Human Rights Developments
On October 3, 1994, Brazilians went to the polls to elect a president, twenty-seven governors, state legislators, the full complement of the lower house of the national legislature, and two-thirds of the nation's senators. These elections, which produced the greatest overhaul in public officials since Brazil's return to civilian rule in 1985, proceeded under relatively open and fair conditions. Yet despite this democratic achievement, Brazil continued to be plagued by severe human rights violations in areas ranging from labor conditions approaching slavery to the killing of children and adolescents by off-duty police officers.
Following a presidential campaign replete with controversy and scandal, Fernando Henrique Cardoso emerged triumphant, garnering an absolute majority in the first round, in a field of eight candidates. Given Cardoso's long-term commitment to democratic values and his broad popular mandate, 1994 ended with high hopes for improvement of Brazil's human rights record.
As we reported in previous years, the Brazilian human rights landscape was characterized by official and extraofficial violence committed against persons at the margin of mainstream society. These victims and their representatives found that the protections guaranteed them by Brazilian law were rarely applied, effectively denying them recourse for abuses suffered.
Perhaps the clearest example of the vast distance between legal theory and practice concerned the plight of Brazil's children. Although the recently drafted Children's and Adolescents' Statute guaranteed minors a panoply of rights matched by few countries, the better part of the statute's protections are simply ignored. In 1994, as in previous years, children and adolescents that lived or worked on the streets continued to be subject to severe acts of violence, including homicide. According to statistics summarized by the Gabinete de Assessoria as Organizaçoes Populares (GAJOP), the number of minors killed in the first six months of 1994 in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, one of four states analyzed by Human Rights Watch/Americas in its report Final Justice: Police and Death Squad Homicides of Adolescents in Brazil increased by 94 percent as compared to the same period in 1993: from thirty to fifty-eight. Rio de Janeiro exhibited a similar, though less dramatic increase. According to official figures, 318 minors were homicide victims in the first half of 1994, compared to 298 during the same period of 1993. Those responsible for the crimes, including many former and off-duty policemen, were rarely convicted.
One troubling development in Brazil's major cities has been the increasingly common use of deadly raids on slums (favelas) to attack suspected drug traffickers. In October, after an attack on police which injured three officers, a group of over 120 Civil Police officers stormed the Rio de Janeiro favela of Nova Brasília, killing thirteen alleged drug traffickers. Despite indications that the operation was designed as a lethal assault and later revelations that ten of the thirteen victims had no prior criminal record, Governor Nilo Batista waited a month before labeling the operation a massacre, and shortly thereafter the operation's commander was promoted.
In the aftermath of this attack, in the face of popular demand for aggressive official action, Rio de Janeiro Governor Nilo Batista reached an agreement with President Itamar Franco on October 31 by which the military would direct the operations of local authorities to combat the wave of violence afflicting Rio. In letters to government authorities, Human Rights Watch/Americas expressed its concern that operations to combat criminal violence be effectuated with respect for the basic human rights of suspects.
Although police violence continued to plague several of Brazil's major cities, 1994 witnessed a continued reduction in official violence in Sao Paulo, at least according to official statistics. While Sao Paulo military police killed an astounding 1,470 civilians in 1992, after the outcry following the October 1992 Casa de Detençao prison massacre the number fell to 409 in 1993, demonstrating that clear reductions in the incidence of abusive police conduct were possible given the political will. Partial statistics for the first half of 1994 indicated that the Sao Paulo military police killed roughly as many civilians as in the first half of 1993. Although a spokesman for the Sao Paulo military police informed Human Rights Watch/Americas that they were taking concrete steps to reduce official violence, such as establishing special investigative units, little was being done to prosecute those responsible for homicides in the past.
The human rights situation in rural Brazil continued to be dominated by the targeted assassinations of rural union leaders, and by land conflicts that often ended in fatal violence. According to the annual report of the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissao Pastoral da Terra, CPT), there were fifty-two killings in rural conflicts in 1993, nearly 50 percent more than in 1992. Although the number of land disputes remained the same (361 in each year), the number of persons involved increased significantly, from 154,223 in 1992 to 252,236 in 1993. Partial figures for 1994 indicated that the level of violence remained high. One worrisome trend in 1994 was the nearly ten-fold increase in the number of people forcibly evicted.
