HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/AMERICAS OVERVIEW
Human Rights Developments
In the Cold War environment of the 1970s and 1980s, governments in the region deflected human rights criticism by accusing those who documented human rights violations of being motivated by ideology, not principle. Though the accusations changed from those of prior years, in much of the region during 1996, human rights groups still faced unfounded criticism designed to discredit their work. Human rights monitors in many countries were accused of favoring criminals when they denounced police brutality or raised questions of due process violations, as if they were seeking to protect those who broke the law from effective law enforcement. In fact, governmental accusations against human rights monitors manipulated the genuine frustration of the region=s populations with high levels of impunity, thus attempting to avoid accountability for their own conduct.
While serious laws of war violations continued to be committed by both sides in Colombia, and largely at the hands of the Shining Path in Peru, in other parts of the region, public security became the central issue. In Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala, citizens reached a point of desperation because of criminal violence and began clamoring for a crackdown on criminals at any cost. Lack of faith in the justice system and frustration with impunity led to lynchings of suspected criminals in Mexico and Guatemala, while in Brazil, many sectors of society welcomed police brutality in crime control. Despite serious due process violations criticized by the international community, Guatemala executed two convicted murderers, the first use of the death penalty outside of the Caribbean and Guyana in a decade. Indeed, Latin America=s trend toward abolition of the death penalty appeared on the verge of being reversed by governments eager to react to public insecurity.
Unfortunately, police forces almost everywhere in the region were part of the problem, rather than the solution, and in many countries were distrusted. A January 1996 survey by one of Brazil=s leading pollsters showed that 88 percent of Rio de Janeiro residents believed the police were involved in organized crime. With very few exceptions, police forces were brutal, corrupt, and negligent in fulfilling their basic duties: investigating and apprehending criminals and protecting the population without committing abuses. Faced with allegations of human rights violations, police tended to close ranks rather than investigate and discipline violators. In many countries, police operated as if law enforcement and protection of human rights were incompatible.
Establishing effective judicial systems and forging professional police forces constituted
an unanswered challenge to the region in 1996, although some positive steps were taken. In Honduras, the National Congress approved the constitutional reforms necessary to pass the main police force from military to civilian control. The earlier transfer of the police investigations unit from military to civilian hands greatly reduced abuses. In Guatemala, the government committed itself to reforming the constitution to remove the military from any involvement in law enforcement as part of ongoing peace talks with guerrillas. Problems with the military police were publicly acknowledged by the federal and some state governments in Brazil. Though São Paulo and other Brazilian state governments took steps to reduce police violence, Rio de Janeiro state authorities irresponsibly promoted Afar west bonus and promotion programs,@ which rewarded police officers for Aneutralizing@ criminals, dead or alive.
In Mexico, federal and state authorities purged corrupt police officers but failed to prosecute those who committed human rights violations. Although the government of Venezuela sought to reorganize the judiciary, it made no significant advances in reforming its brutal and corrupt police force.
Haiti=s newly created civilian police force lost credibility by carrying out acts of brutality and using excessive force. Although the Inspector General=s Office showed initiative in investigating and administratively sanctioning wrongdoers on the force, criminal prosecutions lagged. And in the Dominican Republic, security forces committed more than thirty-five unjustified killings without prosecution.
Several governments in the region demonstrated a greater willingness to acknowledge serious human rights abuse. The government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso abandoned the defensive posture of past Brazilian governments and invited its critics to join him in formulating a National Human Rights Plan. If implemented, the plan would grant ordinary courts jurisdiction over human rights abuses committed by military police and codify the crime of torture, among other measures. The government of Alvaro Arzú acknowledged the existence of gross human rights violations and impunity as the main obstacles to respect for human rights. Argentina=s President Carlos Menem recognized the growing problem of corruption and police brutality in many provinces, including Buenos Aires. Even President Alberto Fujimori of Peru made uncharacteristic acknowledgments of injustices perpetrated by the Afaceless courts@ he set up in 1992 to try those accused of terrorism and treason.
Some governments also put into effect measures aimed at addressing persistent problems. The government of Guatemala announced the dissolution of the nationwide network of civil patrols, which had terrorized the countryside by committing serious abuses for fifteen years, and enacted legislation to give civilian courts jurisdiction over common crimes committed by the military. Peru=s Congress finally agreed on the naming of the country=s first human rights ombudsman, Jorge Santistevan, who quickly became active in promoting human rights. At Santistevan=s initiative, the Congress approved a law creating a special commission to review the hundreds of cases of prisoners unjustly prosecuted by the faceless courts and make recommendations for presidential pardons. Unfortunately, Peru=s Congress voted in October to extend the use of faceless courts for another year.
