Human Rights Developments
The magnitude of human rights violations that face Brazil were exemplified by two high-profile incidents. On March 4, before dozens of onlookers outside the Rio Sul shopping center in Rio de Janeiro's prosperous southern zone, Military Police Corp. Flávio Ferreira Carneiro dragged robbery suspect Cristiano Moura Mesquita de Melo behind a parked van and summarily executed him with three shots at point-blank range. The entire incident was filmed by a camera crew from the TV Globo network and broadcast throughout Brazil and the world. The banality of this event for Brazilians was underscored by flash polls taken in subsequent weeks showing that a majority of Rio residents supported the actions of Corporal Ferreira Carneira.
Second, in the pre-dawn hours of August 9, 187 military police conducted a search of the Santa Elina fazenda (ranch) in the northern state of Rondônia to remove 200 families of sem terra (landless squatters) who were occupying the land. With violence on both sides, two police and several squatters were killed in the conflict. After the police had subdued the squatters, however, they killed several more, tortured dozens, and beat more than one hundred men. The military police humiliated the squatters, forcing one man to eat the brains of a dead companion so that he would overcome "his fear of the dead." In all, the police killed nine people, including a seven-year-old girl shot in the back, and injured more than one hundred, thirty of whom were hospitalized in serious condition. Nine people remained unaccounted for.
These two incidents were not isolated events: in Rio alone police killed 191 civilians in the first seven months of 1995. Figures from the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissao Patoral da Terra, CPT) for the first eight months of 1995 showed that at least twenty-six people had been killed in land conflicts. Of these, the CPT attributed six cases to hired gunmen, four to civil police, and two to military police.
These two incidents also demonstrated the serious problems in the military justice system, the entity charged with the prosecution of violations committed by military police. Corporal Ferreira Carneiro, though eventually convicted in the aftermath of the televised shooting, had been involved in the killings of several other civilians, but none of these cases had been prosecuted by the military justice system. In the weeks after the Santa Elena ranch incident, although the ordinary courts took statements from 121 squatters and indicted seventy-four for the crime of resisting the judicial order to abandon the fazenda, only nine military police had given statements to the military court investigating police violence in the event.
Finally, the two incidents demonstrated that reforms instituted solely at the federal level are insufficient. Significant steps must be taken at the state level if human rights abuses are to be brought under control. In both instances, the prosecution of the police officers involved rested in the exclusive jurisdiction of state authorities, as do the overwhelming majority of cases of human rights abuse.
Urban police violence continued to be a severe human rights problem throughout Brazil in 1995, as exemplified by the televised execution. In several major cities, reports of extrajudicial killings and torture were commonplace. In Rio de Janeiro, an October 1994 massacre of thirteen residents of the Nova Brasília favela (slum) by the state civil police resulted in federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro. Dubbed "Operation Rio" by the press, the joint military and state police initiative provoked great expectations but little relief from the city's surging criminality and violence. Perhaps this was because the operations failed to target police criminality, widely viewed as inextricably linked to drug-related violence. In late November 1994, in the Borel and Chácara do Céu favelas of Rio de Janeiro, troops tortured detainees with electric current, near drowning, and severe beatings. Despite ample evidence of these and other abuses, the prosecutors failed to charge any of the troops involved.
State police forces were also responsible for serious violations during 1995. In May, Rio civil police raided the Nova Brasília favela, killing thirteen young men. After the killings, police loaded the corpses of their victims into a sanitation department pickup truck and drove them to the hospital for "first aid." This technique_a flagrant violation of Brazilian law_is a common technique among abusive police to undermine crime scene investigations. In the aftermath of the operation, favela residents reported that they had seen a number of the victims being executed after having surrendered to police. Human Rights Watch/Americas obtained copies of the coroner's reports, which established conclusively that several victims had been shot numerous times in the head and chest, consistent with a massacre but not a shootout. Nonetheless, Rio de Janeiro Gov. Marcello Alencar declared that he would not accept any criticism of the police action, and at this writing_six months after the events_the public ministry had still not indicted any of the police involved.