Also on the rise were the number of persons reportedly involved in forced labor, the practice in which rural laborers are lured by false promises of high wages and good working conditions to work sites with conditions tantamount to slavery. The laborers were maintained against their will either by force, or through the manipulation of debts. According to the CPT, while 1992 witnessed eighteen cases involving 16,442 victims, 1993 presented twenty-seven cases involving 19,940 persons. Although federal government officials openly recognized the existence of the practice, little was done to combat it. As of November, no one had ever been convicted in Brazil on forced labor charges.
One particularly gruesome aspect of forced labor in Brazil was the booming trade in women. According to the Ministry of Social Welfare, 300,000 to 500,000 minors worked as prostitutes. According to a parliamentary report released in September 1994, those who recruited girls to work as prostitutes often relied on the complicity of local police and the failure of the justice system. The report noted one case in which, after an extensive exposé by the newspaper Zero Hora on the trafficking of girls in southern Brazil, sixty-two criminal complaints were filed. However, the parliamentary report noted, after being opened, there was no significant progress in any of the cases.
Alarming reports surfaced in 1994 about the operation of "grupos de extermínio" or death squads, often composed of former or off-duty police, in rural areas. In September, press accounts indicated that a death squad known as the Mission had been responsible for the killing of nearly one hundred persons in the northeastern state of Sergipe. The group, which apparently began as a vigilante organization formed to eliminate cattle thieves, reportedly turned its sights on journalists who have worked to expose it. Apparently, the Mission included shock troops of the state military police, and had significant official support.
In mid- and late 1994, the CPT released information indicating that a "hit list" of roughly forty persons had been circulating in the municipality of Xinguara, in the south of Pará state. By November, five of those on the list had been killed, two injured, and one kidnapped, beaten, and released.
One of those whose names appeared on the list was Father Ricardo Rezende. Rezende, who had defended the rights of the rural poor for the CPT since 1979, had suffered repeated death threats related to his work in the Amazon frontier town of Rio Maria, Pará in the previous several years. For his work in rural Brazil, Human Rights Watch named Rezende as one of the monitors to be honored in its 1994 annual ceremony marking December 10.
One of the suspects in the case, fazendeiro (rancher) Jerônimo Alves de Amorim, had been implicated in the murders of several rural activists in the region, including that of Expedito Ribeiro de Souza, then president of the Rural Laborers Union of Rio Maria. On November 3, the Folha de Sao Paulo reported that the civil police had been authorized to enter four ranches in the area and arrest the suspects. Due to the publicity afforded the planned action, local human rights groups did not expect that any of the suspects would be arrested. Their lack of confidence was reenforced by reports that the civil police investigation charged one of those on the hit list, CPT human rights lawyer Father Henri des Roziers, with aiding in the planning of fazendeiro Fábio de Abreu Vieira's assassination. Weeks earlier, Father des Roziers, a French national, had been awarded the Legion of Honor by French President François Mitterand for his work in defense of human rights.
Particularly disturbing were reports that torture continued to be practiced on a routine basis by police authorities in rural Brazil. In January, the CPT reported that police in the town of Couto Magalhaes in the northern state of Tocantins, brutally beat and tortured six workers accused of killing a councilman. In September, two organizers of the landless or sem terra movement were arrested in Paraupebas. The two men stated that during their detention they were threatened with death, beaten, whipped and kicked to the point of vomiting blood.
Legal proceedings began in the case of Adao Pereira de Souza, tortured to death by seven police officers in the precinct of Sao Félix do Xingu, in the state of Pará in May 1993. The torture and murder of Pereira de Souza were witnessed by at least four persons in the police station who were willing to testify. The flagrant nature of the killing of Pereira de Souza and the numerous denunciations by Church-based groups in Sao Félix indicate that torture continued to be a common practice.
