Communities living in poverty continued to face a range of human rights abuses, including forced eviction and lack of access to basic services. Although some cities saw a reduction in homicide rates, high levels of police and gang violence in shanty towns further entrenched inequalities. Torture, overcrowding and degrading conditions continued to characterize the prison and juvenile detention systems where lack of effective control led to riots resulting in a number of deaths. Indigenous Peoples, Quilombolas (members of Afro-descendant communities) and landless workers faced threats, intimidation and violence in the context of land disputes. Human rights defenders remained at risk and often had difficulty accessing state protection.
As Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ended his second and final term as President, Brazil was enjoying a surging economy, political stability and a high profile on the international stage. Considerable progress had been made in reducing poverty, but stark inequalities remained. Dilma Rousseff won the presidential elections in the second round in October, promising continuity and was due to take office in January 2011. She said that public security, health and the eradication of poverty would be priorities for her administration.
President Lula approved a modified version of the Third National Human Rights Plan in May, amid criticisms that references to the decriminalization of abortion, mediation in agrarian conflicts and sections relating to crimes committed during the military regime (1964-85) had been removed.
In October, in a landmark ruling, the Brazilian High Court of Justice voted to bring the investigation and judicial proceedings relating to the killing of Manoel Mattos, a former councillor and human rights activist, under federal jurisdiction. This was the first time a case had been moved to federal jurisdiction since a 2004 constitutional amendment allowed for cases of grave human rights abuses to be heard at the federal level. Manoel Mattos had exposed the activities of death squads in the border region of Paraíba and Pernambuco states and investigations into his death were hampered by threats against witnesses.
The controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project on the Xingu River in Pará state was granted an environmental licence in February by the Brazilian environmental agency amid opposition from Indigenous and other rural communities, human rights and environmental groups and federal prosecutors. Local NGOs argued that the dam project could displace thousands of families, and flood vast tracts of traditional Indigenous lands. In October, in a positive step, the federal government issued a decree providing for the creation of a socio-economic register including a public record of all those affected by dams.
In February, Brazil approved a constitutional amendment which added the right to food to existing economic, social and cultural rights. In November, Brazil ratified the International Convention against enforced disappearance. However, Brazil did not recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive complaints from or on behalf of victims or states when the national authorities fail to fulfil their obligations.Top of page
Criminal and police violence continued to be a serious problem in Brazil’s largest cities. In a progress report, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions wrote that “the norm remains that citizens, especially residents of favelas (shanty towns), remain hostage to violence from gangs, militias and the police” and that “extrajudicial killings remain widespread”.
In Rio de Janeiro, further Police Pacification Units were installed in favelas, achieving reductions in violence. However, outside of these projects, police violence, including killings, remained widespread. According to official statistics, police killed 855 people in situations described as “acts of resistance” in 2010.
In November, in response to gang violence, including the burning of more than 150 vehicles and attacks on police posts, police mounted operations across the city. More than 50 people were killed in confrontations between police and drug gangs in the space of a week. Civil Police killed seven people in a single operation in the community of Jacarezinho. In the community of Vila Cruzeiro, a 14-year-old girl was killed inside her house when she was hit by a stray bullet. At the end of the week, over 2,600 men, supported by the army and the navy, staged a major operation in the Complexo do Alemão, a group of shanty towns in the city’s northern zone where Rio’s largest drug faction had set up headquarters. The complex was swiftly taken and at the end of the year was under the control of the army, awaiting the possible future deployment of a Police Pacification Unit.
Militias (armed paramilitary-style groups) continued to dominate many areas of Rio de Janeiro and a large number of the recommendations of the 2008 parliamentary inquiry into the militias had not been implemented by the end of 2010.
Death squads, many made up of off-duty law enforcement officers, continued to operate in many states. In August, a report presented by the Council for the Defence of Human Rights – a federal body which investigates human rights violations – concluded that death squads, often contracted by local businesses to threaten, torture and kill petty thieves, were operating with impunity in Ceará state.
There was a spate of multiple homicides in São Paulo in which the perpetrators were suspected of having links to police death squads and criminal gangs. According to official figures, between January and the end of September, 240 people had been killed in 68 separate incidents across the capital and greater São Paulo.Top of page
Torture was widespread at the point of detention and in police cells, prisons and juvenile detention systems.
Prisons remained severely overcrowded and inmates were held in conditions amounting to cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment. The authorities had effectively lost control of many facilities, leading to a series of riots and homicides.
In November, following criticism by the state Human Rights Commission and local NGOs, the Espírito Santo state authorities closed the Judicial Police Department in Vila Velha, which had been holding up to eight times as many prisoners as it was designed to house and which had been the subject of repeated torture allegations. The controversial use of shipping containers to house prisoners in several units was also stopped. Nevertheless, inspections by the National Council of Justice reported continuing problems, including overcrowding and insanitary conditions, especially in the Tucum Women’s Prison.
At the end of the year, proposals for a federal law to introduce preventative mechanisms in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture – ratified by Brazil in 2007 – remained stalled in the Office of the President’s Chief of Staff. Meanwhile, two states, Alagoas and Rio de Janeiro, approved laws to implement the Optional Protocol in May and June respectively.Top of page
Hundreds died and tens of thousands were made homeless in floods that swept across São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Alagoas and Pernambuco states in the first half of the year. The floods exposed the inadequacy of much of the housing and the negligence of authorities in addressing clear potential risks.
Other communities faced threats of forced eviction due to infrastructure works planned for the World Cup and the Rio Olympics.
Indigenous Peoples fighting for their constitutional rights to traditional lands continued to face discrimination, threats and violence. The situation was particularly grave in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where Guarani-Kaiowá communities faced persistent persecution from gunmen hired by local farmers. In spite of efforts on the part of federal prosecutors to speed up the process to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples to traditional lands, the process remained stalled.
The Guarani-Kaiowá communities of Y’poí, Ita’y Ka’aguyrusu and Kurusú Ambá in the south of Mato Grosso do Sul state were harassed and attacked by hired gunmen. In the community of Kurusú Ambá, a three-year-old Indigenous boy died after suffering bouts of diarrhoea in September. At the time the security situation had been deemed so dangerous that the Federal Health Agency had suspended visits.
Threats and violence against landless workers continued, often carried out by gunmen hired by farmers. Few cases were adequately investigated.
Degrading labour conditions persisted across Brazil. In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery visited Brazil. She concluded that forced labour and “slave-like” practices were most prevalent in the cattle sector, followed by sugar cane plantations. She urged the federal authorities to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow for the expropriation of land where forced labour is used. The amendment, which was proposed in 1999, remained stalled in Congress at the end of the year.Top of page
By the end of the year the National Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders had expanded its operations to six states. However, inconsistent funding and a lack of co-ordination between state and federal authorities meant that many human rights defenders included in the programme remained without protection.
Brazil continued to lag behind the rest of the region in its response to grave human rights violations committed during the military era. In April, the Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to interpretations of the 1979 Amnesty Law. Current interpretations have resulted in impunity for officers accused of grave human rights violations including torture, rape and enforced disappearance during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85).
By the end of the year, President Lula had not fully complied with a 2009 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering that compensation be paid to the family of landless worker Sétimo Garibaldi. According to witnesses, Sétimo Garibaldi was shot dead by hooded gunmen on the Fazenda São Francisco, in Querência do Norte in the north-east of Paraná state, in November 1998.Top of page