. government sponsored educational visits to the United States for human rights activists, attorneys, and community organizers, as well as visits to Brazil by U.S. experts on children's and women's rights and racial discrimination. The State Department's chapter on Brazil in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998 accurately portrayed the human rights situation in Brazil.