In a potentially positive development, in August and September, after eight years as fugitives, several of those presumed to be responsible for the 1986 murder of human rights activist Father Jósimo Morais Tavares were arrested after one of the gunmen disclosed their whereabouts to police. Though detained, the men's conviction was far from assured as of this writing.
Ranchers and their hired gunmen, gold miners and others seeking to appropriate or exploit the lands belonging to indigenous peoples, continued to commit violent acts against Indian communities in 1994. This violence was facilitated by the failure of the federal government to demarcate Indian lands. By October 1993, the end of the five-year period established by the 1988 Constitution to complete demarcation, only 260 of the 519 identified areas had been set aside as protected areas.
According to statistics of the Indianist Missionaries Council (CIMI), forty-three Indians were murdered in 1993, up from twenty-four the previous year. In 1993, 600 Indians received death threats, twenty Indians were violently beaten by the police and eighteen others were illegally arrested. CIMI's partial data for 1994 indicated that the level of violence against indigenous populations continued to be high, as did mortality rates from disease and suicide. During a mission conducted in March and April 1994, Human Rights Watch/Americas documented severe abuses including mass arrests and police brutality suffered by the Wapixana and Macuxi Indian populations, and the government's failure adequately to protect their rights.
Typical of the failure of the government to prosecute those who violated the rights of indigenous peoples was the utter lack of progress in the investigation of the notorious massacre of sixteen Yanomami Indians near the Brazil-Venezuela border in July 1993. According to CIMI, more than one year after the killings, the two men initially arrested had been released, and none of the miners responsible for the killings had been found.
Although quite varied, this array of human rights abuse was tied together by one critical factor: impunity. Impunity was virtually assured to those who committed offenses against victims considered socially undesirable. As a result, those responsible for grave human rights violations continued to abuse the rights of others. For example, the fazendeiro allegedly responsible for organizing the Xinguara hit list had been indicted, though never successfully prosecuted, for the murder of other rural activists.
The Right to Monitor
The Brazilian government imposed no formal obstacles to human rights monitoring, and Brazil had a well developed network of nongovernmental organizations that promoted the rights of women, children, indigenous groups, workers, prisoners and other victims of human rights violations. Nonetheless, incidents of threat, intimidation and physical violence against those engaged in such monitoring were not uncommon.
Reinaldo Guedes Miranda and Hermógenes da Silva Almeida Filho, two advisors to Workers Party City Councilwoman Jurema Batista were found dead on June 17, murdered execution style, in the Cachumbi area of Rio de Janeiro. The two men were active in Brazil's African consciousness movement and were also investigating the highly publicized Candelária and Vigário Geral massacres for the Rio de Janeiro City Council's human rights commission. Both men had reported receiving death threats. According to Batista's office, police intentionally delayed responding to a critical lead, thus allowing important evidence to be destroyed.
Over the course of 1994, CIMI documented numerous incidents of death threats against those who defended the interests of indigenous peoples. Similarly, the CPT in several states reported that its workers had been subjected to death threats, including those directed against Fathers Rezende and des Roziers in southern Pará. Similarly, Dr. Luiz Mott, president of Grupo Gay da Bahia, who had documented 1,260 cases of assassinations of gays and lesbians in Brazil since 1980 of which only 10 percent had resulted in convictions, often with minimal sentences, continued to be the target of attacks and threats in 1994.
Often, government officials that investigated the kinds of human rights abuses outlined above did so at great personal risk. In September, Human Rights Watch/Americas publicly denounced the death threats that two military prosecutors in Sao Paulo, Dr. Stella Kuhlman and Dr. Marco Antônio Ferreira Lima, had been receiving for almost two years. Rather than intensifying their investigation into the threats, the Sao Paulo Military Police brought an administrative action against Ferreira Lima when he denounced corruption in that organization, ultimately forcing his resignation.
Despite the United States' close economic and political ties with Brazil, the Clinton administration, following the pattern established by previous administrations, failed to use its considerable influence to press for improvements in Brazil's human rights record. Although the U.S. was Brazil's most important trading partner, and thus could exert significant influence, the administration chose to remain silent publicly. In testimony before Congress on May 10, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck stated that human rights concerns were raised in private bilateral discussions between Brazil and the United States. However, the Brazil desk officer at the State Department was unaware of any human rights statement made by the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Brasília during the year, with the exception of the Brazil section of the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993.
