Brazil exhorted to extend torture prevention measures to local level

Friday, June 9, 2017

With endemic prison overcrowding, appalling conditions of detention and persisting violence against detainees, the country needs urgent measures to prevent torture. At the May session of the Universal Periodic Review, States exhorted Brazil to implement full and comprehensive custody hearings throughout the country and establish adequately-funded local preventive mechanisms to monitor conditions of detention in all places of deprivation of liberty.

Over 700,000 people in detention – the fourth largest prison population in the world – the number of detainees in Brazil is rising at a very fast pace. In 25 years, the prison population grew by over 500% and this incarceration rate keeps increasing year after year, in particular due to the large number of people held in pre-trial detention. In fact, out of the 700,000 people detained in the country, approximately 300,000 people are deprived of their liberty, even though their trial has not even taken place. An effective way to reduce prison overcrowding would be to bring down the number of people held in pre-trial detention.

Setting up full and comprehensive custody hearings around the country

With that aim in mind, Brazil recently adopted the use of ‘custody hearings’, which allow for the presentation before a judicial authority of any person arrested within 24 hours. The purpose of these pre-trial hearings is three-fold: to check the legality of the arrest; determine the very necessity of pre-trial detention; and detect any signs of torture and ill-treatment, as the risk of torture and ill-treatment is the highest in the very first hours following the arrest.

In practice, however, custody hearings are mainly limited to the country’s main cities. Brazil was therefore urged to expand their application to the entire country, without exception, in order to ensure that all pre-trial detainees be taken before a judge promptly after arrest. To this end, the State was called upon to pass the Bill of Law 554/2011, currently being examined in the House of Representatives, which would provide the legal framework for the mandatory implementation and expansion of such hearings.

Simultaneously, local state Courts were encouraged to comply with Resolution 213/2015 of the National Council of Justice, which sets out effective procedural guidelines for the conduct of such hearings, including rules aimed at detecting signs of torture and ill-treatment. Brazil was also pressed to provide specific training to judges and public prosecutors working in custody hearings on the Istanbul Protocol for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as to provide human rights training to officials in the judiciary.

Step up efforts to establish effective local preventive mechanisms

Overall, many States welcomed the efforts made by Brazil to reduce torture, in particular the progress achieved on the implementation of the National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, which includes the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism in 2015. As a federal State, Brazil was however urged to take steps to strengthen efforts to establish local preventive mechanisms in every state and to ensure adequate funding for their effective functioning.

Ensure protection of detainees in specific situations of vulnerability

Following concerns over the high level of violence experienced by prisoners in specific situations of vulnerability, Brazil was also called upon to ensure that particular attention be given to vulnerable groups, in particular women, children and LGBTI. The Bangkok Rules (on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offender) were cited as effective guidelines to regulate the improvement of facilities dedicated to pregnancy and maternity in prisons.

The draft report of the United Nations Working Group on Brazil’s UPR is available here.

Staff members