Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. On October 28, voters elected Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro as the next president in a runoff election. International observers reported the elections were free and fair.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; violence against journalists; corruption by officials; societal violence against indigenous populations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; killings of human rights defenders; and slave labor that may amount to human trafficking.
The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as victims.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine because comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians but did not specify which cases may have been unlawful. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 890 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State, a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2017. Government and police authorities attributed the rise to increased law enforcement engagement as part of the federal public security intervention in the state that began on March 16.
Most of the deaths in the city of Rio de Janeiro occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the 1,018 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.5 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, suggesting police often employed unnecessary force. On August 20, the armed forces conducted an operation targeting crime in the poor communities of Complexo do Alemao, Mare, and Penha that resulted in the death of five civilians and three military personnel. The operation involved 4,200 military personnel and 70 civil police officers backed by armored cars and helicopters. On the same day, military police officers killed six other civilians on the bridge connecting the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi. Military police officials stated the civilians were fleeing the neighborhoods where the military operations were taking place.
According to the Sao Paulo State Secretariat of Public Security, on- and off-duty military and civil police officers were responsible for 205 deaths in the state in the first half of the year, compared with 459 during the same period in 2017. According to civil society organizations, the victims of police violence in Sao Paulo State were overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian youth. In June David Wayot Soares de Freitas died in the city of Sao Paulo from a gunshot fired by a military police officer. The police officer stated he fired the shot accidentally while approaching Freitas and his friend, who were on a motorbike. The officer stated he had received a report of cell phone theft by persons on a motorbike and was suspicious of the backpack worn by Freitas. Officials subsequently discovered the backpack contained a pizza, which Freitas was helping his friend deliver. The police report stated the two men held their hands up in surrender and were not carrying illegal items.
During national elections in October, politically motivated violence, especially against journalists, Afro-Brazilians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, was reported throughout the country. Media reported 50 attacks perpetrated by supporters of leading presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, including the killing of a supporter of the Workers Party (PT) in Bahia State after he declared his vote for the PT. High-profile leaders, including Superior Electoral Court President Rosa Weber, and Bolsonaro himself also were victims of violence and threats. On September 6, while campaigning in Minas Gerais State, Bolsonaro was the victim of a knife attack that left him in serious condition.
Police officers Fabio de Barros Dias and David Gomes Centeio of the 41st Military Police Battalion of Iraja, accused of killing two men in Rio de Janeiro in March 2017, were free and awaiting trial as of November.
In the first three months of the year, seven politicians were killed. In March unknown gunmen killed Rio de Janeiro council member Marielle Franco and her driver. On December 13, state police in Rio arrested a number of suspects. The crime was allegedly carried out by local organized-crime groups with ties to local politicians.
The NGO Global Witness reported 57 activists were killed in 2017, leading it to classify the country as extremely lethal for social, human rights, and environmental activists.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
In October the ombudsman for the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office released a report of findings on 15 neighborhoods affected by the federal military intervention, which began in March. The report documented 30 types of violations, including cases of rape, physical aggression, robberies, and home invasions perpetrated by federal law enforcement officials.
In November the press reported claims that federal military officers tortured three male favela residents in Rio de Janeiro in August. The men alleged the military held them for 17 hours, during which they were beaten, electrically shocked, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in August the overall occupation rate was 175 percent of capacity. The northern region had the worst situation, with three times more prisoners than designed capacity.
Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. Multiple reports filed with the Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office, the National Penitentiary Department, and members of the National Council of Justice detailed abuse at the Unidade Prisional de Avare I, in the state of Sao Paulo, including suffocation with bags filled with urine and feces. Another prisoner claimed prison guards at the Complexo Medico-Penal prison in the state of Parana slammed his head against the wall and punched and kicked him.
Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.
The National Council of Justice found that, as of the end of 2017, there were 373 pregnant and 249 breastfeeding inmates in the prison system. In February the Supreme Court ruled that women who are pregnant or have children age 12 months and younger have the right to wait for the start of their trials under house arrest as opposed to preventive detention.
Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over the prison population. Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. Media reports indicated most leaders of major criminal gangs were incarcerated and were controlling their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.
Multiple prison riots throughout the year led to the deaths of inmates, including a January riot in Ceara State in which 10 prisoners were killed and a September riot in Para State in which seven prisoners were killed. In February inmates at a prison in Japeri, a metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, took prison guards hostage during a riot following a failed escape attempt. Three persons were wounded in the disturbances. Approximately 2,000 inmates were held in the Japeri facility, built for fewer than 900.
General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water for drinking and bathing, inadequate nutrition, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, and beatings of inmates. According to the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 28 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared to the general public. In November the Organization of American States’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited prisons in the states of Maranhao, Roraima, and Rio de Janeiro, declaring the Jorge Santana Prison in Rio de Janeiro as one of the worst prisons commission members had seen and denouncing the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary Center in Roraima for subjecting prisoners to serious diseases and without the minimum right to food.
Administration: State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.
Improvements: In May the National Council of Justice launched the National Registry of Prisoners, designed to contain basic data about all prisoners in the penitentiary system, including prisoner biographic data, the reason for the detention, the location of the prisoner, and the court order under which the prisoner was incarcerated.
In June the Pernambuco state government transferred the first inmates to Unit I of the newly constructed Itaquitinga Prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Public Security, is primarily an investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem. In October the Ombudsman’s Office of the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender published the report Favela Circuit for Rights, which documented the complaints from the city’s favela residents of home invasion, robbery, destruction of personal property, and sexual assault perpetrated by law enforcement officials under the jurisdiction of the federal public security intervention that began in the state in March. A survey released in August conducted by the Ombudsman’s Office of the Sao Paulo Military Police showed the use of excessive force in 74 percent of civilian deaths caused by the military police in 2017. The agency analyzed 756 of the 940 deaths due to police intervention in 2017, which represented 80 percent of the total.
In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.
Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.
Pretrial Detention: Approximately 40 percent of prisoners nationwide were in prison provisionally (without a sentence from a judge), according to former minister of justice Alexandre de Moraes. A study conducted by the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department found that more than half of the pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations, police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.