Despite the introduction of the 1997 Torture Law, only a few prosecutions have taken place in relation to the number of reported cases, with even fewer resulting in convictions. Information about prosecutions of state agents for torture, as well as other human rights violations, is difficult to obtain, as much of the information about such cases is held as confidential by the courts. The Torture Law is unusual in that it also applies to non state actors. Information presented to Amnesty International about prosecutions under this law indicates that these are more likely to be successfully brought against private individuals, and not state employees. This fact also makes the scant data that does exist on prosecutions of limited value as it does not differentiate between prosecutions against state actors and private individuals. Impunity continues to be the norm. In 2004, an opinion poll showed that 24% of those interviewed in São Paulo city thought that torture was an acceptable means of criminal investigation, a rise of 4% over a similar opinion poll conducted in 1997.
In 2001, Amnesty International launched a campaign against torture in Brazil. This campaign was directed against shortcomings of the criminal justice system, which have contributed to the continued practice of torture and the impunity of those who perpetrate it. Such shortcomings can be identified at every stage of the system. While law enforcement agencies are largely responsible for acts of torture, those bodies responsible for investigating and reporting acts of torture, including internal police investigation units [corregedorias], forensic medical units [institutos medico legais], the public prosecutors office [ministerio público], and the judiciary have for the most part failed to do this either due to lack of resources, negligence or complicity. Certain dedicated public prosecutors have proven to be a notable exception to this rule, as are those working in the human rights department in the state of Minas Gerais, and those prosecutors responsible for monitoring São Paulo’s juvenile detention system the Fundação Estadual do Bem Estar do Menor, (FEBEM) Foundation for the Well-Being of Minors, where systematic work has contributed to increased prosecutions.
Those states that have police ombudsman’s offices have to some extent managed to document the extent of the crime. However, given the limited powers bestowed to the offices, especially the lack of investigative powers, the lack of any real independence both financial and institutional, and the ineffectiveness of those in office, they have also failed to contribute to a reduction in the incidence of torture. Consequently, visits to places where torture is thought to occur and the reporting of cases is often limited to those civil society groups able to obtain access.
In the wake of the visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in September 2000, the federal government launched a campaign against torture. However, the campaign did not address the fundamental causes of the crime, nor did it seek to improve mechanisms for safe and effective reporting and prosecution of cases, as recommended in the Special Rapporteur’s report. The government focused on the creation of a very short and limited publicity campaign and the creation of a telephone hotline, apparently to help anonymous reporting, with a view to collecting data. However, Amnesty International was repeatedly informed that from its inception the hotline failed to meet the minimum criteria necessary for investigations of reported cases and protection of victims. The authorities described it essentially as a means of collecting data on the practice of torture, though even for this the campaign had its limitations.
Although the present federal government has claimed that the “SOS Torture” hotline has proved an effective means of monitoring torture, the data collected by the hotline is not a reliable indicator of levels of torture in a given place, as higher numbers of calls may be due to a variety of factors, such as higher awareness of the existence of the hotline or better access to telephones. Given the anonymous nature of the hotline, it did not contribute to the effective reporting or investigation of alleged cases of torture. The “Dial 100” Human Rights Hotline mentioned by the federal government (paragraph 140) has not yet been established and Amnesty International is concerned that once again it will not provide a safe and effective mechanism for the reporting and investigation of human rights violations.
Since the current federal government came to office in 2003, there have been repeated promises that the national campaign for fighting torture, launched in 2001, was to be re-started. However, this initiative appears to have been made a low priority especially since the federal human rights secretariat recently lost its ministerial status. In his first published interview, the new federal human rights secretary made no mention of the national campaign for fighting torture.