University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.97, Doc. 29 rev.1 (1997).






1. In defining the human rights situation in Brazil, the Commission feels that it is essential to center on the profound changes that are taking place as well as the extremes that contrast some parts of the country from others. For instance, in some areas human rights are enjoyed, respected, and guaranteed while in others these same rights are commonly abused, violated, and ignored. These contrasts are sometimes found between states and sometimes between groups within the same state or region. And even if progressive legislation is in place, it is slow to be applied.

2. Changes, many of which are favorable, have been brought about in the past by mass movements for human rights and certainly by the initiative being taken by the present administration of Dr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the form of his National Human Rights Plan.

3. One initial observation that could be made is that there is 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. Not only are the legislation and the public and private institutions that exist certainly broad enough in scope to provide ample protection of human rights in Brazil, there are also basic freedoms of expression, of the press, of association, and an open and functioning constitutional political system to resolve social conflict. However - there are serious human rights violations that demand the full commitment of both the State and society if they are to be resolved and the present administration has shown its sense of responsibility in acknowledging this point.

4. Those areas in which human rights are most frequently violated and in which the arm of the law is least effective in offering protection are society's most vulnerable groups: impoverished campesino communities, minors and children without families ties for protection and growth, indigenous peoples, individuals under suspicion of committing a crime or circumstantially involved in criminal situations.

5. While not ignoring the advances made by the present government, the state has still not offered the necessary guarantees to large segments of the Brazilian population to secure their human rights either through institutional efforts to improve discriminatory inequalities of social, economic and cultural opportunities. The high degree of that inequality in Brazil makes it necessary to put the entire state apparatus and the political well of its leaders behind the steady disappearance as rapidly as possible of that discrimination.

6. The Commission notes that this discriminatory inequality generates legal infractions either because the victims of prejudice rebel against this injustice and are illegally repressed or because it provokes widespread situations of illegality (such as slums controlled by drug dealers or rural areas run by out-of-control interests who use gunmen).

7. The justice system, the first line of defence of the guarantees that the State is obligated to offer, is slow and extremely complicated and suffers from unnecessary red tape and institutional weakness. These institutions are incapable of punishing police officials guilty of abuses or the actions of criminal groups protected by the police or by the inability of the justice system to act. Jurisdictional impediments between states and between states and the federal government delay the course of justice and thwart the law, and abet criminal activities. Special courts with no basis in law such as the Military Tribunal (Justicia Militar) hear and judge abuses and crimes of police officials and thus contribute to the lawlessness.

8. In some parts of Brazil, violence is typically caused by human rights violations. In rural areas poverty and unequal opportunities have led to explosive situations caused by conditions of forced labor and human bondage, clashes over access to land and opportunities for production, and the rural exodus by the young who fall victims of worker or sexual exploitation.

9. Indigenous communities in Brazil, although they have made considerable headway in effectively gaining legal recognition and title to land continue to be adversely affected by the time the States takes to demarcate and title their lands and by the continuous inroads by intruders and squatters against whom the State continues to be ineffective, or by state measures that cut them off through the encroachment of infrastructure (roads, etc.) or by the establishment of municipalities and other entities which are foreign to them.

10. Many children lack the natural protection of their families, the community, and the State, and suffer from the effects of living on the margin of society, worker and sexual exploitation, repressive police behavior and abuses, and mistreatment in specialized institutions. This is one of the present administration's priorities although the extent and urgency of the problems requires that these efforts be intensified.

11. The treatment of prisoners, those being held pending trial and convicted felons, is another constant source of human rights violations and abuses. Prisons are overcrowded, facilities are poor, resources are in short supply, and training is inadequate, and prison authorities use repressive measures to deal with any crisis. Negotiation as a normal dispute settlement policy and the reform of the correctional services system to meet the present needs in terms of security for the resident population and the population in general must be a priority for the authorities.

12. The efforts of the federal government or those of its institutions in the area of human rights violations do not always receive the necessary follow up and support from state governments or branches of these governments.

13. In different chapters of this report, the Commission analyzed problem situations, with comments on efforts by government authorities and set out specific recommendations. The National Human Rights Plan which was prepared as a participatory project by the Brazilian government presents serious and potentially effective proposals to resolve these situations. Its gradual implementation is beginning to show signs of success through improvements in certain indicators. A number of state initiatives are also producing positive changes. However, only the political will to carry it through with the full support of all federal, state, and municipal authorities will lead to its growing and continued success.

14. In accordance with its mandate, as a supplement to its specific recommendations contained in the different chapters of this report, the Commission also recommends:

a. Intensify implementation of the National Human Rights Plan by giving priority to changes that prevent abuses committed by public agents and especially by public law enforcement agents from going unpunished. Included in these changes is making state military police agents subject to common criminal jurisdiction.

b. Simplify and accelerate court procedures and coordinate them with interstate jurisdictions for more effective investigation, as well as for subsequent criminal proceedings and punishment of those responsible for attacks and terror campaigns against the population.

c. Protect needy children in a more effective way and take special compensatory measures to guarantee they have equal opportunities especially in education, personal safety and health and basic sanitation services.

d. Organize legislatively and in a practical manner the effective protection of the rights of Indian peoples in Brazil, especially with regard to the integrity and effect control over their lands and crops, their organization and respect for their political rights.

e. Implement more widely certain institutions and practices that are helpful in preventing conflicts and achieving peaceful settlement of them. Examples are the Municipal Guiding Councils for Children and Teenagers, offices for protection of women and strategies to prevent and negotiate disciplinary situations in criminal establishments.

f. Accelerate the settlement of problems in access to rural land ownership by applying fully the constitutional laws which prevent, avert and settle legally situations of tension and confrontation that stem from discriminatory treatment relating to opportunities to use national economic resources.


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