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 them.

 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 

 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 

 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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