Although the State Department's country report portrayed the grave human rights situation in Brazil with a high degree of accuracy, that document was largely irrelevant to U.S. policy toward Brazil. The U.S. missed several key opportunities to criticize Brazil's human rights record publicly. In March, Vice President Al Gore visited Brazil to sign a pact expanding an earlier agreement on scientific and technological cooperation, meeting with President Itamar Franco and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. In June, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown spent three days in Brazil as the head of a delegation of twenty-two U.S. business executives visiting Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Through these meetings and other initiatives, the U.S. sought to increase trade with Brazil. Unfortunately, the administration failed to link closer trade relations to human rights progress.
In 1994 direct U.S. assistance to Brazil continued to be relatively low. For fiscal year 1995, the administration requested $100,000 for direct training (through the International Military Education and Training Program, IMET). Although the administration's request for funding noted serious human rights problems in Brazil such as "'death squad' activities and killings of Indians," it erroneously asserted that Brazilian authorities were aggressively investigating these cases.
Brazil's growing role in the international drug trade, particularly as a center for money laundering and cocaine processing, prompted the administration to request $1 million in anti-narcotics assistance. The anti-narcotics strategy vis-à-vis Brazil consisted primarily of providing assistance for the drug interdiction efforts of the Federal Police. Unfortunately, the United States failed to seize the opportunity presented by this aid grant to the Federal Police to press that force to respond to severe human rights abuses within its competence. For example, despite the Brazilian government's recognition that slave labor was practiced in various parts of the country, the Federal Police consistently failed to investigate adequately credible reports by local human rights groups.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Americas
In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Americas continued to focus attention on human rights abuses committed against marginalized groups in Brazilian society. In January, Human Rights Watch/Americas released Final Justice: Death Squad Homicides of Adolescents in Brazil. The report was released in Brazil in February, receiving significant coverage in the major national print and television media. That report called for a series of actions by Brazilian authorities to respond to the urgent problem of homicides of children and adolescents in four of Brazil's largest cities. These included increasing the federal government's role in investigating and prosecuting the abuses, closer monitoring of private security firms, which often serve as fronts for death squads, and administrative dismissal of abusive police officers.
In light of the increase in violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil, and in particular those residing in the Raposa Serra do Sol area, Human Rights Watch/Americas dispatched a researcher to Brazil in March to investigate this situation. Human Rights Watch/Americas investigated the violence directed at the Macuxi and Wapixana indigenous peoples, met with federal prosecutors and other officials in Brasília to pressure them to ensure these groups adequate protection, and in June, released Violence Against the Macuxi and Wapixana Indians in Raposa Serra do Sol and Northern Roraima from 1988 to 1994
In August and September, an Human Rights Watch/Americas representative visited Brazil to participate in a conference on forced labor and to update research on police and death squad violence against children. During the conference on forced labor, Human Rights Watch/Americas met with attorneys from the federal attorney general's office and top ranking police officials to express the organization's concerns about the continuing problem of forced labor and the government's failure to prosecute those responsible despite its recognition of the widespread nature of the problem.
Human Rights Watch/Americas continued to use international mechanisms to focus attention on human rights violations in Brazil. In February, in conjunction with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the organization submitted petitions in seven cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Those cases focused on four areas of concern: extrajudicial killings of minors by police; abusive prison conditions, including two notorious massacres in the Sao Paulo prison system; rural violence; and forced labor. In February and September, representatives of Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL appeared before the Inter-American Commission to inform that body of the endemic human rights problems which Brazil faces and the status of the eight cases pending on Brazil. In November, Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL filed a petition with the commission to denounce the lack of effective action by the Brazilian government to respond to the death threats against Fathers Rezende and des Roziers.
Finally, Human Rights Watch/Americas planned to open a permanent office in Brazil in early December 1994. Having a representative in Brazil would allow us to monitor the complex, diverse human rights situation and follow cases that Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL jointly litigate in the inter-American system.