In Sao Paulo, police killings of civilians rose to shocking levels in 1995, significantly higher than those registered in 1994. During the first half of 1995, military police in the state of Sao Paulo killed 338 civilians, reversing what had been a downward trend over the previous three years. The discovery in April of a clandestine deposit for corpses on the outskirts of Sao Paulo and evidence that police used the site to dump the corpses of their victims raised the possibility that, as alarming as the official figures for civilian killings were in Sao Paulo in 1995, they might not accurately reflect the actual total number of homicides by the police.
Unfortunately, urban police violence in 1995 and impunity for abuses, particularly when directed against criminal suspects, were not limited to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. For example, on January 23, 1995, a group of police in Maceió (capital of the northeastern state of Alagoas), under the direction of Secretary of Public Security José de Azevedo Amaral, raided a housing complex purportedly to capture bank robbery suspects, killing nine and arresting only one. The lone prisoner taken, Wellington Santos, was photographed handcuffed outside the residential unit, but his body was later found at the morgue. According to newspaper reports, three other detainees disappeared from this police station without having been registered. Summarizing the operation to the press, the secretary of public security stated, "We identified the lowlives (marginais) and we sent them bullets."
In May, in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, the state attorney general formed a special commission to investigate allegations that Under Secretary of Public Security Maurílio Pinto had been involved directly in the oversight and operations of a death squad that included off-duty police known as the Meninos de Ouro (Golden Boys). Witness and victim testimony presented to the special commission established that the Meninos de Ouro had killed eight people and "disappeared" two others since 1988. In addition, among the allegations that surfaced were Pinto's direct supervision of torture sessions. In a televised interview, Pinto admitted that he instructed_and would continue to instruct_his officers to beat "lowlives." Nonetheless, he was retained in his position overseeing all police in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
The national news program "SBT Reporter" aired a program on September 12 denouncing the suspected involvement of a special police force, the Border Operations Group (Grupo de Operaçoes da Fronteira, GOF), in Mato Grosso do Sul, in dozens of extrajudicial killings. Speaking on the program, the GOF's commander admitted that the group had killed "marginals."
Street children and other youths continued to be killed at a frightening pace in Brazil's major cities. According to the Center for the Mobilization of Marginalized Populations (Centro de Articulaçao dos Povos Marginalizados, CEAP), a Rio de Janeiro human rights group focusing on issues of racial discrimination and violence against persons of color, 574 minors were killed by guns in the state of Rio in 1994; some 1,274 were victims of violent death. In the first three months of 1995, 189 minors in Rio were killed by gunfire as compared with 151 in the same period in 1994. Despite these alarming figures, police and other authorities failed to protect urban youths; in some cases, off-duty police officers and participants in death squads were responsible for the killings.
A critical factor in the persistence of these abuses was the impunity virtually guaranteed to military police who violated human rights. Impunity continued to be particularly extreme in the case of the Sao Paulo justice system. In 1995, high-profile cases remained stalled in the Sao Paulo courts, including the 1992 massacre of 111 prisoners in the Carandiru prison and the 1989 killing of eighteen detainees by beating and asphyxiation in Parque Sao Lucas, despite federal government pressure to address these matters. In a meeting also attended by representatives of the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of Sao Paulo (Núcleo de Estudos da Violência), Minister of Justice Nelson Jobim raised both cases with the president of the Sao Paulo military appellate court. In his September 7 speech on human rights, President Cardoso noted the message of impunity sent by the lack of progress in the Carandiru case.
In an Independence Day speech on September 7, President Cardoso recognized the pervasiveness of impunity, noting in particular the slaughter of 111 prisoners by Sao Paulo military police in October 1992 and the massacre of eight street children by off-duty police in then-named Candelária plaza in Rio in July 1993, among other grave violations. In the second half of 1995, the president and his cabinet created a division within the federal police to investigate human rights abuses, prepared draft legislation to provide federal jurisdiction for certain human rights violations, and announced the creation of a national human rights plan.
