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Brazil torture prevention: Serious challenges remain but progress possible, UN experts find

GENEVA (30 October 2015) – Brazil continues to face overwhelming challenges in preventing and combatting torture and ill-treatment of people in detention, UN experts have said at the end of a 12-day visit.

“Many of the issues we highlighted during our previous visit in 2011, including endemic overcrowding, filthy conditions of detention, pervasive violence and a lack of proper oversight leading to impunity, have not been addressed in the ensuing four years,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz from the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT). “Hundreds of thousands of people are currently deprived of their liberty in what are, often, sub-human conditions”.

However, the effective implementation of high-level policies could mark an important advance in Brazil’s efforts to tackle torture and ill-treatment, the SPT noted. “Brazil’s challenge is to close the gap between its ambitious public policy and the everyday situation of people deprived of their liberty," said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz who headed the five-member delegation.

The SPT noted that Brazil has also adopted important measures relating to the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, including committees that bring together State and non-State representatives, with real potential for the participative planning of public policies for torture prevention.

“It is a positive development that Brazil now has a federal independent body to monitor conditions where people are deprived of their liberty,” said Mr Madrigal-Borloz. The SPT met representatives of the recently established body, officially known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), to discuss ways of strengthening its activities.

The SPT experts also highlighted the effective functioning of monitoring bodies in Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro, with which meetings were also held. The importance of these mechanisms contrasted, however, with difficulties of access witnessed by SPT and, in the case of Pernambuco, a very serious threat experienced recently by the mechanism. "An act of obstruction to the work of a preventive mechanism is an attack on the integrity of the whole system envisaged by the Optional Protocol”, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz added.

The experts went to four states - Distrito Federal (Brasilia), Amazonas, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro. Among the places they visited were police stations, prisons, pre-trial detention centres, juvenile facilities, penitentiary hospitals and forensic institutions. The SPT held a series of meetings, including with the federal Government, state Governments, prison authorities and police.

The SPT has presented orally its preliminary findings to the federal Government. After the visit, the SPT will submit a confidential report to the authorities, containing its observations and recommendations on prevention of torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. As with all other states, the SPT is encouraging Brazil to make the report public.

The SPT’s role is to prevent torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment of detainees and it has a mandate to visit all States that are parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

The SPT delegation was composed of Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Marija Definis-Gojanovic, Enrique Andrés Font, Nora Sveaass and Victor Zaharia.

For media requests, please contact: Joao Nataf +41 79 752 0484 / +41 (0) 22 917 9102 / jnataf@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell, +41 (0) 22 917 9466/ +41 79 752 0488 ethrossell@ohchr.org


For the SPT, the key to preventing torture and ill-treatment lies in building constructive relations with the State concerned, and its guiding principles are co-operation and confidentiality.

The Optional Protocol on the Prevention of Torture has to date been ratified by 80 countries. The SPT communicates its recommendations and observations to the State by means of a confidential report, and if necessary to National Preventive Mechanisms. However, State parties are encouraged to request that the SPT makes these reports public.

More about the SPT: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/OPCAT/Pages/OPCATIndex.aspx