The complaint filed with the police by São Paulo’s juvenile detention agency against a leading juvenile rights defender risks intimidating other rights defenders in the state, said Human Rights Watch in a letter to State Governor Cláudio Lembo today.

The agency, known as Febem (Fundação para o Bem Estar do Menor), alleges that Conceição Paganele incited rebellions in its facilities. For months, state authorities have been making statements to the press blaming recent rebellions at Febem’s juvenile offender facilities on the work of civil society organizations monitoring the juvenile detention system.

Paganele is the president of Amar (Association of Mothers and Friends of Adolescents at Risk), a nongovernmental organization recognized nationally and internationally for its work on the defense of human rights, particularly the rights of juvenile offenders in state custody at Febem in the state of São Paulo. Paganele received the National Human Rights Award in 2001 and her association, AMAR, received the same prize in 2003.

"Rather than addressing the chronic problems that fuel rebellions at detention units, Febem has opted to file a complaint against one of the most prominent juvenile rights advocates in the country," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch in the letter. "The complaint, which is apparently based solely on the statements of Febem’s own agents, creates a serious risk that people doing necessary human rights work will be intimidated."

Febem alleges that there are indications of Paganele’s involvement in a series of crimes carrying sentences of up to three years in detention, including "property damage," "inciting crime," "association to commit a crime" and "facilitating an escape of persons legally imprisoned or detained." She is scheduled to give a statement to police on May 12 as part of a police inquiry into the allegations.

The complaint is based on the statements of three detention officers at the Febem facility in the Tatuapé Complex, São Paulo, who allegedly claim that during an April 4 rebellion in the facility, they overheard two juvenile detainees talking on a cell phone to a person who appeared to be advising them on how to proceed. According to the complaint, the officers heard one of the juveniles state that Paganele was the person on the other side of the call.

Pursuant to a policy opening up these facilities to external oversight, Paganele, in conjunction with representatives from other international and national organizations, has been conducting regular visits to Febem detention facilities to observe the conditions of juveniles there. However, in recent months the external oversight policy has come under attack by politicians and others who wish to close the facilities to outsiders.

With other human rights organizations, AMAR has presented complaints regarding human rights violations at Febem detention units, including torture, before the Public Ministry of the State of São Paulo and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Last year the Inter-American Court of Human Rights adopted provisional measures ordering Brazil to take measures to prevent juvenile detainees from being submitted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and investigate allegations of abuse.

"Juvenile detainees in Brazil are often exposed to horrific abuses," said Paulo de Mesquita, Human Rights Watch’s Brazil Researcher. "It is imperative that authorities take this problem seriously, and work with juvenile rights defenders in a transparent and constructive manner to address it."