In 1995, the Cardoso administration also took an important step forward by introducing legislation to compensate relatives of those forcibly "disappeared" by state agents during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Unfortunately, the legislation, stalled in the Senate, would not provide any means of investigating these disappearances or of including those executed for political reasons (though not "disappeared") among those whose deaths were to be compensated. This continued failure to investigate disappearances and extrajudicial executions constituted ongoing violations of Brazil's duty under the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure justice and an effective remedy to the victims of human rights abuses.
Another important development in 1995 was the creation of a human rights commission within the federal Chamber of Deputies. Presided by the chamber's president, Nilmário Miranda, the commission followed its establishment in March with outstanding work in drawing public attention to severe human rights problems in Brazil, including those whose denunciation was politically unpopular, such as police abuse committed against criminal suspects. Despite limited resources, the commission managed to become an effective voice in denouncing human rights abuses and in pressing the federal and state governments to address human rights concerns.
Of particular concern in 1995 were renewed reports of disappearance in rural Brazil. On June 30, 1995, police arrested José Carlos B. Matos and another unidentified individual, in Conceiçao do Araguaia, in southern Pará state in the heart of Amazônia, for their alleged involvement in the theft of a motorcycle. The arresting officers took the two men to the local precinct and later that evening turned the two detainees over to a group of four men, one of whom was also a police officer. Three days later, two corpses were found by the side of a local highway, burnt almost beyond recognition. Matos's mother identified the remains of her son from police photographs.
On July 12, five prisoners accused of bank robbery and other assaults were called to testify before a judge in the interior of Alagoas. While returning from their court appearance, the prisoners disappeared from police custody. Authorities stated that the prisoners had been kidnaped by a group of heavily armed men, although not a single shot was fired.
Sergio Gomes, one of those missing following the August 9 Rondônia massacre, was later seen by a local city councilman entering a police vehicle. Days later, his corpse was found floating in the nearby Tanarú river.
CPT investigations revealed the continued increase in reported cases of forced labor and near-forced labor in 1994, the practice by which rural laborers are enticed with promises of high wages to toil at distant work sites. These laborers are often bonded to their employers by heavy, ever-increasing debt and are confined to the site by armed guards. While the CPT documented twenty-seven such cases involving 4,883 people in 1991, and eighteen cases involving 16,442 victims in 1992, these numbers increased to twenty-nine cases involving 19,940 laborers in 1993 and twenty-eight cases involving 25,193 workers in 1994.
The Cardoso government's response to allegations of forced labor was open and constructive. In an April radio address, President Cardoso recognized the seriousness of the problem and established an inter-ministerial commission to address it. Although much needed to be done to eradicate forced labor_for instance, the federal police investigated only two of more than a dozen cases denounced during 1995_the president's recognition of the issue and his preliminary efforts to address it constituted a positive first step.
Although Brazilians generally enjoyed the right to free speech, in several instances in 1995 the judiciary was employed to impose limits on the full enjoyment of this right, in direct violation of article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In March, an appellate court affirmed the conviction of human rights activist Father Júlio Lancellotti for the crime of disrespect of authority. In a television interview in 1992, Father Lancellotti had accused the military police of acting as a death squad. In that year, the military police in Sao Paulo killed 1,470 civilians, including 111 disarmed prison inmates in a single episode.
In May, after more than a year, O Calvário de Sonia Angel, a text in which former military officer Joao Luiz de Moraes' describes his twenty-year ordeal in discovering how his daughter had been tortured and murdered by security forces during the dictatorship, was finally permitted to circulate. In 1994, a Rio de Janeiro court had granted Air Force Gen. Joao Paulo Burnier, one of those implicated by Moraes's book, a restraining order prohibiting the book's circulation.
In June, on petition from Bonifácio de Andrada, counsel for the Chamber of Deputies of the Federal Congress, a court in the capital Brasília prohibited the rock band Paralamas do Sucesso from playing a song of their own composition based on a speech given by former presidential candidate Luiz Inácio da Silva ("Lula"). The song, "Luiz Inácio (300 Picaretas)," accuses the majority of Congress of being scoundrels (picaretas).
