Brazil’s National Council for Prosecutors, the government body overseeing the country’s prosecutors, took a major step yesterday by approving a resolution that could mean significant human rights improvements for the more than 10,000 adults with disabilities living in institutions in Brazil.  

A group of persons with disabilities in a yard in an institution in Rio de Janeiro. Residents are taken outside for a few hours during the day but spend most of the time confined to their beds. © 2018 Human Rights Watch

The new resolution requires prosecutors to conduct annual inspections of institutions for adults with disabilities and take legal action against institutions for abuses or failings in their management obligations. Unfortunately, the resolution does not cover Brazil’s health system, which also manages numerous long-term institutions for people with disabilities. The new resolution replaces a non-binding recommendation on inspections, which in practice meant little prosecutorial oversight.  

Human Rights Watch has documented abuse and neglect in institutions in Brazil against people with disabilities, many of whom are placed there as children and remain for life, deprived of making choices about their lives. We found dire conditions in many of these institutions, including use of physical and chemical restraints, inadequate health services, and deprivation of the legal capacity of those institutionalized. Some people reported that just to leave the institution if they want to, they were required to obtain their family’s permission. Prosecutorial oversight is essential to prevent and remedy abuses. We have called for regular, thorough inspections to end abuses inside institutions, as well as accelerated efforts to move away from the use of institutions.  

Significantly, the resolution calls on prosecutors to “promote measures for the progressive deinstitutionalization” of people, meaning measures to support people with disabilities to live independently in the community, rather than in institutions. This is a notable recognition by Brazil’s top prosecutorial body of the fundamental human right enjoyed by people with disabilities to decide where, how, and with whom to live, with support as necessary, and that this right is denied to people forced to live in institutions. This means shifting resources into community-based and individualized services, such as personal assistants.  The resolution orders state prosecutors to monitor judicial rulings restricting legal capacity for people with disabilities.

The government’s healthcare and social assistance systems should also ensure that people with disabilities are not forced to live in abusive conditions because of a lack of meaningful choices. Institutionalizing people with disabilities and barring them from leaving unlawfully deprives them of liberty, and it’s time it ended.