President Arzú took steps to increase civilian control over the military in Guatemala with the unprecedented removal of senior military officers accused of corruption. President Menem retired three of the country=s top military officers, whom he deemed insufficiently supportive of his military reforms, leaving in his post army leader Gen. Martín Balza, who in 1995 had apologized publicly for the role of the army in the 1976-1983 Adirty war.@
Bolivia=s minister of justice, René Blattman, successfully pressed for measures to alleviate human rights violations related to counternarcotics policies, promoting legislative reform and setting up a government office to collect human rights complaints in the coca-growing Chapare region. In Mexico, President Ernesto Zedillo incorporated the language of human rights into his public discourse. This proved to be mainly symbolic, however; he took no meaningful action to address Mexico=s enduring problems of abuses and impunity for human rights violations.
Other authorities rejected criticism outright. In what amounted to a reversal of his earlier support for human rights reform, President Ernesto Samper of Colombia, in an October 1 speech, recklessly dismissed criticism of Colombia=s abysmal human rights record by asking, AWhat liberties and what human rights are valid amid anarchy and violence?@
The government of Rafael Caldera in Venezuela also displayed little tolerance for human rights criticism. In contrast with Venezuela=s traditional openness, the government rejected credible reports from human rights monitors as well as the U.S. State Department.
The government of the state of Rio de Janeiro departed from the stance of Brazil=s federal government, a significant fact for human rights in the state. On the day that Human Rights Watch/Americas released its January 1996 report on police violence, the governor responded, AWe ought to stop these lies.... They should worry about what is going on in Serbia.@ The Mexican government permitted an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights delegation to conduct an on-site investigation for the first time, but its Foreign Ministry continued to reject the findings of well-documented reports by nongovernmental human rights organizations.
Many of the region=s most serious human rights problems endured. Police and military forces routinely tortured detainees and criminal suspects, especially in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. None of these countriesCwith the exception of MexicoChad modified their domestic legislation to specifically codify the crime of torture and establish effective judicial remedies for victims, as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which each of these countries are state parties. In Mexico, the courts failed to enforce legislation prohibiting torture, even in
cases where evidence of torture existed.
Brazilian military police continued to commit unjustified killings in the course of official duty. In April, military police killed nineteen squatters blocking a highway in the Amazon state of Pará.
In Cuba, the government systematically violated the rights of freedom of expression, association, assembly, privacy, and due process of law. The Cuban penal code provided a solid legal foundation for the suppression of political dissident.
In Colombia, political killings by the army, police, guerrillas, and paramilitary groups claimed an average of six lives a day in the first nine months of the year, and the government gave the army broad powers to respond to public disturbances, including non-violent protests.
Armed opposition forces engaged in political assassinations in both Colombia and Peru at an alarming level. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continued to use kidnapping as a means of financing its activities. The National Liberation Army (ELN) continued to use landmines indiscriminately throughout Colombia, leaving many civilian victims. The Shining Path in Peru was responsible for more than 200 political killings, including the March 6 assassination of community leader Pascuala Rosado Cornejo of Huaycán, after which they sought to blow up her body.
Throughout the region, impunity for human rights violations prevailed. Initiatives by the Arzú government in Guatemala failed to curb impunity, while fear of reprisals and incompetence on the part of judicial authorities combined with obstruction by the army led to setbacks in several notorious cases. The Chilean Supreme Court failed to seek justice for past human rights violations by systematically applying the amnesty law decreed by the military government in 1978. As in Chile, the amnesty law promoted by President Fujimori in Peru blocked the investigation and punishment of gross human rights violations.
In Honduras, the failure by police to enforce warrants undermined the efforts of civilian authorities to bring military officers who conducted Adisappearances@ and torture to account.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights monitors continued to face threats and physical violence without effective investigation, prosecution, or punishment of those responsible. On October 13, a gunman shot dead Josué Giraldo Cardona, a lawyer with the Civic Committee of Meta, Colombia, whose members have suffered systematic persecution by the army and paramilitary groups for years.
On October 20, human rights lawyer Francisco Gilson Nogueira de Carvalho was killed by machine-gun fire in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Nogueira had been investigating connections between death squads and local authorities. In August, federal police opened a criminal investigation and a military judge filed a civil suit for alleged defamation by our Brazil office director, James Cavallaro, who wrote a newspaper column criticizing the acquittal of military officers accused of torture. Both cases were pending at the time of this writing.
In Mexico, human rights monitors faced serious threats, including those working for the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center. The center=s director, Father David Fernández, and staff were threatened, apparently in response to the organization=s documentation of military and police human rights violations. David Fernández was among those that Human Rights Watch honored in 1996 for their defense of human rights.
The Cuban government continued to prosecute human rights monitors and prevent access to the island by international rights experts, including the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Cuba, Amb. Carl-Johan Groth.
The Role of the International Community
The U.N. continued to play an effective role in Guatemala, through its human rights verification mission, MINUGUA, and through moderating important accords as part of the process towards a final peace agreement. Two years after MINUGUA opened its doors in November 1994, its countrywide presence greatly contributed to a significant reduction in politically motivated assassinations, Adisappearances,@ and instances of torture.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission decided to open a permanent office in Colombia, under the auspices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to report on human rights violations. As of this writing, the office had yet to be opened.
