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The IBA’s response to the situation in Ukraine
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.
Notes to the Editor
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