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Amnesty Says Brazil Needs To Take Firm Action Against Prison Torture - 2001-10-19

Amnesty International says prisoners in Brazil continue to be tortured and otherwise mistreated, despite the Brazilian government's efforts to stop the practice. In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International is calling for firm action to stop these human rights violations.

"They treat us like animals" is the title of the Amnesty International Report on torture and ill-treatment in Brazil, taking a phrase commonly heard by Amnesty researchers when meeting with Brazilian prisoners.

The report, released in Sao Paulo Thursday, describes numerous instances of torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners held in Brazil's overcrowded prison system. The human rights group says even though Brazil passed a law against torture in 1997, the practice is still widespread and systematic.

Amnesty International's specialist on Brazil, Tim Cahill, says torture continues because few of those responsible are ever punished. "The level of impunity and the failure to punish those who perpertrate acts of torture on a regular basis has been extreme," he said. "The torture law was passed in 1997 and although Amnesty continues to consistently document cases of torture, there have been since 1997 only eight convictions under the legislation which have been upheld under appeal. So it's a pitiful figure really when we look at it."

At least 350 cases of torture have been documented by Amnesty International and other human groups over the past 12 months.

About 200,000 men, women, and children are detained in Brazil's prison system, often in dismal conditions. Brazil's overcrowded penitentiaries gained international notoriety last February, when inmates in more than two-dozen prisons staged a coordinated mass uprising. Nineteen prisoners were killed before the uprising was put down.

Amnesty International says the Brazilian government needs to do more to address the needs of prisoners, and to stop the violence perpetrated against inmates.

The government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has openly acknowledged that a problem exists, and earlier this year submitted a report on the situation to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

But Mr. Cahill says Amnesty International wants the Cardoso government to do more than just highlight the problem. "The government is now in the process of launching its own campaign against torture in this country, which involves a number of TV advertisements and a telephone hotline for people to send in denunciations," he said. "While Amnesty really recognizes that it is a hugely important step for the government to make a public attack on torturers and to denounce acts of torture, it is also important that we see that the government also implements concrete steps to ensure all levels of the criminal justice system act in the way that they should be."

Among the measures Amnesty International is recommending: strengthening mechanisms for investigating torture complaints, improving the training of Brazil's police forces, and reforming the prison system to ensure that inmates are treated humanely and in accordance with Brazilian law and international standards.