In July, the U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a devastating report on Peru, recommending an end to the use of faceless courts, a repeal of the amnesty law, and dismissal from public service of human rights violators.
Prof. Nigel Rodley, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, released a critical report on Chile and conducted an on-site investigation in Venezuela.
Organization of American States
The crisis that paralyzed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 1995 was in part addressed with the appointment of a new executive secretary, which allowed the commission in 1996 to renew its forceful efforts to improve human rights practices in the hemisphere. One example of the commission=s revitalization was the granting of dozens of injunctions, sometimes with the participation of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to protect the lives of those facing imminent danger.
Unfortunately, the commission=s annual report failed for the first time in over twenty years to include country-specific analyses, which resulted in a loss of what had been an important tool to promote human rights.
The court issued important rulings on cases of Adisappearances@ and extrajudicial executions. However, the court=s decisions did not further develop jurisprudence to advance human rights protection, as they had in previous years.
As they have in past years, some countries, most notably Peru, Mexico, and Chile, proposed initiatives that would, if carried out, undermine the work of the IACHR. Under the pretext of strengthening the inter-American system for human rights protection, they campaigned in 1996 for reforms of the American Convention on Human Rights that would limit access to the commission by nongovernmental organizations and increase regional governments= political control over the system. These countries also promoted stricter confidentiality in the commission=s findings, as opposed to the transparency that would foster greater respect for human rights.
Free trade and antinarcotics effortsCnot human rights protectionClay at the center of Washington=s concerns for the region. The State Department=s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices continued to reflect accurately the human rights problems in most countries, and the administration kept an open door to human rights monitors. Nonetheless, it pursued no comprehensive policy to encourage human rights protection. At the same time, administration efforts to address past abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department were notably inadequate.
Washington=s apparent desire to cover up relations maintained by the CIA with human rights abusers obstructed Haitian efforts to prosecute human rights violators. The White House refused to return to Haitian authorities thousands of documents and items seized during the 1994 military intervention or to deport Emmanuel AToto@ Constant, the former paramilitary leader wanted for numerous egregious human rights abuses allegedly committed while on the CIA payroll.
The CIA=s unwillingness to declassify documents related to human rights also limited prosecutors= work in Guatemala and Honduras. Although the State Department declassified many documents about Guatemala, the CIA and Defense Department failed to follow suit. Nor have those agencies responded to repeated requests by Honduran authorities for documents regarding Battalion 3-16, a secret military death squad that operated with CIA assistance in the early 1980s in Honduras.
The release in September by the Defense Department of excerpts from training manuals used by the School of the Americas in courses for Latin American military officers until 1991 confirmed critics= assertions that the school instructed its officer students to violate human rights. The manuals recommended assassinations and torture against guerrillas. In October, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry apologized for the instructions and promised to review the school=s curriculum. This fell far short of what was needed: a thorough and independent investigation with appropriate penalties.
In June, the executive branch=s Intelligence Oversight Board concluded its investigation of the role of the CIA with regard to a number of human rights violations committed against U.S. citizens or their relatives in Guatemala. The report concluded that agency assets, or local employees, had committed serious human rights violations while on the U.S. payroll, but it failed to recommend adequate steps to prevent recurrence.
Each of these elements revealed a covert policy of support for methods, individuals, and institutions that violated human rights. Although the most serious abuses occurred during past administrations, the current U.S. leadership bore responsibility for investigating and punishing those who carried out the abuses, a task it largely failed to undertake.
Spurred by the Congress, the administration tightened its decades-old embargo on Cuba, a policy tool which has not only been ineffective in bringing about an improvement in human rights conditions, but has prevented the free exchange of information in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To some extent, the embargo=s ineffectiveness resulted from the fact that it was not part of a principled human rights policy but was instead a blunt tool for the overthrow of the Fidel Castro government.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Americas
Our work in 1996 focused on seven countriesCBrazil, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, and PeruCwhere the nature and extent of the violations, and the response of the state, raised urgent human rights concerns. We conducted missions, published reports, and advocated changes to improve the human rights situations in these countries, as well as highlighting thematic issues that arose elsewhere, such as human rights abuse associated with the drug war in Bolivia together with the Human Rights Watch special initiative on drugs and human rights; police brutality in Argentina and Paraguay, through meetings with Presidents Carlos Menem and Juan Carlos Wasmosy; and prison conditions in Venezuela.
In Brazil, our representative in Rio de Janeiro worked closely with local human rights groups, contributed to the elaboration of the government=s National Human Rights Plan, and published articles in Brazil=s major newspapers. Much of our work in 1996 focused on police brutality. In Colombia, we documented human rights violations by paramilitary groups allied with the military, the role of the U.S., as well as violations of the laws of war by government and guerrilla forces.
We encouraged European governments to adopt a more active role in pressing for meaningful change in Cuba. Although European governments have developed influence with the Castro government through dialogue and investment, they have not used this influence to secure meaningful human rights reforms. A representative of Human Rights Watch/Americas traveled to European capitals to discuss Cuban issues with European government officials.
