Under this decree, federal police are allowed to investigate possible human rights violations, including cases of possible extra-judicial executions, in collaboration with state police forces. However, under this decree all crimes that are not federal crimes, such as torture and murder, still fall under the jurisdiction of the state judicial system. As a result, federal police have participated in investigations in cases such as the massacre which took place in the Baixada Fluminese in Rio de Janeiro in April 2005 and also following systematic denunciations of “death squad” activity and state governmental links to organised crime in the state of Espírito Santo in conjunction with state police and judicial authorities.
While the involvement of federal police in human rights cases has been an important step, Amnesty International has received reports from local human rights organization expressing concern at reluctance shown by elements within the federal police force to intervene in human rights related cases, especially the protection of human rights defenders. In May 2004, the Federal Police made a legal appeal to overturn orders that they provide protection to Roberto Monte, Ruy dos Santos and José Veras Junior, on the basis that they were not federal employees and as such should be protected by the state.
Roberto Monte, who works at the Centro de Direitos Humanos e Memoria Popular, Centre for Human Rights and Collective Memory, based in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, presented Amnesty International with copies of the judicial ruling favoring the federal police’s appeal. According to the latest information received by Amnesty International, he continues to receive threats as a result of his denunciation of local ‘death squads’. In a letter, dated 12 April 2005, the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights defenders wrote to the National Secretary of Human Rights stressing that such action by the federal police was contrary to Law Nº 10.446 of 8 May 2002, which specifically deals with their responsibilities to protect human rights defenders.
In November 2004, a process for the federalization of investigations and judgements of human rights crimes was voted as a law through Congress as part of the package for the reform of the judiciary. As with the above presidential decree, it allows for the transfer of a case from state jurisdiction to federal jurisdiction in cases of grave human rights violations where it is felt that the federal government’s responsibility under Brazil’s international treaty obligations is not being complied with. Under this procedure cases are submitted or selected by the federal attorney general who will then submit them for the approval of the Superior Tribunal de Justiça (STJ) federal superior court.
The killing of Sister Dorothy Stang, in February 2005, was the first case to be submitted for federalisation. It was submitted in the context of the high levels of killings of land activists and human rights defenders in the state of Pará and the impunity that sustains this. The STJ ruled that the case did not match all necessary criteria, namely that the state had shown inability or reluctance to handle the case, deeming it too soon to prove this. It is clear that this process will depend on a case by case evaluation and it remains to be seen whether it will be implemented effectively by the federal attorney general and the STJ.
Public security Reform
In 2003, the newly elected government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva set out a policy of public security reform, under its National Public Security Plan, based on human rights principles and controlled through the transfer of federal funds. This included mechanisms for strengthening investigative policing; introducing community based policing and improving oversight mechanisms of the police. However, two years later these reforms have not effectively been implemented and senior members of the federal government have done little to counter this impression, avoiding questions of public security reform as much as possible.
Reforms by the government to control the carrying of weapons as well as a proposed referendum to control the sale of arms are important steps in trying to combat levels of armed violence. However, illegal trafficking of arms and continued misuse of firearms by law enforcement officers need to be addressed if a serious decline in firearm related lethalities is sought.
Article 7 – Torture (Paragraphs 134-145 of the State report)
Torture by state agents remains widespread and systematic. The majority of cases continue unreported, uninvestigated and unpunished. The Brazilian government has recognised that torture is often used as a method of investigation, punishment or extortion by members of the law enforcement forces. It is carried out at the point of arrest, in police stations, juvenile detention centres and prisons. Victims continue to be mainly poor, young black or mixed race males who are alleged criminal suspects.