IBAHRI and Anti-Torture Initiative call on Brazilian Government to reverse ‘federal intervention’ in Rio de Janeiro

Thursday 8 March 2018

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The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) urge the Brazilian government to reverse the decision that handed control of security to the military in the state of Rio de Janeiro following President Michel Temer’s signing of a decree for ‘federal intervention’ on 16 February 2018.

Additionally, the IBAHRI and ATI recommend the Brazilian government and judiciary to refrain from adopting blanket search warrants and establish safeguards to ensure investigation, prosecution and punishment for torture and other abuses committed by military forces be tried by civilian courts, as required by international standards.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell, stated: ‘The legal repercussions of this military intervention in Rio de Janeiro are profoundly concerning for the rule of law in Brazil and for the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal. Also of concern are the issues around access to legal counsel and impartial mechanisms for accountability of state officials. We concur with the international human rights bodies that have expressed apprehension for the Brazilian system in such emergency-like circumstances, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.’

The federal intervention means that army forces fully assume functions of the police and security forces for approximately one year, with military courts overseeing the conduct of those troops, including excessive use of force, torture or other crimes they may commit. Civilians may also be tried in these courts for alleged crimes against military personnel or for refusing to abide by military-issued orders.

Under current legislation, Brazilian military jurisdiction is excessively broad and does not comply with international standards. Further, the composition of military courts – made up mainly of military officials in the role of judges – hinders due process and fair trial guarantees. Still, the Brazilian government has announced it will request blanket search warrants for entire neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

ATI Director and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez, commented: ‘The government aims to obtain judicial approval for indiscriminate searches on private dwellings, without specific probable cause. Given the recent history of such interventions in Brazil, this measure anticipates an increased risk for torture and extrajudicial executions. The Minister of Justice has recently characterised the situation in Rio de Janeiro as a “war”, a statement that raises concerns vis-à-vis the application of the law of armed conflict to a crisis of criminality and insecurity that should instead be treated with law-enforcement and criminal justice tools.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and the Anti-Torture Initiative have been working together on anti-torture projects in Brazil since 2016. This includes capacity-building activities with legal professionals on the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) in Brasília, and for the National Preventive Mechanism, the legal and medical profession on the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol) in Brasília, Manaus and Natal. In 2018, they will deliver further trainings in Rio de Janeiro and Florianópolis.
  2. The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) is a core project of the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The ATI was set up in 2011 with the purpose of expanding the reach and practical implementation of the work of former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at WCL, Juan E Méndez.

    The ATI has played a key role in supporting the development of norms, providing technical assistance and capacity building, and promoting the implementation of reforms and best practices in different jurisdictions. During the former Special Rapporteur’s tenure from 2011 to November 2016, the ATI worked vigorously to complement his activities, particularly in the areas of follow-up, implementation and dissemination. Since 2016, the ATI has continued its mission by devising programmatic and country-specific activities in key thematic areas, including solitary confinement, investigative interviewing, gender and torture, and the Istanbul Protocol.
  3. 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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