In Guatemala, we strongly advocated that any amnesty law enacted not grant impunity for human rights violations or similar abuses by guerrillas, meeting with President Arzú, Defense Minister Gen. Julio Balconi, and U.N. representatives. One of our long-term objectives, the dissolution of the civil patrols, was announced in August, when its phased implementation began. As part of a friendly settlement negotiation with the governmentCbased on a suit we filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human RightsCthe first patrols to be dissolved were the abusive Colotenango patrols.
In Mexico, we monitored rural violence, torture by police, and the failings of the justice system. Together with the International Labor Rights Fund and Mexico=s National Association of Democratic Lawyers, we filed a labor rights petition under provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was accepted for review by the U.S. Labor Department=s National Administration Office. The Women=s Rights Project of Human Rights Watch documented sexual discrimination in Mexico=s maquiladora sector, including pregnancy testing of prospective female employees, (See Women=s Rights Project).
In Haiti, we pressed for accountability for abuses committed under past and current governments. In addition, we documented abuses by the new police force. Our Haiti researcher discussed these issues with President René Préval in June.
Within Peru, we continued to focus on violations committed by the faceless court system, urging an independent review of cases tried before these courts.
The failure of most countries in the region to establish accountability for human rights violations necessitated our continued use of the inter-American system to seek justice in individual cases. In partnership with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which took the lead, and domestic human rights groups throughout the region, we were involved in nearly one hundred cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and some cases pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Human Rights Developments
The year in Brazil was marked by the striking contrast between the laudable goals extolled by the federal government in its National Human Rights Plan (hereinafter, the Plan) and the grave human rights violations that continued to occur. On April 19, less than a month before the release of the PlanCan historic initiative composed of a comprehensive series of short-, medium- and long-term measures designed to prevent and redress grave human rights abuse in BrazilCMilitary Police near the town of Eldorado do Carajás, in the Amazon state of Pará, opened fire into a crowd of landless squatters, killing nineteen and wounding dozens of others. The Eldorado do Carajás massacre instantly became a symbol of the abuses committed by state agents and third parties in the increasingly tense conflicts between squatters, large landowners, and police over land. Violations in other areas such as forced labor, urban police violence, prison conditions, abuses against minors, women, indigenous peoples, and other minority groups such as transvestites, continued.
The May 13 release of the National Human Rights Plan capped eight months of effort by the Ministry of Justice in conjunction with Brazilian and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) since the president announced the plan on September 7, 1995, Brazilian Independence Day. Human Rights Watch/Americas, among the international organizations invited to assist in the drafting process, participated in meetings with other NGOs and government officialsCincluding Justice Minister Nelson Jobim and Attorney General Geraldo BrindeiroCto express our views on the plan. The fact that the plan was a product of the joint efforts of government agents and NGOs marked an important shift in the federal government=s approach to the issue of human rights. Since the election of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, federal authorities have consistently recognized the existence of grave human rights violations, often citing NGOs as the source of their information, and have sought to work together with members of civil society to address these violations. The plan constitutes a first critical step beyond mere recognition of abuses. Still, almost two years after election, the Cardoso administration has been unable to pass legislation to achieve the goals elaborated in the plan. This failure, as explained below, resulted primarily from a lack of cooperation by other sectors of the federal government.
For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to oppose ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Both would force Brazil to submit itself to the jurisdiction of international bodies authorized to examine claims of human rights abuse. As a result, only the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights could consider individual violations by Brazil.
The plan consists of a series of measures, which, with a few exceptions, must pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president in order to become law. One of the key measures contained in the plan, known as the ABicudo law@ (named for long-time human rights activist and Congressman Hélio Bicudo), would transfer from military to ordinary courts the jurisdiction over crimes committed by uniformed police officers. On May 9, just days before release of the plan, the Senate defeated the original draft of the Bicudo law, substituting a weakened version that transferred jurisdiction only in cases of murder, and then only once the case had proceeded to trial. Rejection of the original Bicudo law was widely received as a sign that the Senate would not cooperate with the president on the plan. Indeed at the time that this report was written more than six months after the plan=s release, none of its measures in the area of public security had passed the Senate.
One key element of the plan concerns the codification of the crime of torture. Ironically, on the very day that the Chamber of Deputies voted to approve legislation criminalizing torture, security agents of the Chamber of Deputies beat to unconsciousness magazine salesman Severino de Araújo Maciel to force him to sign a false confession. This contrast demonstrated the vast gulf between law and practice in this area. In 1996, torture continued to be practiced on a routine basis in police precincts throughout Brazil, by methods including the use of electric shocks, near-drownings, burning with cigarette butts, and the rape of criminal suspects with nightsticks, broomhandles, and similar objects. In the overwhelming majority of cases, police officers who practiced torture were neither prosecuted nor dismissed. One exception was the August dismissal of two federal police officers involved in the October 1995 death of José Ivanildo Sampaio de Souza after his detention and torture in Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceará. The decree determining the officers= dismissal was signed by President Cardoso, in accordance with Brazilian civil service law. Though clearly an important step, the dismissal of these two police underscored the need for reform of the civil service provisions that guarantee employment to police involved in grave human rights abuses, pending extended administrative proceedings. For instance, the 120 police officers involved in the 1992 massacre of 111 detainees at the Carandiru prison facility, in São Paulo, continued to serve actively. Many of those involved were promoted within the Military Police. Similarly, all of the military police involved in the April 1996 Eldorado do Carajás massacre continued to serve on active duty.
