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Report about torture in Brazil finds relevancy of UN work, but lack of implementation

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

A new report by Facts and Norms Institute has identified how different thematic reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture can apply to Brazil.

Image: Adrien Olichon / Unsplash

In June 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture invited States, civil society actors and other stakeholders to a round of written consultations. The aim was to identigy the impact, if any, of recent thematic reports by the UN.

Facts and Norms Institute (FNI) responded to the call through a concerted effort of its recently innaugurated Global Human Rights Observatory.

The resulting analysis, "Impact of Thematic Reports presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture: input to the UN regarding Brazil", considers eight UN thematic reports with topics ranging from the extra-custodial use of force, to migration-related torture, and psychological torture.

Prepared by FNI's principal researcher Henrique Napoleao Alves, the report also address strengthening the prohibition of torture and how States can cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

The preparatory works included consultations with international expert Thais Lemos Duarte, a former staff member of Brazil's National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture.

No observable impact

In discussing the relevancy of each thematic report to Brazil, the report draws upon a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, including journal articles, reports from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, case law from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, concluding observations from the United Nations treaty bodies and government websites.

It looks at each thematic report and discusses how relevant it was to the national context, and if any of the recommendations had an impact on domestic procedures, including national case law and legislation.

A commonality with each thematic report is despite addressing topics important to the national context, there was no reference to them found in any domestic documents.

This is concerning, as the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Torture includes making recommendations to prevent and eradicate torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Major relevance

Despite not being mentioned by national documents, the UN reports are all relevant to the Brazilian context, as summarized by the following table:

Thematic report


UN report on extra-custodial use of force

There is evidence that the increased circulation of arms increases the number of homicides, criminality, violence, among others. Brazil, in recent years, has facilitated civil access to weapons.

UN report on migration-related torture and other abuses

There has been an increase in the number of immigrants in Brazil in recent years. Many of them are socially vulnerable, as they suffer from discrimination and difficulties in accessing employment and achieving social inclusion and integration.

UN report reaffirming and strengthening the prohibition of torture

There is recurrent torture and ill-treatment in the country, especially against the poor and people of African descent. Many prisons are overcrowded and prisoners suffer from precarious or inexistent access to health and education. Reports of vexatious body searches and torture are frequent.

UN report on corruption-related torture and ill-treatment

There is a relationship between corruption and violence in the country, including extreme forms of violence. State and market insufficiencies are accompanied by the rise of militias and paramilitary groups in certain regions. These provide services in an authoritarian and extortionate manner, and practice illegal activities such as drug trafficking, bribes, kidnapping, money laundering etc. Another topic of interest with regards to corruption is the high degree of impunity of State agents involved in practices that violate human rights.

UN report on domestic violence

Despite legislative efforts such as the enactment of the Maria da Penha Law and Law No. 13,104, domestic violence is still endemic in the country. Evidence indicates that prevention and repression measures have been insufficiently adopted.

UN report on psychological torture

At the national level, torture is generally conceived in physical terms. The UN report is a useful means of highlighting the psychological dimension of torture.

UN report on state cooperation

Despite Brazil's history of interactions with the Special Rapporteur, torture and ill-treatment continue to be widespread.

UN report on biopsychosocial factors related to torture

Qualitative research indicates the presence of biopsychosocial factors behind the recurrent cases of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country’s history, including social inequality, racism, constant propaganda against human rights (portrayed as “privileges” of “bandits” and “outlaws”) and the dehumanization of segments of the poor and people of African descent.

Torture is often seen as a “crime of opportunity” within the UN framework; yet, it is a problem with deep social roots. An agenda of economic and social development and the drastic reduction of inequality can be central to preventing torture in the country.

The importance of the social agenda

FNI's report to the United Nations emphasizes the importance of the social agenda to walk side-by-side with tackling torture in Brazil. In the concluding words of the report:

"Human rights violations guard a close connection to longstanding social exclusion and the denial of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights."
"Class, gender and ethno-racial discrimination impose a greater exposure to violence."
"The past work of the UN was once described as having a focus on torture as a “crime of opportunity”, i.e., one which is committed when the opportunity arises.
In this sense, if the State creates a regular system of visits to prisons, for example, this could function as a way of impeding the conjunction of situations that make the violation possible.
Of course, such a system of visits can play an important role, and so can other similar lines of action. However, effective prevention of torture mostly depends on tackling the factors behind class, race and gender inequalities."

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