Elements within the media in São Paulo treat juvenile justice as a political “hot potato”, and riots and disturbances, even when acknowledged to be the result of instigation by corrupt employees, are sometimes cited as a failure by the government to cope with the so-called “public security crisis” in the city, and are met with calls for tougher treatment of juvenile offenders. Public anger at high profile cases of adolescent killers who receive perceived soft sentences under the ECA has lead to calls for a reduction in the age of penal responsibility, an issue often exploited by populist politicians.
Amnesty International notes that efforts were made by the authorities to allow some civil society groups to monitor detention centres. Nevertheless, these efforts were hampered in some cases, especially by individual directors of units who have been known to prohibit access, reportedly on grounds of security.
Article 19 – Right to freedom of expression (paragraphs 260 -265 from the state report)
Human rights defenders
Amnesty International has consistently been reporting and denouncing the threats, intimidation, attacks and killings suffered by human rights defenders in Brazil. Those working for the protection of the human rights of others, especially those from most marginalised groups, such as socially and economically excluded communities as well as rural and indigenous groups, have suffered death threats, intimidatory legal measures including politically motivated arrests, defamation suits, and killings. Until recently, state and federal authorities have either shown reluctance or an inability to provide measures to ensure the suitable and effective protection of those under threat.
In August 2004, the government took an important step by launching the First National Plan for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. This plan was based on consultation with members of the state and federal authorities and civil society. However, in its letter of April 2005 to the National Secretary of Human Rights, the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders expressed their concern that despite consistent requests on their part, the plan still lacked the necessary infrastructure for its effective implementation. They expressed particular concern at the news that the federal government intended to implement the plan in the state of Pará, following the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, without prior dialogue with those at risk to ascertain their needs.
Valdenia de Paulino, a lawyer and a human rights defender in the socially marginalised community of Sapopemba in São Paulo, suffered extensive death threats for her work on the systematic violations by police officers in her community. In 2004, Valdenia de Paulino became the first human rights defender to receive protection from the federal police under the national human rights defenders plan. However, after a brief period she was forced to leave the country for a time when the protection she received was not deemed effective.
The federal government has also promised to initiate a training project for special units within state police forces to provide protection for defenders, claiming that federal police forces do not have the capacity to provide the service effectively. This has caused some concern amongst human rights defenders who in most cases are under threat from members of the very state police forces who are proposed to protect them.
Elizabete Maria de Souza began to suffer threatening behaviour from members of Rio de Janeiro’s military police after taking up the campaign for her 13 year-old brother, who was reportedly extra-judicially executed on 6 January 2004. Elizabete’s brother, along with four other youths, was allegedly killed by military police officers in the favela of Cajú in the north of Rio de Janeiro. Since taking up the campaign, Elizabete informed Amnesty International that her house was constantly watched by police, her meetings with other relatives were filmed by men in unmarked cars and she has received veiled threats. As a result of these threats, Elizabete informed Amnesty International she was unable to sleep at night as she feared for the safety of her three daughters, only resting for brief periods in the morning before going to work. She further said that she was now looking for a means to take her daughters away from the community so that they could be safe.
Article 26 – Equality of rights before the law and the right to protection from the law without discrimination (paragraphs 325-350 from the state report)
Discrimination and public security
The provision of public security in Brazil has long been based on both socio-economic as well as racial discrimination. Extreme levels of armed violence have led to the persistent use of repressive methods of policing which have contributed to the widespread and systematic violations described above. However, consistent with this process has been the provision of public security on the basis of protection of part of the community, while socially excluded communities have suffered containment, invasion and repression.