The constructive attitude of the Cardoso administration constituted a welcome relief from the hostile, anti-human rights policies of many Brazilian state government authorities. This tension between the generally pro-human rights position of the federal government and the entrenched, often violent policies of many states constituted perhaps the greatest obstacle to the effective implementation of the National Human Rights plan. In Brazil=s federal system, state governments maintain vast authority, over public security in particular. In many states, governmental authorities failed to curb abuses; in several instances, as detailed below, they promoted policies that violated fundamental human rights.
Police violence, particularly unjustified killings and summary executions, intensified in Brazil=s major cities and in rural conflicts. In the City of Rio de Janeiro, press figures based on analysis of police reports noted a nearly six-fold increase in the number of civilians killed by military police from just over three (3.2) per month to more than twenty (20.55) per month since Gen. Nilton Cerqueira took over as head of the police in the State of Rio de Janeiro in May 1995. This surge in police killings was widely seen as linked to two policies given priority by the State Secretariat of Public Security. The first promotedCand the second authorized a pay raise for braveryCthus advertising that officers involved in fatal shootings which, at a minimum, raised doubts as to the veracity of the versions offered by the police involved, would be honored. General Nilton Cerqueira, head of police forces in Rio, refused to consider our recommendation in an August interview that the pay raise and promotion for bravery only be available in cases with no civilian fatalities. Cerqueira told Human Rights Watch/Americas during that interview that Acrooks are not civilians@ and that Acrooks are crooks, dead or alive.@
In the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, Deputy Secretary of Public Security Maurílio Pinto de Medeiros continued in that position despite vast evidence of his supervision of a death squad composed primarily of civil police officers. The State Prosecutor=s Office determined that the death squad was responsible for at least thirty-one homicides and indicted several of its participants. Pinto de Medeiros faced charges in at least two incidents, and the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies requested that he be dismissed. Despite this, in a July 1996 interview, Col. Sebastião Américo de Souza, Pinto de Medeiros=s direct supervisor, told Human Rights Watch/Americas that the latter would remain in his post because Athere was nothing on him.@
Grave allegations of urban police violence also surfaced in the Amazon=s major cities. In Manaus, press reports in late May exposed a death squad run by police officers responsible for killing twenty-two people. The victims were believed to be criminal suspects, detained and killed by the death squad. In Rio Branco, capital of the Amazonian state of Acre, a special operations battalion composed of military policemen went on a killing rampage to avenge the death of a police officer at the hands of a reputed drug dealer. According to a local prosecutor, the operations battalion cut off the arms, legs and genitals of one victim before gouging out his eyes and killing him.
In contrast to authorities in many other states, São Paulo government officials took several important measures to reduce police violence and professionalize the police force. In September 1995, the secretary of public security created a program to track officers involved in fatal shootings, providing them with psychological counseling and removing them from active duty, at least temporarily. The secretariat also created the position of ombudsman for human rights. In its first six months of operation, the ombudsman=s office received and responded to 1,241 complaints, including 126 complaints of police violence. Largely as a result of these programs, the number of civilians killed by the São Paulo Military Police fell from roughly 500 in 1995 to 104 in the first six months of 1996. In August, Human Rights Watch/Americas representatives met with the governor of São Paulo and his cabinet to express support for their efforts to reduce police brutality.
Similarly, authorities in the northeastern state of Pernambuco made significant advances in the battle to prosecute violent police, death squad members (many of whom were police) and those involved in organized crime. In January 1996, the state government created a witness protection program in conjunction with the prestigious nongovernmental Office of Support for Popular Organizations (Gabinete de Assessoria as Organizacoes Populares, GAJOP). In its first six months of existence, the program assisted thirty-seven people in danger.
Witness protectionCor its lackCwas highlighted when Wagner dos Santos, the key witness in the July 1993 Candelaria massacre of eight sleeping street children in downtown Rio de Janeiro, returned to Brazil for the trial of the first of seven military police officers charged in the crime. Dos Santos, who survived being shot three times during the Candelaria incident and a December 1994 attack on his life, had been forced to leave Brazil. His protection, survival, and testimony were critical to the April 1996 conviction of former military police officer Marcus Vinicius Borges Emmanuel. Significantly, Officer Borges Emmanuel was tried and convicted to an extended prison term before a jury, rather than a five-judge military tribunal, because the killings were committed while the police involved were off-duty. Another Rio de Janeiro jury convicted Officer Borges Emmanuel in his second trial several months later. Two other police officers and a third person involved in the sale of a weapon used to kill the children were scheduled to be tried by the end of 1996.
