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IBAHRI and ATI call on Brazil to repeal Presidential Decree that weakens National Preventive Mechanism

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) express great concern and condemnation for the decision by the Brazilian government to severely limit the work of Brazil’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), dangerously reducing protections for individuals deprived of their liberty.

On 10 June 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro enacted Presidential Decree No 9.831/2019, ordering, without justification, the immediate dismissal of the NPM’s 11 experts, who form the Senior Management and Advisory Group responsible for implementing the NPM’s mandate. The NPM is responsible for carrying out regular monitoring visits to all locations where persons are deprived of their liberty and plays a critical role in the prevention of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

On 17 June, the IBAHRI penned an open letter concerning the implications of the NPM’s dismissal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, and the members of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT).

Brazil’s NPM was created in 2013, pursuant to the country’s obligations upon ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2007. During its years in operation, the NPM has issued groundbreaking reports documenting incidents of torture and ill-treatment, including numerous massacres at several prisons, and presented practical recommendations to state institutions to promote the rights of individuals deprived of liberty. Significantly, the Presidential Decree was enacted directly after the NPM published several reports calling attention to grave conditions in various prisons, and after yet another massacre in prisons in the State of Amazonas.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Brazilian government has taken active steps to limit the NPM’s ability to operate effectively, most notably by stripping it of autonomy and appointing only five out of its requisite 11 members. The IBAHRI and ATI are well aware of the indispensable work that the Brazilian NPM has been conducting since 2015, having conducted training seminars in conjunction with NPM and other Brazilian institutions on the application of international standards for the prevention of torture and the documentation of abuses.

The provisions of the Decree violate the core principles of the OPCAT, in particular Article 18. By stipulating that participation in the NPM will now be considered a public service and that its members will no longer be compensated the independence and autonomy of the body, which is essential to its effective functioning and is a requirement of the OPCAT, will be threatened. Not only does the OPCAT require that states make available the necessary resources for the functioning of the NPM, but compensating members helps dissuade the influence of personal interests in decision making. Additionally, requiring that members work voluntarily will significantly limit the pool of experts with the requisite diversity and professional knowledge to carry out the work of the NPM, which requires full-time dedication.

Conditions of detention in Brazil are notoriously harsh and inhumane, with endemic overcrowding, institutional violence and submission of the population to prison gangs and drug-trafficking organisations. Many prisons register lack of essential services and deprivation of rights, including health, food, education, access to sunlight, contact with the outside world and legal assistance. Since 2015, the NPM has worked ardently to draw attention to the human rights violations taking place in Brazil’s detention facilities and to press for change. By weakening the voice of the NPM through the enactment of Decree No 9.831/2019, Brazil is not only in violation of its international legal obligations but has increased the risk for torture and other ill-treatment for the thousands of people deprived of their liberty. We call on President Bolsonaro to repeal the Decree and restore the NPM to its full capacities.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) is a core project of the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) 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 AUWCL, 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.
  2. The IBAHRI has worked in Brazil since 2010 to support the country in its commitment to eradicate torture as part of its obligations under international law.

    In particular, IBAHRI’s work has focused on:
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  4. The International Bar Association (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession – is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape 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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