Human Rights Watch called for a thorough and objective investigation into the killings of fifteen prisoners during São Paulo's biggest-ever prison uprising.
The prison uprising began Sunday in Carandiru, Latin America's largest prison complex, and quickly spread to twenty-eight other prisons in the state of S? Paulo, Brazil. By mid-day Monday, police had regained control of the prisons and freed large numbers of hostages, but only after fifteen inmates had been killed. According to an eyewitness account reported in the press, police who entered cellblock four of the Casa de Deten˜¬o (located within the Carandiru prison complex) shot three inmates in the back. "The Brazilian authorities have a track record of failing to investigate and punish those responsible for prison killings," said Jos?Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division, referring to the 1992 massacre of 111 inmates at the Casa de Deten˜¬o. "This cycle of impunity must end."
On October 2, 1992, after a riot at the Casa de Deten˜¬o of Carandiru, military police stormed the facility and killed 111 prisoners. After gaining control of the situation, they forced prisoners to strip naked and executed dozens of them, including many who were trying to hide under their beds. No police were injured by gunfire, undermining the official story that the police engaged in a "shootout." The police commander (Col. Ubiratan Guimar?s) was later elected to the S? Paulo State Legislative Assembly. Nine years after the fact, not a single officer has been convicted of participation in the killings.
In April 2000, the Inter-American Commission condemned Brazil for the massacre, finding that the government had violated the prisoners' rights to life and bodily integrity. The commission specifically criticized the Brazilian authorities' failure to investigate, prosecute, and punish the police responsible for the killings.
As Human Rights Watch noted in its 1998 report on prison conditions in Brazil, the 1992 Carandiru massacre was just the bloodiest of a continuing series of brutal incidents in Brazil's prisons. The report documented a number of other instances of extrajudicial killings of inmates, as well as torture and other violent abuses.
The report, available on the web at Behind Bars in Brazil, also describes inhuman levels of overcrowding, abuse by guards, frequent and uncontrolled prisoner-on-prisoner violence, a lack of basic services, and a failure to treat serious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. In the wake of the latest round of violence, the international monitoring organization urged state prison authorities to implement needed reforms to reduce overcrowding, improve detention conditions, and provide inmates with basic services.
Since Human Rights Watch released its report, prison populations in Brazil, and in S? Paulo in particular, have grown rapidly, and conditions have not improved. At present, the country incarcerates more than 200,000 people, nearly half of them in S? Paulo.