Another important step forward in the battle to end impunity was the August conviction of Osvaldo Rocha Pereira for the 1987 murder of rural leader Paulo Fontelles. Rocha Pereira was hired to kill Fontelles by a security firm working for local landowners in the state of Pará. Underscoring the importance of prompt criminal investigation, Rocha Pereira had been at large for several years, and was brought to Pará to stand trial following his arrest on charges of involvement in death squads in the Baixada Fluminense section of Rio de Janeiro that had claimed the lives of dozens.
On September 20, the federal government and the state of São Paulo signed an accord to destroy the chronically overcrowded Carandiru prison facility and to build twenty smaller, better-run facilities. Human Rights Watch/Americas visited Carandiru in August and verified the abysmal conditions there. Carandiru, which in 1996 housed roughly 6,400 prisoners in units designed for 3,200 inmates, was the site of an October 1992 massacre in which State Military Police killed 111 detainees while suffering no fatalities themselves. At this writing, no one had been brought to trial for the massacre.
Prison conditions throughout Brazil continued to violate international standards. Brazilian prison facilities remained overcrowded: Ministry of Justice figures released in October 1996 showed that more than 148,000 persons were held in facilities designed to accommodate roughly half that number of prisoners. Thousands of detainees and convicted prisoners were routinely held for weeks, months, and even years in holding cells within police precincts because of a lack of prison space. In larger facilities, revolts, like the March 29, 1996 incident in Goiânia in which prisoners seized a delegation composed of Goiás State authorities, holding them for almost a week, were not uncommon.
Detention conditions for minors also continued to be abysmal. In May, Human Rights Watch/Americas joined a group of Brazilian NGOs and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in a petition denouncing horrendous conditions in three detention centers for minors in Rio de Janeiro. In those centers, youths were not separated according to age, size, or the gravity of the crime committed. Older, more violent youths abused others, both sexually and by beatings, apparently with the complicity of authorities of the detention centers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Brazilian government to take immediate measures to separate the adolescents held in the three centers by age, size, and criminal infraction in correspondences sent in May and again in August, and the government initiated construction to comply with the commission=s recommendations.
Increasingly violent conflict over land made headlines throughout 1996. On April 19 in Eldorado do Carajás, Pará, in order to evict a group of nearly 2,000 families occupying a state highway to force negotiations, the Pará state military blocked off opposite ends of the road, trapping the landless squatters. After a brief scuffle in which squatters tossed rocks and sticks, the police opened fire into the crowd of men, women, and children. The result was nineteen dead squatters and dozens of wounded. Coroners= reports demonstrated that several of the victims had been hacked to death with their own sickles and other farming instruments, killed from behind or at point-blank range. After the incident, the police registry of weapons could not be located. None of the surviving squatters were asked to identify individually the police officers involved. Three months after the killings, the State Prosecutor=s office submitted a poorly supported indictment to the military courts.
In the aftermath of the massacre, more than 120 police were detained for four days in their barracks. Several officers were confined to their barracks for up to fifteen days, and the commander, Colonel Pantojas, was detained for thirty. At this writing, none of those involved was in detention, and, due to a recent amendment in military court jurisdiction, it remained unclear whether the case would continue in the military or ordinary courts.
Though particularly extreme, the Eldorado do Carajás massacre was not the only case of fatal violence over land in Brazil. According to the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, CPT), through mid-September, at least forty-three people had been killed in land conflicts nationwide. In all of 1995, the CPT documented forty-one such deaths.
The CPT also continued to document grave cases of forced labor and degrading labor conditions approximating forced labor throughout Brazil. Figures for 1996 were not available at the time this report was released. Figures for 1995 showed that the number of individuals subjected to forced labor had risen to 26,047 from a 1994 figure of 25,193, according to the CPT.
In January, the government provoked concern among those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples when it issued Decree 1775/96 strengthening the procedural rights of large landowners and others claiming title to traditional indigenous people=s lands and threatened the stability of tribal areas which were in the process of demarcation. At this writing, the Ministry of Justice had rejected the vast majority of new land claims, although it had as yet not taken concrete action with respect to eight claims.
One important area of improvement was the passage on December 4, 1995 of Law 9,140/95, which authorized compensation for the family members of 136 persons Adisappeared@ during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), and established a seven-member commission to investigate additional claims for compensation in cases of state-authorized killings during the military dictatorship. Throughout 1996 the commission evaluated numerous requests for indemnification and had authorized payment to at least one hundred families by early October.
The Right to Monitor
The Brazilian government imposed no formal obstacles to human rights monitoring, and Brazil continued to maintain a well developed network of human rights NGOs. As in prior years, these groups nonetheless encountered threats, intimidation, and physical violence from police and large landowners.
On October 20, human rights lawyer Francisco Gilson Nogueira de Carvalho was killed by machine-gun fire in an apparent targeted execution while returning to his home in Macaíba in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Nogueira had been actively investigating the participation of police in Rio Grande do Norte in a death squad reportedly coordinated by Deputy Secretary of State Maurílio Pinto de Medeiros.
