Children paint a mural with the names of victims of violence inside slums during a protest against the World Cup and military police at the Chapeu Mangueira slum in Rio de Janeiro on June 23, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Sao Paulo) – Brazil needs to do more to address the problems of torture, unlawful police killings, and inhumane prison conditions, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015.

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price. The chapter on Brazil highlights the most troubling human rights trends in the country and assesses steps the government has taken to address them.

“While state and federal authorities have taken encouraging steps to improve human rights practices, the abuses we documented in 2014 show that much more needs to be done,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch.   

Two states that have implemented measures to curb the unlawful use of lethal force by police are Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Yet in 2014 the number of police killings increased by 40 percent and 97 percent respectively.

Torture remains an acute problem. Between January 2012 and June 2014, the national Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office received 5,431 complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Eighty-four percent of the incidents reported were at police stations, jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers.

Brazil’s prison system holds more than half-a-million people – 37 percent over capacity – and many detention facilities are plagued by violence.  

Positive steps taken in 2014 include a resolution by the National Council of Justice setting out basic steps judges should take to investigate cases of possible torture and the appointment of a panel of experts by the National Committee for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture that will conduct visits to detention centers.

The Brazilian Congress should pass pending legislation that could curb the use of torture and help reduce the large number of pretrial detainees sent to the prison system by requiring the authorities to take detainees allegedly caught in the act of committing a crime before a judge for a custody hearing, Human Rights Watch said. Congress should also pass a pending bill that would make it more difficult for police to cover up unlawful killings.

The release of the final report by the National Truth Commission was a landmark achievement for Brazil, providing a long-overdue official account of the abuses committed by the military dictatorship.

On the international stage, Brazil has had a mixed record on human rights. It has played a positive role at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where it supported resolutions on a number of critical human rights situations, and at the UN General Assembly, where it has helped lead efforts to promote privacy in the digital era. Yet it has also withheld support for efforts to apply international pressure on governments engaged in egregious abuses, citing the principle of non-interference.