There is still no comprehensive or reliable statistical monitoring of implementation of the Torture Law. In 2001, the national council of state public prosecutors offices collected data on prosecutions and convictions under the Torture Law, providing information for the federal government’s submission to the Committee against Torture. However, the information at the time was limited and has still to be updated. A recent report cited figures showing that in the state of São Paulo, which has the highest prison population in the country, there had only been 12 convictions under the Torture Law between 1997 and 2004, most of these for non-state actors. A national database that accurately reflects levels of torture and records prosecutions and condemnations brought under the 1997 Torture Law should be set up as a matter of priority.
Amnesty International welcomes plans by the Brazilian government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. The establishing of an independent national preventive mechanism for monitoring torture in places of detention, if effective, should prove a powerful tool in the fight against torture.
Article 10 - Conditions of detention (paragraphs 181-205 of the State report)
Brazil’s detention system has improved little since 1996. Conditions still fail to match minimum international standards and overcrowding, as well as poor health and sanitary standards, are the norm as prison populations continue to grow at rates as stated by the government in paragraph 79. Torture and ill-treatment continue to be means of punishment, control and humiliation of detainees and occur in connection with widespread corruption by prison guards and police officers. Deaths in custody are a constant problem, either at the hands of prison guards or police officers, or more predominantly as the result of prisoner on prisoner violence largely the consequence of gang or drug faction conflicts reportedly facilitated by corrupt prison guards. Prison riots, reportedly the result of poor conditions, are also a constant. Pre-trial detention centres and police holding cells continue to be used as de facto prisons, where untried detainees can wait for months and even years for a trial, and where many convicted prisoners continue to be held contrary to the Law of Penal Executions.
Amnesty International has also been extremely concerned by attempts, at different times, and in different states, to interfere with the rights of human rights groups or officially authorised prison visiting bodies such as the conselho da comunidade [community council, a prison inspection body made up of the authorities and civil society] to visit prisons and speak to detainees. Amnesty International has received specific reports of such cases occurring in São Paulo, where human rights groups were blocked from visiting the FEBEM juvenile detention system, most notably in September 2003 when the authorities tried to block the then UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions from entering a FEBEM unit. Similarly Amnesty International was informed that in Rio de Janeiro the state government placed pressure on the juiz da vara de execuções penais [judge of the penal executions court] to replace the president of the conselho da comunidade who was widely critical of the state’s prison system.
Amnesty International has also been informed of persistent attempts to block human rights groups from visiting detainees held in police stations in the state of São Paulo. Members of Ação Cristã pela Abolição da Tortura (ACAT), Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture received a report that on 28 April 2005, 22 detainees of at the 39th Distrito Policial (Police Station), were reportedly beaten by members of the military police’s shock troops. However, when they tried to visit the police station on 23 May, they were reportedly refused entry on the grounds that the police feared there might be a rescue attempt made for the detainees. Requests to see individual detainees were also reportedly refused. Complaints made to the State Secretariat of Public Security as to the decision remain unanswered at time of writing.
Internal disciplinary measures
In an attempt to combat the level of prison riots, prisoner on prisoner violence and gang related violence in prisons, the São Paulo authorities and subsequently the federal authorities introduced the regime disciplinar diferenciado (RDD), differentiated disciplinary regime and also the regime disciplinar especial (RDE), special disciplinary regime. The RDD allows judges to sentence those who have committed a crime within the prison system up to a year in a high security facility where detainees are held in solitary confinement. The RDE is an interim step which can be taken by prison directors whereby they can transfer those committing lesser infractions to special prison units. Several bodies, including São Paulo’s bar association, have denounced both the RDD and RDE as contrary to the human rights of detainees. Global Justice in its 2003 report stated that, “beginning in the 1990s the construction of a culture of fear has been making penal legislation suffer setbacks and becoming increasingly more rigid, being the Differentiated Disciplinary Regime (Regime Disciplinar Diferenciado, RDD), the best example of this movement.”