IBAHRI calls on Brazilian legal profession to work towards improvement of prison conditions

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Following recent prison riots in the states of Manaus and Roraima in Brazil, which have resulted in the deaths of around 100 people and the escape of many convicts, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on the country’s legal profession to work with urgency towards improving prison conditions and creating environments where the human rights of both inmates and guards are respected, enforced and upheld.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said: ‘Unfortunately, the riots in Brazil’s prisons are a direct consequence of long-term overcrowding, underfunding and systemic failures in ensuring safety and delivering proper assistance to the prison population. That the Brazilian legal profession has a major role to play in improving the prison system is incontestable and the IBAHRI is committed to working alongside Brazil’s prominent legal entities to bring about the change needed.’

The IBAHRI has worked extensively in Brazil with regard to issues related to Brazil’s prison system and published a report on the topic in 2010, titled: One in Five: The crisis in Brazil’s prisons and criminal justice system. In the framework of its latest visit to the country in December 2016, the IBAHRI met representatives of Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, the Public Defender’s Office, the Brazilian Bar Association Human Rights Commission and the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. Last December the IBAHRI also ran a training session for public defenders in Brasília, and in Curitiba co-organised an international seminar on torture prevention.

Following the seminar in Curitiba, the Commission for the Defence of Human Rights of Paraná’s Bar Association organised a visit to a local police station for an IBAHRI delegation, comprised of prominent legal professionals from Argentina, Peru and Portugal. The delegation observed that the police station had two cells, built to accommodate four detainees. However, at the time of the visit there were more than 20 prisoners in each cell. Local police asked for the delegation’s support in alerting the federal and national authorities to the vast overcrowding.

Overcrowding in Brazil’s prisons has been extensively documented and denounced by international organisations, including the United Nations when, in 2015, the then-Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan Méndez, called on the Brazilian federal and state authorities to address the issue.

Recognising that there are many factors contributing to the current prison situation, Baroness Kennedy commented: ‘Lawyers’ caseloads of pre-trial detainees are mountainous and growing. The need to diminish them is great and we call on all of Brazil’s legal professionals to work to achieve this objective and to ensure that inmates are guaranteed humane treatment and appropriate and safe living conditions in line with established international standards. It is unconscionable that people serving prison sentences should be killed in jail.’

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. The IBAHRI was in Brazil in December 2016 to conduct an open seminar to raise awareness and facilitate the conversation among legal professionals about torture. The event was co-organised with the Association of Portuguese Speaking Judges, Paraná’s Bar Association and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT). Also, a closed training programme with the Public Defender’s Office in Brasília was held on international standards for the treatment of prisoners. The events were organised as part of the concluding of a project funded by the Australian Embassy.
     
  2. With the support of the Australian Embassy the IBAHRI has worked closely with local entities in Brazil to support and build the capacity of the legal profession. The IBAHRI has promoted training programs on the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules); invested in capacity building for the correct implementation of custody hearings; and produced a series of manuals on Protecting Brazilians from Torture as well as a book about Reforming Brazilian Justice.

  3. The IBAHRI has also trained judges on custody hearings. On 15 December 2015, the Brazilian National Council of Justice (CNJ) passed Resolution Nº 213, providing guidance for local courts on the use of custody hearings in order to prevent the unlawful imprisonment of suspected nonviolent offenders while awaiting trial. A custody hearing denotes physically presenting the suspect before a judge within 24 hours of the arrest. Following the hearing, the judge determines whether the suspect should be released on bail or sent to pre-trial detention. Although custody hearings are required under international law, their implementation was uncommon in Brazil. The guidelines provide recommendations on best practices to be adopted by judges and courts, based on international standards.

    Based on Resolution Nº 213, the IBAHRI, together with CNJ, the APT, the Association of Magistrates of Brazil (AMB), and the Human Rights Secretariat of the Ministry of Justice, organised the Seminar on Torture and Violence in the Criminal System: the Role of Judges in Preventing and Combatting Torture. The seminar took place in Brasília between 22 and 24 June 2016 and was attended by 50 judges representing almost every court in Brazil.

    Between 11 and 12 August 2016 in Curitiba, the IBAHRI and the AMB ran a seminar on torture prevention and international law.
     
  4. The International Bar Association(IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme(ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute(IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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