Human Rights In Brazil


The population in Brazil consists of 144 million people.
Brazil is one of the fastest-growing nations in the Western
Hemisphere. Its population is increasing at the rate of
about 2 % a year. The constitution of Brazil gives the
president tremendous powers. For example, the president may
intervene in affairs of Brazil's states. The chief
executive may even create new states from existing ones.
Brazil has three main ethnic groups-whites, blacks, and
people of mixed ancestry. Most of the whites are from
Europe. According to the Brazilian government whites make
up about 60% of the nation's population, and people of
mixed races form about 30%. However, the government of
Brazil counts many lightskinned people of mixed ancestry as
white. Brazil's ethnic groups generally get along well with
one another. Racial discrimination in Brazil if far less
widespread than that in many other countries with people of
several races. But Brazilians of European descent have had
better educational opportunities. As a result, they hold
most of the higher jobs in government and industry. Many of
the non-Europeans, particularly blacks, have excelled in
the arts, entertainment and sports.
Brazil's prison system system is in crisis. Four years ago,
in its 1990 urban violence report Amnesty International
described the prisons as being at breaking point, holding
double their official capacity in "inhuman" conditions.
Four years later the situation has not improved. In some
respects, it has deteriorated. Overcrowding, lack of
medical and legal assistance, torture and ill-treatment of
inmates and harassment of visitors are endemic. A
frightening and rising proportion of prisoners carry the
HIV virus. In the Women's Prison of Soo Paulom, around 33%
of the inmates are infected with the virus, while in the
male prison the figure reaches 27% of the prison
population. A study published in 1994 shows that the
majority of prisoners are yourn, poor, and black.
A group of inmates in the Desembargador Vidal Pessoa
Central Prison of Manaus, Amazonas held a peaceful protest
against conditions in es called in military police
shock-troops. They reportedly beat the inmates, who had
taken refuge in their cells, with batons, as well as
hitting and kicking them. Subsequently they locked the
inmates in their cells and threw tear gas grenades in after
For prisoners to complain to officials about their
treatment takes enormous courage. In Recife, Pernambuco
state, on 11 May 1993, prisoners told a visiting delegation
in the Barreto Campelo Prison
of the brutality they faced. The prisoners reported
incidents of torture and named the alleged torturers, even
though they were in the same room. The inmates expressed
their fears of reprisals from
the prison staff. Some of them told the delegates that the
director of the prison had threatened them with severe
punishment if they dared to speak out. The torture they
described included beatings,
near drowning, death threats and electric shocks. 

In his report on the visit to Recife, one of the delegates,
the President of the National Council for Penal and Prison
Policy, noted that despite persistent reports in the local
press about ill-treatment in prisons in Pernambuco, the
Judge of Penal Sentences and the Secretary of Justice for
Pernambuco claimed to have no official knowledge of the
prisoners' complaints. He asked the state authorities to
investigate the prisoners' allegations, but no information
has emerged about any investigation.
Two incidents involving prisoners with AIDS were reported
in Sðo Paulo in 1994. On 27 March, a woman prisoner who was
in the final stages of AIDS in the Central Hospital of the
Penitentiary System, was reportedly beaten by a prison
warden. The woman, named Leci Nazareth da Silva, who was in
great pain, was calling for the assistance of a nurse when,
just after midnight, a warden came to her cell, shouted at
her to shut up, and hit her in the face. According to the
testimonies of other women inmates, after the
incident Leci Nazareth da Silva's mouth and lips were
swollen and she was bleeding. The warden 

reportedly threatened the other inmates with reprisals if
they dared to report the incident. 

On 31 March 1994, Jose['] Roberto dos Santos, also an AIDS
sufferer, was severely beaten in the Casa de Detenc[,]ðo,
in Sðo Paulo. According to his written testimony, he was
verbally insulted and physically abused by a prison warden
in an argument. When he reported the incident to a prison
official, the official insulted him again and beat him with
an iron bar. The prison officer then ordered Jose[']
Roberto dos Santos to be taken to a senior official's
office in another part of the prison, where he was met by a
group of about 13 prison wardens who punched him, beat him
with iron bars and kicked him. As a result, he began to
cough up blood and was forced to wipe the blood from the
floor with his own hands. On 1 April, a prison chaplain
visited him in the infirmary and saw that Jose['] Roberto
dos Santos had bruises on his chest, back and upper limbs.
He had a swelling on his right hand side above the kidney
and wounds on both legs. Amnesty International knows of no
action taken against those responsible.
Brazilians are now pushing for a profound, ethical reform
of their political system. The peaceful and demorcatic
presidential impeachment in 1992 was followed by a thorough
congressional investigation of a vast budget corruption
scandel affecting several members of the Brrazilian
Congress. As a result, several Congressmen were unseated on
the grounds of "unetheical behavior," reaffirming the
stance that Brazilians want a corruption-free political
environment. In a related development, Brazilian elevtoral
legislation was updated and imporved with significant
revisions made in the areas of disclosure of political
contributors and in accountability. The 1994 general
elections were carried out in a climate of democratic
freedom and high civic expectations and the outcome serves
to reinforce the strength of democracy in Brazil.
As in other democratic societies, there is an almost
permanent political debate in Brazil about how best to deal
with the country's social and economic challenges. Areas of
special concern are income distribution, fiscal and social
securtiy reform, and economic modernization. Finding
solutions to these festering problems is not easy. It will
require the elimination of the remnants of old political
structures inherited from less democratic periods in
Brazilian history. President Itamar Franco, who was
completed his two-year term with an 86% approval rating
from his fellow citizens, and President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso have both pledged and worked hard to ensure the
modernization of Brazil's political system.
According to the Institute for Applied Economic Research
ant the Ministry of Planning, one quarter of the 60 million
Brazilians aged 18 and younger-15 million children and
adolescents-live below the poverty line in family units
with a per capita monthly income of US $18.00 or less. One
third of these youths do not attend school, even in the age
group (7-14) for which school is mandatory. Roughly two
million children aged 10-14 work, which is forbidden by
law. An estimated 200,000 to 700,000 youth either live on
the streets or spend their days there. More that threee
million children live in households headed by women. In
recent years, this sad picture has prompted a significant
mobilization of both government and non-government enities
to improve the situation of poor children and adolescents.
Not only does human compassion demand attention for
destitute youths, but a provision of the 1988 Constitution
recognizes that children and adolescents must be the
primary target of social programs and public assistance due
to their special vulnerability. These constitutional
provisions have been further developed in the basic law
known as the "Statue for Children and Adolescents." This
Statue, enacted in 1990, has been praised by UNICEF as one
of the moset comprehensive in the world.
Government programs, including the installation of hundreds
of Centers for Comprehensive Child Care, address basic
needs such as education, distrubution of nutritious meals,
health care and the promotion of children's rights. The
"Pact for the Children", co-signed by the President of
Brazil and 24 state governors, set up a "Plan of Action"
which is intended to fully implement the constitutional and
legal provisions that provide for protection of children
and adolescents. Several fedrral agencies oversee the
execution of government programs for children and
adolescents designed to give to Brazilian yourth
opportunities for a better life, education, shelter, and
love. Moreover, as mandated by law, 21 states and 1,654
municipalities have established special Councils for
Children's Rights. Several hot-lines are operating
throughout Brazil making it easier for children to seek
help and report instances of violence, neglect or abuse.


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