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Brazil Slow on Human Rights Reform

Rights Group Urges President Cardoso to Implement 1996 Human Rights Plan

The Cardoso administration has yet to adequately put into practice its 1996 human rights plan, Human Rights Watch charged today in a fourteen-page letter to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

In the open letter, issued on the third anniversary of the announcement of the human rights plan, the New York-based group called for immediate action to curb abuses, particularly summary executions and torture by police, and to remedy abysmal prison conditions.

"When Cardoso released the plan three years ago, we congratulated him and Brazil," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "But today, we're disappointed. Human rights have taken a back seat on Cardoso's agenda."

More than two hundred Brazilian and international human rights organizations participated in the drafting of the rights plan, the first of its kind in the Americas. Human Rights Watch took part in workshops led by the Ministry of Justice between September 1995 and May 1996. The plan, known by its Portuguese acronym "PNDH" (Programa Nacional de Direitos Humanos or National Human Rights Program) seeks to fulfill commitments made by the world's governments at the 1993 United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

The PNDH was designed as a blueprint for action, including 227 proposed measures. Yet without a time frame for implementation, the vast majority of its measures remain a dead letter. For all but a few reforms, there is no anticipated date for implementation.

Police torture and killings, prison massacres, debt bondage, deadly land conflicts, murder of indigenous peoples, domestic violence, impunity for the crimes of the military dictatorship remain prevalent in Brazil. The Human Rights Watch letter to Cardoso addresses each of these seven areas of persistent abuse, highlighting measures needed to respond to each.

"Brazil took the lead in Latin America when it released its human rights plan in 1996," said Vivanco. "But the plan alone is not enough to stop police killings, torture, prison massacres, and rural killings. Vigorous and determined actions are now needed to make this plan a reality."

Among the measures that Human Rights Watch considers most urgent are ones to limit the jurisdiction of the notoriously lenient military courts; to codify certain human rights violations as federal crimes; and to reduce prison overcrowding.

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