The Right to Monitor
Wagner dos Santos, who survived gunshot wounds from the July 1993 Candelária massacre of eight street children and had come forward as a witness, once again survived an attack by off-duty police. In September, dos Santos fled Rio de Janeiro and abandoned the case, underscoring the need for an effective national witness protection program.
Human rights activists in southern Pará continued to operate under death threats from a vigilante group directed by Jerônimo Alves de Amorim, owner of the Nazaré fazenda. The Rev. Ricardo Rezende and the Rev. Henri des Roziers of the CPT were among those on a list of forty targeted persons that continued to circulate in the region. In 1994, five of those on the list were killed. During 1995, authorities failed to detain Alves de Amorim, despite of outstanding warrants for his involvement in several homicides.
In June, all eight prosecutors in the Sao Paulo military justice system signed a document calling for the transfer of crimes committed against civilians to the ordinary courts. This important reform proposal, an attempt to bring some measure of due process to an important set of cases, flew in the face of the military high command. A week afterwards, two of the eight prosecutors began to receive anonymous death threats. A third, responsible for the prosecution of 120 military police responsible for the October 1992 massacre of 111 prisoners in the Carandiru prison, had already received threats for more than two years. Despite the frequency and similarity of the threats, in more than two years the authorities charged with investigating them had been unable to identify those responsible.
The State Department's 1994 country report for Brazil generally presented a fair portrayal of the human rights situation. Nevertheless, the report's summary and treatment of Operation Rio failed to note the abuses committed by military troops and police forces, noting instead that the joint operations were "essentially nonviolent and popular with the city's residents" and repeating the military authorities' contention that they "worked closely with judges to obtain the necessary warrants." Human Rights Watch/Americas investigations established that troops engaged in Operation Rio committed numerous abuses, including torture, massive arbitrary searches and arrest, and extended detention without adequate legal basis.
In December 1994, the U.S. Embassy's human rights officer traveled to Belém, in the state of Pará, to attend the trial of those charged in the 1991 assassination of rural activist Expedito Ribeiro de Souza. The two defendants present at the trial were convicted; the third, fazendeiro Jerónimo Alves de Amorim, remained a fugitive.
In 1995, the U.S. gave relatively little direct assistance to Brazil. For fiscal year 1996, the administration requested $200,000 for training through the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) and $1 million in anti-narcotics assistance. The U.S. government should use both aid grants to press police and military to take steps to eliminate human rights abuses by their forces and to respond to reports of violations when they occur.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Americas
In March, together with several Brazilian human rights groups, we submitted an agenda for human rights to newly-elected President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. That document, an open letter released to the press, summarized our reports and main concerns in Brazil since our first report in 1987. Several of the recommendations contained in that letter, such as the need to create federal jurisdiction for human rights abuses and modify the jurisdiction of the military justice system, led to public debate and government action in 1995.
In April, along with several organizations in Washington, we met with President Cardoso, Minister of Justice Jobim, and other members of a visiting Brazilian official delegation. We later followed up by meeting other senior officials of the Cardoso administration to discuss human rights concerns.
In September, we released in Brazil a Portuguese version of the Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights (see the Women's Rights Project section) emphasizing the chapter that addressed human rights abuses of women in Brazil. The release received vast press coverage in the television, radio and print media.
Throughout 1995, we continued to use international mechanisms to pressure the Brazilian government to comply with its international obligations. In conjunction with CEJIL, we brought several cases to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, including the August massacre in Ronônia. In February, on the application of Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL, the Inter-American Commission requested that the Brazilian government take measures to protect the life of Father Rezende, who was honored by Human Rights Watch in its December 1994 for the CPT's sustained work on human rights in the southern Pará state in the Amazon region. In 1995, after years of pressure by Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL, the Brazilian government decided, in an April meeting with Human Rights Watch/Americas and other NGOs, to permit the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Brazil to investigate human rights conditions.