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Group Asks Brazilian Government to Establish a Human Rights Commission

In Brazil, a leading human rights group is urging the incoming left wing government of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to create a national human rights commission and take other steps to improve the rights situation in the South American nation. The group made the call Tuesday while releasing its annual report on the state of Brazil's human rights.

The 175-page report by the group, Global Justice Center, concludes that human rights violations in Brazil were persistent and widespread during 2002. Based on on-site research by Global Justice representatives, the report describes a series of grave human rights violations including police torture and summary executions, prison violence, slave labor, racism, and violence against indigenous peoples.

Global Justice head James Cavallaro says one of the most alarming developments this year was the rise of police violence, in response to increased criminal activity.

"One of the things we saw over the course of 2002 was an increase in police violence," he said. "So here in Rio de Janeiro the figures show that police killed an average of over 70 people per month, as opposed to last year's average which was roughly in the neighborhood of 50 per month. To give a comparative statistic, that's the number that police in Buenos Aires killed in an entire year. The police in the entire United States killed between 300 and 400 people per year. In Rio, it's going to be close to 900 this year."

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, police killings also were high. According to Global Justice, 622 people were killed by police in the first ten months of this year.

The human rights group blames impunity in Brazil for police violence, and other human rights violations. Mr. Cavallaro says relatively few perpetrators are ever prosecuted or punished, in part because the federal government has no jurisdiction over many of these cases.

The rights activist says changing the law to federalize human rights violations would substantially improve the situation in Brazil. Mr. Cavallaro says Global Justice and other rights groups will press the incoming government of President-elect da Silva on this issue, and to set up a national human rights commission.

"We would like to see the government create a national human rights commission, an independent national human rights commission," he said. "Brazil doesn't have one, most Latin American countries do. Many countries in the world have national, autonomous human rights commissions. Brazil needs one. We hope that Lula will demonstrate the leadership necessary and implement that demand."

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso established a national secretariat for human rights within the Ministry of Justice. But Mr. Cavallaro says an independent commission is needed to improve oversight and receive input from non-governmental human rights groups.

Mr. Cavallaro said he is hopeful Mr. da Silva will adopt these recommendations, given the statements he made about protecting human rights during his successful presidential campaign. Mr. da Silva, a former labor leader, takes office on January 1.