Violation Against Human Rights

Brazil's Deadly Prison System

Amnesty Annual Report, Brazil2015/2016

Serious human rights violations continued to be reported, including killings by police and the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Young 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.

Public security

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.

Unlawful killings

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


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 1 (one) case had led to a police officer being charged. As of April 2015, 183 of these investigations remained open.

Prison conditions, torture and other ill-treatment

In March, the President Dilma Roussef, actually removed to respond an impeachment process, 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, prepared on a grill 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.

Children's rights

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.

Freedom of assembly

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.

Housing rights

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. 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.

Human rights defenders

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. 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.

Indigenous Peoples' rights

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. 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.


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

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

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

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

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

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