UN rights expert reports 'widespread and systematic' torture in Brazil jails

11 April 2001

An expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights today reported that torture is "widespread and systematic" in police stations and custodial institutions in most parts of Brazil.

Sir Nigel Rodley, Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, told the current session of the Commission that abuses took place in a majority of the places he had visited during a trip to Brazil last August and September and, "as far as indirect testimonies presented to me from reliable sources suggest, in most other parts of the country."

Mr. Rodley said torture and similar ill-treatment were found at all phases of detention, arrest, preliminary and other provisional detention, and in penitentiaries and institutions for juvenile offenders. "It does not happen to all or everywhere," he continued. "Mainly it happens to poor, black criminal suspects accused of having committed petty crimes or small-scale drug distribution."

The expert welcomed Brazil's decision to hold a conference of officials responsible for the administration of justice on the need to apply the 1997 Law against Torture. He also welcomed plans to launch this month a public awareness campaign, including the setting up of a national telephone hotline to receive allegations of torture.

Yesterday, the 53-member Commission, which is the UN's main human rights body, began its debate on the rights of the child, hearing from Olara Otunnu, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. In his statement, Mr. Otunnu welcomed the fact that war-affected children had been placed high on the international political agenda in recent. At the same time he stressed that there was still a gap between the commitments made by warring parties to protect children in armed clashes and the ugly reality faced by young people in such situations.

Voicing concern about what he saw as "worrying trends," he drew attention to the looting of natural resources -- a "theft of children's birthright," as he put it -- and the increasing cross-border recruitment of young people. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons was also as a major problem, he said, noting that "these weapons kill, maim and injure," and force children to grow up in a culture of violence.

Mr. Otunnu urged the international community to pay attention to areas of particular vulnerability among war-affected children, including the special needs of girls, the internally displaced, the provision of education for war-affected youth, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the corridors of armed conflict, the impact of sanctions, and the liberation of abducted young boys and girls.