In several instances in 1996, courts were used to intimidate and harass monitors with groundless suits based on their defense of fundamental rights. In August, Father Antônio Ribeiro of the CPT office in João Pessoa, capital of the northeastern state of Paraiba, was sentenced to a four-year and ten-month prison term for the crime of conspiracy, resisting arrest, trespassing, and failure to obey a judicial order. The conviction resulted from the priest=s defense of poor, rural laborers involved in land disputes.
In another misuse of criminal investigation to harass human rights monitors, the Federal Police opened an inquiry in August to investigate charges that Human Rights Watch/Americas= Brazil office director James Cavallaro had criminally slandered a federal judge in an April article published in the Rio de Janeiro daily, O Globo. The article published in O Globo criticized an oral sentence in which, according to press accounts, Judge Mário César Machado Monteiro had sought to justify the use of torture to interrogate criminal suspects. Despite the fact that his decision was criticized by numerous public figures, including the minister of justice, Monteiro filed separate civil suits against Cavallaro, the Rio de Janeiro daily Jornal do Brasil and two judges for defamation because of their criticism of his decision.
The Role of the United States
In 1996, the U.S. gave relatively little direct assistance to Brazil. For Fiscal Year 1996, the administration requested $200,000 for training through the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) and $1 million in anti-narcotics assistance. In October, the Brazilian government refused $600,000 authorized for anti-narcotics assistance, arguing that the amount was insignificant in comparison to the aid given to other South American nations.
In September, the U.S. Embassy sponsored the visit of Gene Shur, director of the F.B.I.=s witness protection program. The visit highlighted the need for a federal witness protection program.
The State Department=s analysis of Brazil in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 accurately summarized the principal human rights abuses committed in Brazil. The report focused on the failings of the administration of justice, in particular the inefficiency and corruption of the judicial process which rendered convictions of those who violated human rights extremely difficult.
Human Rights Developments
Chile made slow progress in promoting human rights reforms, due to continuing opposition from the military and political right and the failure of the government of President Eduardo Frei to press for advances. Human rights violations from the past remained an openly debated and tense issue, as the Supreme Court and military appeals court continued to close unresolved Adisappearance@ cases, applying an amnesty law enacted by the military government that left power in 1990. Authorities downplayed abuses by the Carabineros police, including torture, while civilian and military officials used the courts to try to silence their critics.
The National Corporation of Reparation and Reconciliation (Corporación Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación, CNRR), a government body set up in 1991 to continue investigating human rights violations that occurred during the military government, delivered its final report in August. Its investigations confirmed 899 more deaths and Adisappearances@ than had been documented by its predecessor, the Rettig Commission, bringing the total number of victims of such crimes during the seventeen-year period to 3,197.
Debate continued on the future of court investigations into such cases. Political negotiations on the so-called Figueroa-Otero proposals broke down in April. The bill, named for Minister of the Interior Carlos Figueroa and opposition leader Miguel Otero, was the latest in a series of unsuccessful government proposals aimed at ending court investigations into human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship. In exchange for curbing court actions, a concession to the military, the government had proposed several reforms to democratize Chile=s 1980 Constitution, crafted by the military government. However, right-wing opposition leaders refused to accept the reforms, while left-wing members of the government coalition rejected legitimizing the amnesty law. Tensions surrounding the issue remained unresolved.
Regardless of the proposed Figueroa-Otero bill, the Supreme Court continued to apply Chile=s amnesty law. During the first half of the year it closed six cases of Adisappearances@ and extrajudicial executions, involving twelve victims; the Martial Court, or military appeals court, amnestied eleven cases, involving sixteen victims. Human Rights Watch/Americas met with the president of the Supreme Court to press for stronger human rights action on such cases.
The Supreme Court continued to close human rights cases in the second half of the year. For example, in August, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court did so in a case involving the torture and murder in 1976 of Spanish United Nations official Carmelo Soria, and gave amnesty to two army officers implicated, Guillermo Salinas Torres and José Ríos San Martín. The case had been reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court in 1994 on the grounds that the amnesty was inapplicable due to Chile=s obligations under an international convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against diplomats. In June 1996, the investigating judge, Eliodoro Ortiz, declared the amnesty applicable, arguing that Soria did not have diplomatic status and that the treaty in question had been misinterpreted. The Supreme Court, despite its earlier verdict, ruled unanimously in support of this view. A group of parliamentarians tabled an unsuccessful impeachment motion against the judges who made the decision.
The Supreme Court also closed the case of Lumi Videla, who was detained by agents belonging to the secret police known as the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA) in September 1974 and held for several weeks in a secret detention center in Santiago. Her body was later thrown onto the grounds of the Italian Embassy.
