Brazilian high-level authorities must stand firmly against torture and ill-treatment

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Association for the Prevention of Torture expresses its deep concern that the Brazilian Minister of Justice carried out detention visits with an official accused of torture and ill-treatment, and adopted a dismissive attitude towards these accusations.

Serious allegations of torture committed by the Penitentiary Intervention Task Force (Força-Tarefa de Intervenção Penitenciária - FTIP) against detainees in the State of Pará, Brazil, were recently brought forward by the Federal Public Prosecution Office.

This federal task force - that intervenes in states to control disturbances and reestablish order in places of detention - was sent to the State of Pará following a massacre that occurred this past July in the prison of Altamira. A systematic practice of violent and brutal acts, such as beatings with brooms, daily attacks with rubber bullets and pepper spray, anal impalement, nail piercing, sleep and food deprivation and other acts of physical and psychologic violence was later revealed. The Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), the Paraense Society for the Defense of Human Rights (SDDH) and the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NPM) gathered this evidence through prison visits and interviews with detainees, former detainees, family members, and prison employees.

As a result, a Federal Court ordered the precautionary removal of the Head Coordinator of the Penitentiary Intervention Task Force from his position, on the grounds that "although there is no evidence in the case file indicating that the defendant directly performed the alleged acts of abuse of authority, torture and ill-treatment, there is evidence that, due to his negligent posture, he contributed to this practice".

“High-level authorities in Brazil need to take a firm stand against torture and ill-treatment and unambiguously and publicly condemn any such practices. It is extremely concerning that the Minister of Justice of Brazil carried out a visit to a place of detention accompanied by a senior official of the Penitentiary Intervention Task Force who had been removed from his duties by a judicial order due to allegations of torture committed by agents under his supervision,” affirmed Barbara Bernath, the Association for the Prevention of Torture`s Secretary General. “It is doubly concerning that the gravity of such allegations and the seriousness of the court decision are dismissed as a misunderstanding. State political leaders need to declare categorically that they will not tolerate torture or other ill-treatment by public officials and refrain from any conduct that may be interpreted as an endorsement of such practices.”

According to international standards, the State has the responsibility of carrying out a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction. Furthermore, high-level authorities need to take an unambiguous stand against abusive practices and convey a clear message to all public agents and employees that torture and ill-treatment are never accepted or tolerated and that impunity for such acts will not prevail.

Solitary confinement cell, Pre trial detention center, CPPL IIII, State of Ceará, April 2019. Photo credit: National Preventive Mechanism of Brazil.

Practices put in place by the federal Penitentiary Intervention Task Force have been previously reported by the Brazilian Preventive Mechanism as torture and ill-treatment. During a monitoring visit to prisons in the State of Ceará, the NPM observed a “modus operandi” of agents of the federal intervention task force: to systematically hurt and break the fingers of prisoners as a way to prevent them from acting violently. This practice was recorded in a report made on April 5th this year.

Recently, at a public hearing before the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights, the APT, alongside partner institutions and torture prevention mechanisms, requested that Brazil dissolve the federal Penitentiary Intervention Task Force (See the video of the hearing here).