While the Chilean courts tended to close human rights cases, Argentine police arrested Enrique Arancibia Clavel, a former DINA agent, in Buenos Aires, in January. The arrest followed the issuance of an arrest warrant by a federal judge, María Servini de Cubria, for the car-bomb attack that killed former Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Carlos Prats González, then in exile in Buenos Aires, and his wife Sofía, in September 1974. In a positive move, the Chilean government appointed a lawyer to represent it in the Argentine case.
An Uruguayan judge, Aída Vera Barreto, identified a body recovered from a shallow grave on an Uruguayan beach in April 1995 as that of Enrique Berríos, a former DINA chemical weapons expert and an associate of Michael Townley, the former DINA agent convicted in the United States for the murder of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. Berríos had fled Chile in 1991 after being called as a witness in the Letelier case. His whereabouts were unknown until he turned up at a police station in Parque de Plata, Uruguay, in November 1992, and pleaded for assistance, claiming that he had been kidnapped. The police officer in charge offered to help but then returned him to his captors, members of Uruguayan military intelligence, at the insistence of senior Uruguayan military officers.
Abuses by the police, in particular by Carabineros, the uniformed branch, remained an issue of concern. In January, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel. S. Rodley concluded in his report on Chile that cases of torture were Asufficiently numerous and serious for the authorities to continue giving attention to the problem, and to translate official rejection of the practice into specific measures. The rapporteur had transmitted to the government 110 allegations since 1990, and concluded that ill-treatment of detainees bordering on torture was Avery extensive.@ Government officials took issue with the report, including Secretary General of Government José Joaquín Brunner, who said that torture cases were Aisolated.@
Much-needed and far-reaching reforms to the Criminal Procedures Code, presented to Congress by the Ministry of Justice in 1995, were still under debate. The reforms would provide protections for detainees= rights.
Government, military, and police authorities continued to file defamation lawsuits against their critics, using the Law of State Security and the military penal code. In December 1995, Judge Rafael Huerta sentenced political analyst and former Pinochet minister Francisco Javier Cuadra to a suspended sentence of 540 days in prison and a fine of 100,000 pesos (approximately US$242) for a comment he made in a magazine interview alleging that some parliamentarians used cocaine. The Supreme Court upheld the decision after an appeals court ruled in favor of Cuadra. Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) brought this case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October, accusing Chile of violating free expression guarantees.
In May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found Chile to be in breach of the freedom of expression provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights by banning circulation and distribution in Chile of Impunidad Diplomática, a book by Chilean journalist Francisco Martorell, released by Planeta editors in Argentina. Martorell was given a 541-day suspended sentence for libel in September 1995. The commission called on Chile to lift the ban, which amounted to prior censorship, and allow Martorell to return to Chile to promote his book; he was not permitted to promote the volume. Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL litigated on Martorell=s behalf.
On October 29, police arrested Gladys Marín, who was accused of defaming General Pinochet. The president of the Communist Party, Marín had called Pinochet a Ablackmailer@ during a speech marking the anniversary of the 1973 military coup. Others sued for defamation during the year included Socialist Youth leader Arturo Barrios, charged with insulting Gen. Augusto Pinochet at a June 1995 ceremony in memory of Adisappeared@ Socialist leader Carlos Lorca; Nolberto Díaz, president of the Christian Democrat Youth, for comments on a radio show attacking conscription laws; Tomás Hirsch, president of the Humanist Party, for accusing a prison medical team of using unclean hyperdermic needles during a prison HIV test; Manuel Cabieses, director of the left-wing newspaper Punto Final, accused of sedition for a front-page image of Pinochet; and Eduardo Maneses, lead singer of the rap group Black Panthers (Panteras Negras), for insulting the police in the lyrics of its song AWar on the Streets.@
The Right to Monitor
We did not receive any reports that the government prevented or restricted human rights organizations from conducting their investigations and reporting their findings during 1996.
The Role of the International Community
In July, the European Union (E.U.) signed a cooperation agreement with Chile pursuing enhanced economic, financial, and technical cooperation, and enabling Chile to become involved in trade talks between the E.U. and Mercosur. ARespect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights@ constitutes an essential element of the agreement. In June, prior to the signing of the agreement, the European Parliament passed a resolution deploring the Supreme Court decision in the Carmelo Soria case.
Human rights remained a low priority in U.S relations with Chile, and the Clinton administration made no public interventions on human right issues during the year.
In July, U.S. Amb. Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon provoked a stern reaction from the Chilean government when he pointed outCcorrectlyCin an embassy press briefing that the military was not fully subordinated to the civilian power. The ambassador=s comments came in the midst of rumors, sparked by an article in the New York Times, that the Clinton administration was debating allowing sales of high-technology military equipment, such as F-16 fighter planes, to countries in the region. Chilean Minister of Defense Edmundo Pérez Yoma retorted that Guerra-Mondragon was Avery wrong@ in his comments about civil-military relations, and that the armed forces were constitutionally subject to the elected government. The U.S Embassy issued a clarification, stating that the ambassador=s remarks had been taken out of context and saying that the State Department=s annual human rights report noted that Chile=s armed forces were subordinated to the president but enjoyed a Alarge degree of autonomy.@